The Future Under SOPA

A lot of people have been talking about SOPA, the “Stop Online Piracy Act”, which is a bill currently breezing through the US Congress like chicken pox. So, I’m hoping I can shed a little light on what the Internet will look like after SOPA is passed–or at least, my perception of what it will look like.

Intentions vs. Reality

It’s my understanding that SOPA was meant to, well, stop online piracy. The congress seems to think that enacting censorship laws and the like is the perfect way to control what happens on the Internet. They seem to think they have a pretty tight grip over that medium.

In reality, though, an oppressive law–or even a slightly offensive law–has always been easily circumvented by the Internet’s citizens (netizens, as some call them). Consider the recent situations in China, in Libya, in Iran….people don’t sit down and bear it when a government takes an oppressive tack towards the Internet, they stand up and help! Hackers across the world have helped people use proxies and the like to evade firewalls and censorship, but the US Congress thinks that it is different.

But that’s not the only problem with the Congress’ reality. They also appear to think that this law will be a deterrent against piracy. I’m sorry to inform them, however, that the American youth with which I’ve been acquainted are not so easily deterred. Especially when a law is so blatantly unjust, they will not only ignore the law but *actively rail against it* with great fervor. This may not manifest as protests on college campuses, as that era seems to have come and gone, but it will almost certainly manifest in an increased rate of online piracy attempts. If the Congress intends to hurt the web and imprison many well-meaning young people, they have a lot of explaining to do!

Ramifications in Politics

Of course, the practical ramifications as listed above won’t be the only effects. The politicians who support it and vote for it will be voted out of office. It’s not the case that those politicians will be unable to find support–the few people in the MPAA and RIAA will still vote for them, and the portion of Americans who fail to keep up with online news (anyone who only reads the newspaper, for example) will likely not care about the incumbent’s voting record. But any young person, savvy with technology, will undoubtedly step in to not only vote for the challenger, but also campaign feverishly against the incumbent who was so unfair to the web.

Ramifications for Free Software

If the FSF has any sense left, they’ll be jumping on this issue as much as possible. I’d suggest they go on various news channels, to start. They should also make appearances at debates and town hall meetings, to put as much pressure on the candidates as possible. If people associate the FSF with Internet justice, they will likely associate them with digital justice in general. That effect would be a great one for the FSF, which has of late been rather quiet.

Three big things are (hopefully) going to happen very soon: Increased opposition to SOPA, the ousting of its supporters, and the rise of the FSF as a viable political entity. Here’s hoping this year will be a great one for digital freedom.

Freedom: A Struggle, Not a Nose Dive

As regular readers, my friends and family, and anyone who spends more than five minutes talking with me will already know, I am a huge supporter of free software. I will constantly speak on the subject, in public and private settings; I will buy shirts and stickers from free projects; I will even occasionally give my time to free projects that interest me.

Today, however, I’m taking a strange tack: I think free software advocates need to pull back a little bit.

What!?

It’s taken me quite some time to come to this conclusion, so I’d appreciate some time to explain myself.

First, I used to be a very gung-ho kind of supporter. I would advocate for all free software, and nothing less….anything less, in fact, was unacceptable under every circumstance.

Now, I’ve been talking to a lot of people about how they react to my discussions with them. I learned, but was not surprised, that I often turned people off with my cold demeanor and exact terminology. I don’t generally give emotion any sway in an argument, and I was pretty convinced that it was a good thing. However, I also learned something–barely–while talking to one particular person. This person didn’t disagree with me, it became clear–she was simply not ready to jump headfirst into what could be a tank of sharks. She wanted to be cautious, and, admittedly, she had a few things still tying her to nonfree software.

So What?

This person’s point gave me a bit of an epiphany. Rather than pushing people to take a nose dive, I should encourage them to work against their oppressors in the way that most revolutions have worked in the past: Through small, incremental changes that built on one another. This made perfect sense, because that’s also how I build arguments and other things in my life.

It brought me to the realization that we, the free software camp, had become just as bad as the nonfree software supporters–asking people to throw something away without being fully prepared, and without fully understanding the reasons why.

