On Software (and Cultural) Freedom

Nina Paley, author/actor/director/animatrist of the excellent sita sings the blues, blogs about the FSF's double standards when it comes to freedom. To the FSF, Software Should Be Free!!1!, and it is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish that. For example, the FSF will create dracionian requirements on their Hardware endorsement criteria, that will most likely render it unusable, just for the remote possibility that they might convert a single soul to their religion. They will add propaganda to their documentation, and slap on a license that makes it illegal for anyone to modify or remove that propaganda. They will claim to make an update to that license, just to make their friends happy, but then do not make any effort to finish the job.

Most of all, the FSF is led by a person who deserves our respect for jumpstarting a movement that has made all this free software even possible, but whose atypical behaviour might be interfering with his message these days.

I have stated before that I'm not a member of the FSF, and that 'I have my reasons'. In case you were wondering: the above are my reasons. I can't be a member of, or be supporting of, any organization that uses such double standards in anything.

In the case of Debian, it took us a long time to come to the conclusion that the GNU FDL is a non-free license. And though we came to that conclusion through other arguments than "Culture should be free, too" (specifically, the arguments boiled down to "if it's digital, it's software, and software should be free"), I have since come to the conclusion that there is nothing special about 'digital stuff' that should mean it should be more free than 'non-digital stuff'. If I hand you a piece of music on a sheet of paper, why should you not have the right to redistribute and/or modify that, while you should have the exact same right if I were to hand you the exact same paper on a digital medium? That makes no sense.

So, in short, I agree with you, Nina: there is no Free Culture movement, and that's a shame; and while it would be nice if the FSF were to take a lead role in guiding such a movement, I find it highly unlikely that they will. The FSF may claim they care about Freedom, that doesn't mean they do; they care about Software Freedom. And while that certainly was an issue thirty years ago, when the FSF was formed, it isn't so much anymore today.

There can only be one conclusion: the FSF is obsolete.