What Now?

The last piece in the puzzle is to come up with a better way to advocate. I maintain that any free software advocate should forego supporting nonfree software–so anyone who asks for help with a Windows- or OS X-related issue (e.g., wireless problems, window management tips, how to uninstall software) shouldn’t find that help with a free software advocate. However, a free software advocate could reasonably suggest other options to the problem–for example, if a user can’t connect to a web page in Safari, suggesting that they use Firefox would be the first best step to fixing their issue.

Outside of people coming to you for help, you can help others by suggesting small, incremental steps. Don’t ask them to throw everything away and start fresh. Suggest Firefox, then move on to suggesting other free alternatives–identi.ca instead of Twitter, free games instead of nonfree ones, SumatraPDF (or similar) instead of Adobe Reader, and Songbird instead of iTunes. Once they get the hang of the free alternatives, suggest that they find HTML5 web videos as opposed to Flash. Then, maybe suggest a switch from Windows to GNU/Linux (possibly Trisquel or gNewSense).

These small steps will eventually bring someone to the point where they can run a fully free system.

Thanks for reading!

Nonfree Physical Products

A friend and I had a very interesting conversation on Wednesday night about how the free software ideology could translate into the physical world, such as with beverages and food whose recipes are not disclosed to the public. I have a few things I want to say clearly about the subject that I feel I didn’t get the chance to on Wednesday, so here we go:

The Similarities

There are a few very good points that my friend brought up about how the two situations are similar:

  • Physical products can also have information, required to create them, that is not disclosed by the company that makes it
  • That information is sometimes released, but not by the biggest corporations
  • Even if corporations do release the information, they mask it in a way that makes it useless for actually making the product (like APIs)

These are a lot of good things to draw on in this argument, so I can see where someone might conclude that physical products are just as important to have them be free. Since we, the consumers, do not have the information (and, as my friend pointed out, are never allowed to, even if the consumer is another company), we cannot possibly make the right decision about which product is best for us, nor can we improve upon or change the product.

The Differences

This is the important part, though: We *can* improve upon and change the product. We can’t necessarily do it at the source every time, but there are ways to chemically modify a beverage or food, I’m sure. I am not a chemist, but I know there are ways to modify even things you don’t know the content of. And of course, simply adding flavor is a perfectly acceptable tack. Maybe you couldn’t sell that finished product under the original name, but I doubt Pepsi would be too irritated that you were spreading their brand (even if it’s only the taste).

The only reason the consumer is allowed to do that, of course, is the other big difference between physical products and digital ones: In the physical world, no-one makes you sign a license that specifically precludes you from using the product in certain ways, or copying it, or redistributing. Admittedly, the latter three are implied based on the laws of the region, since patent law will likely prevent you from copying the formula verbatim, and redistributing under the same name will result in a trademark lawsuit.

The Big Deal

But those implied protections are not imposed by the corporation, they are imposed by the government–which we might not have much chance to change, but there is *some* chance. The biggest difference, to me, is that in the case of a physical product, we can lobby the government to regulate the practices of various corporations, and we can lobby the government to change patent and trademark laws (not that it’s working, but again, there is a chance). In the digital world, many of the restrictions placed on users is placed there by a contractual agreement between the user and the corporation selling the software. This is different in two ways: You can refuse to sign a contract (unlike a law, which you accept regardless of your wishes), and you cannot change a contract’s text (at least not an EULA, which is not generally up for debate).

Since the case of software is so much more the fault of the user, I have to consider that case before any others. I think that educating people so they don’t trap themselves in a contract they don’t understand is a pretty important venture. I understand my friend’s point, that beverage companies and the like are similarly bad, but I see them as mostly an indirect evil, so I’m not as worried about their works as I am worried about software companies.

Thanks for reading!

Attractive Arguments

I spend a large part of my time trying to convince people that my ideas have merit. Most of the time, I can simply illustrate the differences between one idea and another and have them immediately distinguished–one is right, and one is wrong. There are, however, a few situations where that is not the case.

I have come to a few questions in response to those situations: Am I not a persuasive person? Are the arguments wrong, and I don’t know it? Am I not talking about them the right way? I’d like to explore a few of these situations in this post.

Persuasiveness

I have generally thought that I am a persuasive person. I don’t always have a lot of people listening to me, but I like to think that when they are, I can persuade them that I’m generally right. I have heard good things about my public speeches, and a few people have enjoyed talking to me on a smaller scale.

At the same time, several people I know have pointed out that I can be less than sensitive when it comes to serious discussions. This is true, because often when it comes to actually talking about a decision someone has to make, I try to immediately remove the question of emotion and bias, to better serve the pursuit of truth and reason. Admittedly, it doesn’t usually make people feel good, but generally I wind up persuading them anyway. Unless, of course, I am actually wrong–but that brings us to the next option.

Unhelpful Conversations

When I am wrong, I feel that often, the people who notice it are hesitant to tell me. I’ve found that our society has gotten too attached to positive feedback to actually give useful advice–which is why I generally don’t try to sugar-coat it, when I find someone is doing something wrong.

So, when I find that people actually think I am wrong, the first thing I try to do is find out why. My biggest problem with the Free Software and religion arguments has been that people cannot tell me why I’m wrong–or at least, can’t do so in a way that holds up to any amount of serious thought. At that point, the rational course of action for the other person in the conversation would be to evaluate what led them down that path that didn’t hold up to serious thought, and then consider a change in opinion. Of course, in most cases, I do not see that happen.

In most cases, the people I know actually look me straight in the face and ask me to agree to disagree. This moment brings a lot of thoughts to mind, most notably “so, you’re asking me to agree that you’re wrong and too stupid to realize it?”, but at this point in the conversation, my penchant for not sugar-coating things somewhat disappears. In some cases, in later conversations with the same person, that principle returns to the mix, but I generally recognize that person, at that point, as a lost cause. They have lost their capacity for reasoned discourse and are no longer even capable of change. This is possibly the most worrying trend of all–that people are no longer interested in or capable of change.

Wrong Methods

Possibly one of the most frustrating examples of the above, I think, is that even if I am not persuasive, or talking about something in a manner which does not endear me to the other participants in the discussion, I often find that people will either not tell me, or will try to tell me without having any concrete examples of how I could improve. Even those closest to me have been very unhelpful in this matter. Really, though, I take that as so much more evidence that I’m not, in fact, using any methods that are too offensive. How can I be, if no-one can even enumerate those methods to me?

Thanks for reading!

Occupy Free Software!

I’ve been hearing a lot about the Occupy ______ movements. They walk into a park near their city hall, they stand around for weeks, and make cries on Twitter, Facebook, and the like for people to come and help them. They hope to achieve a wide variety of things, but their broad focus appears to be the shift in wealth distribution from the rich down to the poor. They are, in large part, interested in redistribution of wealth to narrow the rich-poor gap in America.

Reality Check

There is a very big problem with this protest, and it is pretty evident to me after only reading the above paragraph: These people are still *relying* on corporate America. There is, very simply, *no way* that they can keep it in check at the same time. Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and the others are just as much–if not more–offensive as the big corporations on Wall Street. Sure, they don’t take our financial assets necessarily (or rather, visibly), but these companies do hurt us, and it’s time for the Occupy movement to start recognizing that.

Twitter, Facebook, et al. are hurting their customers by restricting them in various ways. They do not allow the use of their software for any purpose. They do not allow people to copy their software. They especially don’t allow study or modification of it. These are basic digital freedoms that every computer user–whether they expect to actually exercise them or not–should fight to the death to preserve.

Occupy Free Software

The only way the Occupy movement can successfully move forward is to embrace the ideals of Free Software. To do this, I would suggest the following concrete steps:

  1. Replace all nonfree forms of communication used by the movement with their free alternatives. For example, anyone using Facebook currently should shift to use Diaspora or another similar free solution (GNU Social, etc.), and those using Twitter should use identi.ca instead (or some instance of StatusNet).
  2. Announce publicly that the movement has, as one of its main priorities, the disapproval and subversion of corporations’ control over their customers, as opposed to their helpfulness to the same.
  3. Have Free Software advocates come out to support the cause–which will not happen until the above two are at least seriously considered.

A Note for Skeptics

I’m sure some of you are (or have been) thinking something along the lines of “Free Software is overrated” or “but I enjoy using nonfree software” or “but it is an industry standard.”

If you allowed such trivial arguments to come between you and your freedoms, you would probably wind up living in a dictatorship very quickly. As an example, do you often use your fourth amendment liberty from cruel and unusual punishment? No, but if it were indefinitely suspended, you would be angry. In the same fashion, people who do not constantly use the digital freedoms enumerated by the Free Software Foundation should not say that they are useless or trivial–they are vitally important to many of us, and throwing them away for trivial or facially untrue reasons (“I can’t open .docx in GNU/Linux”, for example, is false) is not only ridiculous, it’s maddening.

Thanks for reading!

Logic Continued: The Second Argument

Motive

After my previous article about the logic of the Free Software theory, I realized that there were two components to the argument.

  1. That freedom is better than not-freedom, and
  2. That freedom is more important than other criteria.

I dealt with that in the previous article by disregarding other criteria–I am here now to instead dispel their importance.

The Criteria

I can’t examine every criterion for choosing software. I can, however, demonstrate a theory in the context of several of the more prevalent cases. Here is my attempt at a comprehensive list of the most common reasons for choosing software:

  1. Compatibility with others’ software
  2. Level of available commercial support
  3. Visual appeal
  4. Ease of use

Compatibility

This being the most oft-cited reason, it also happens to be the least facially relevant factor in the decision.

Incompatibility in software is largely a myth, these days. Very few people are actually incapable of opening a particular sort of file that one person sends. The only time something like that would actually happen would be if someone chose to use nonfree software that saved data in formats that were patent-encumbered, or had restrictions built in. This is why people are forced to use Adobe Flash–most Flash videos are not compatible with the GNU replacement, Gnash, because Adobe puts a lot of effort towards changing the format. The community-supported Gnash project can hardly keep up, especially when most free software developers have no use for it because they use more standard solutions like HTML5, or just write desktop apps.

So, interestingly, the compatibility argument only occurs *because* people incorrectly choose nonfree software.

Even if you take the incompatibility of some formats into account, most people would never see those effects. Only graphic designers working with others’ files (e.g. a Photoshop file would likely not open in the GIMP), Flash programmers (who wouldn’t share with anyone who didn’t have Flash anyway), and possibly some commercial software users would ever have any issues. Docuent formats are well-supported in all word processors, as are spreadsheets, as are contact files, as are music and videos and slideshows. There are no restrictions on the format you use when free software is your choice–the compatibility issue is completely incoherent.

Commercial Support

This argument is most often cited by enterprise users, but individuals are sometimes concerned as well. They think that the company that makes the software needs to have a motive to fix it if it breaks–and certainly the free software world doesn’t have that?

Wrong. In fact, because free software companies are unable to, unwilling to, or uninterested in collecting profit on actually selling the software, they are often more motivated to support it, since that is their main source of income.

Even if the software is not made by a company, the user that finds a fault in it might be interested in using the money they saved on the actual product to encourage development of the software (see my article, Freedom and Order) by donating some money to the developer’s continued efforts–of course, you can condition that donation on completion of a task.

Some might argue that said developer(s) might not be available–well, the same situation might occur with nonfree software. In that case, one is far better off with free software, because the original developer does not need to be the one who works on it. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller software shops spread across the country–across the world, even–who would be happy to work for you. You can bet that my currentpast employer would step up to help, given the chance. This argument is as ridiculous as the last.

Visual Appeal

If you actually expect me to defend the Free Software movement against so frivolous an argument as “X nonfree software looks prettier,” you should enjoy your life of imprisonment, and good riddance to you. While you’re at it, consider committing yourself on the condition that you get nice-looking wallpaper in your cell.

Ease of Use

This must be the single most useless argument of them all, but I hear it fairly often. People are concerned that they won’t be able to use free software, because they don’t have the skills. This, too, is not as important as freedom.

The general use-case for nonfree software is as follows: The user turns on the computer. The user opens a web browser. The user browses the web, not using any components of their own software. Eventually, the user opens an email client, which similarly uses very few of the local computer’s resources. The user might decide to write a letter, essay, or story in a document file of some sort, which is then saved in an internationally-standardized and universally-understood format. The user might also do other things which take more time and effort to set up, but since they preclude themselves from even installing software, I’m not sure they’re capable of that.

If the average user is capable of using one sort of computer program, they’re likely capable of using a broad spectrum thereof. The only thing holding that person back is the willingness to try.

Even if that person has no capacity for understanding programming languages, that doesn’t stop them from using normal point-and-click menus. It certainly doesn’t stop them from dragging and dropping. The only things someone would need to learn would be small changes in vocabulary–which is something everyone should do anyway, quoth the FSF.

Conclusion

Hopefully I’ve shown you, by now, that the above reasons are not compelling enough to remove freedoms from yourself or others. Do consider that what you do affects your own freedoms and those of others, even if you don’t recognize it. Thank you.

An Open Letter to Software Manufacturers

Dear software industry,

I speak to you as a software user. I am your customer, in a sense. I consume information (digital and otherwise), and sometimes pay money for it. I occasionally see your ads, and sometimes recommend your products to others.

However, I am not here to applaud your efforts, as I am sure you know.

Adobe, Microsoft, Google, and Apple are my biggest targets. Others should also take heed, even if they only produce small, inconsequential applications.

You are in the wrong line of work.

First, because of the Free Software movement. However much I use that argument, I maintain it to be true–you are intentionally hurting your customers with your products, and when people realize that, they won’t just stop buying into the pain, they will turn on you, and you will be in more pain than they had to suffer. You should, therefore, familiarize yourself with the reasons we’re mad.

Second, because you are selling one-shot products which come with an indefinite promise for services. That’s insane! If you buy a hamburger, they don’t insure that it will taste good. They don’t even insure that it will stay together long enough for you to eat it. Often, though, those services are motivated by an aversion to bad PR–which bad PR is usually already mitigated by the fact that your customers are completely oblivious to anything digital, or they would realize that the first argument was enough to motivate leaving your clientele.

No, rather than selling something once, and moving on to giving away services forever, why not reverse the situation? It’s a far more lucrative way of doing things, so long as your software is worth something. People will continue to use it as they always did, then move on until it breaks (which it probably will–not because of your incompetence, just because of Murphy’s Law), and finally come back to pay you *even more* than they would have paid originally in order to fix it. In the meantime, you can be adding more, cooler features to the product to entice more people to come around. Eventually, you’ll have a lot of products and even more customers–you’ll have to spend most of your time working on clients’ issues, and develop features only as an afterthought. That’s how a business should mature–towards more money, not less. If you have to engineer new features constantly and build hype around new releases just so you can get more money, you’re probably doing things wrong.

This business model, I think, is a little more risky, but a lot more reliable in the long run. It also frees up the software industry to stop thinking that users’ freedoms are a necessary sacrifice at the altar of profits, which will very quickly make the digital world a better place as people are free to share ideas about how to solve certain problems, instead of watching each other solve it in secret and wasting time reinventing the wheel every day.

This is not a petition, but I don’t think I need the force of public opinion for you to take heed to a good idea. Think about the money, if that’s what you need, but this idea will prevent a big fall and instead lift you and your products (along with your customers) to far greater heights.

Thanks for reading.

Logic, Not Religion

Motive for this post

I have, in the past, been accused of having religious tendencies. That is to say, people have viewed me as a zealot, blindly believing in something someone says in order to fill a hole in my understanding. I am here to say that it is not true.

What is religion?

I obviously need to define what I’m not, in order to explain the ways it doesn’t fit me. First, we need to define a religious pursuit as broadly as possible, or at least define the ways in which religion and my interest in living freely might *potentially* be akin.

First, religion must be blind. Faith is, by definition, incapable of being proven. There is no method for proving that religion is true, and there is no method for proving that it is wrong. In this way, it is like any pseudoscience (see e.g. Karl Popper) in that the followers can always escape argument and refutation.

Second, religion is for the greater good. Religion aims to better its followers, not hurt them. The aims of religion must be benevolent in order for it to gain followers. Even in the case of suicidal cults, the leaders of the cult were able to convince people that suicide was in their best interest. Even if men make mistakes, and the religion causes harm, there must be an explanation for why the harm is ultimately benevolent to everyone.

Third, religion must involve some form of practical advice. All religions do this in one form or another, in order to indicate to the people of the time what the “moral” or “right” way is. The Hebrews have kosher, the Muslims have halal, and the Christians have the gospels that teach them about being good people. Buddhism and Taoism have simple stories that teach good morals.

Fourth, a religion needs rituals. While a bit archaic, something about our bodies appreciates simple, repetitive actions that incur good feelings (such as the feeling of being listened to by God), so the religion needs a ritual or two.

Refutability

I attest that the Free Software argument, while not yet refuted, is refutable.

Refutation, in this case, is proving that in at least one case, not using free software is preferable to using free software, disregarding all other factors. If I were ever presented with that example, I would reconsider my position and come back to the Internet with a new theory–but I am sorry to say that I have not met that example.

The reason that others have as yet failed to disprove the Free Software arguments is the lack of objective opinion surrounding this topic. People generally bring with them experiences using nonfree software, free software, and everything in between. They usually do not offer arguments to refute the Free Software arguments, but instead offer arguments of a personal nature–”I need Adobe Flash because it’s an industry standard.” Of course, in an ironic twist, these same people cannot define what makes it “standard”, and so are subscribing to a pseudoscience in the sense that they blindly believe what they just said.

However, I am afraid that the Free Software argument will never be disproven. It has stood through many years of discussion, and no arguments have hurt it so far. I still invite people to try, but it appears to me that being able to do more things will always be better than doing no things at all.

There are people who have attempted to make more company-, industry-, and client-centered arguments, but those people are equally as blind as the others. The problem is not that free software is insufficient for their uses, but instead that the industry/company/client should be making a shift in understanding in order to be more free.

Greater Good

Religion, I have said, must be a good force in the lives of its followers. I contend that Free Software is not always good in the end, and that nobody tries to explain away the bad things.

First, free software is often excluded from schools, companies, and other organizations for being “incompatible” with one thing or another. This can cause people to be unable to use websites, printers, or web services.

Second, no-one explains those things away as benevolent in the end–we aren’t challenged by free software, it just so happens that others in this world don’t like our ideas, and we can’t really stop that. We can explain what needs to change (that those sites need to use more standard practices and not rely on nonfree software), but we can’t explain their actions as ultimately good.

Practical Advice

Religions often give advice not pertaining directly to their system of belief. For example, the Ten Commandments were essentially laws, but did not convey any spiritual meaning.

Free Software, however, is specifically *not* a practical argument, as told by the article The Advantages of Free Software. The FSF actually tells people that Free Software cannot be evaluated on the same level as other arguments, and needs to be treated as a higher priority. That cannot be interpreted as practicality.

Rituals

The final criterion is rituals. Religions need rituals to survive, because it inserts the religion into everyday life. It gives people something to bring them back to the religion every (Sun|Satur|Wednes)day.

The Free Software movement has no such ritual. In fact, there is no church. There are practices that work best (commenting code, following X or Y code style), but there is no set ritual that gives people a warm feeling inside that they can’t understand.

Not Religion

So, if you’ve made it this far, hopefully I’ve convinced you that my interest in freedom is not religious in nature. I have made a rational, informed decision to follow the ideal of freedom because it is a good idea.

If you skipped ahead, I’m sorry to inform you that I don’t construct TL;DRs. My points above cannot be condensed.

Freedom and Order

Prelude

I’m a very strange computer scientist. See, I’m minoring in Government. I tell people that it’s because I find both systems to be orderly. I think to some extent, that is very true. But there is a second reason, and both reasons play equally into today’s topic. The second reason is that both systems allow people to protect and exercise their freedoms.

Think about that for a moment: While government is certainly a form of order, it also allows people to be *dis*orderly, so long as they do it within the bounds of the law.

In that way, I think, government is similar to the digital world. I often find myself frustrated by compilers, by errors in programs, and by limitations of protocols (same-origin policy, I’m looking at you), but despite those limitations to the power of computers, these machines allow an entire class of people to be freer than they would have otherwise.

How the Revolution Happened

So, I’m going to try and bring government to you computer people out there. I’ll do it in a very simple way: A history lesson. Namely, about the birth of America.

America, some might say, was born when the Declaration of Independence was signed and sent out to the world, declaring that we were free, and that we hated England’s king. Then, we fought a war. Some claim America was born when we won that war. Finally, we signed a document that organized a government for the 13 colonies–or, as they were now to be known, the 13 states.

But that document, as many are not aware, was *not* the Constitution. It was called the Articles of Confederation.

The Articles set up a very loose federal government to complement, but not to supercede, those of the states. This system, they argued, would preserve local control over local matters, and leave the federal government to deal with federal issues–things like new states joining the union, war debts, and defense of the states. Really, under the Articles, America wasn’t a country at all, but a set of countries that were allied very closely.

Then, it turned out, that plan didn’t work. There was, for about ten years, a rash of rebellions, riots, and absuses of power in the states. There was very little money in the federal government, so the war debt from the Revolution wasn’t getting paid off. The states were all issuing their own currencies, too, so inflation was out of control and almost no interstate commerce would happen, since everyone had different money.

Finally, a group of men gathered in convention to try and rewrite the Articles. They swore to avoid a new system at all costs, but promised to give the federal government a new set of powers that would preserve the new nation’s integrity, and its coffers.

But, of course, those men didn’t just rewrite the Articles. They threw that document out in favor of a new one, called the Constitution. That document had a far stricter set of rules with regards to how the government was set up, and how everyone was to do their part. It ensured the fair representation of each state in the federal structure, and, under the Bill of Rights, explicitly preserved the freedoms of individuals.

Many historians will be rather cynical about the reasons for all of these happenings. First, they will say, the rich land-owners in the colonies didn’t want to pay taxes to Britain at all–never mind whether or not they were represented–so they stirred up revolution in the new world. Then, those same land-owners were assaulted and robbed by the very democracy they helped to erect, and wanted further protection. They realized that order and taxes were necessary in such a large system as a nation.

How the Revolution Needs to Happen

As we all know, this is a blog about technology, so I will stop chatting about history.

The above story about the Revolution is supremely relevant to the Free Software movement today. In drawing the parallel, I believe the Free Software camp is somewhere between writing the Declaration (which document might be parallel to “Why Software Should Not Have Owners”, an article by Richard Stallman) and writing the Constitution. We have realized the need for freedom, and we are fighting a war to get people to realize it, much less actually fight for it. We have some small attention from the public, and that is a step in the right direction.

However, there is an issue with our movement. We have yet to realize the need for order and taxes.

The software industry, as many nonfree software manufacturers will very quickly tell you, is an extremely large system. Many people rely on that industry for jobs. Simply telling those manufacturers and, by proxy, those people, that we simply won’t pay our taxes is not the way to win a war and launch a revolution. There needs to be some order on the other side for those people to be able to accept what we’re saying. Now, however much I think that requirement is satisfied (by Selling Free Software and other fine articles), there seems to still be some confusion about it. So, there does need to be a shift in rhetoric for all Free Software and Open Source Software advocates (who should first shift from their outdated terminology) from talking about price to talking about freedom.

Why Freedom

Freedom, you see, is largely the reason that people followed the Revolution when it came to town. It’s a cause people can believe in, so long as there hasn’t been a case of terrorism in the past few weeks. It’s something people hold dear, and don’t give up quickly. It’s something that they can fight for, and understand. Most importantly, it’s something that doesn’t attack the profits of big companies.

A large portion of Free Software users and advocates seem to use the “price tag” argument more often than is necessary. I say, if a Free Software user or advocate ever *needs* to resort to that argument, they should not be advocating to that person, because that person is not interested in freedom. Alternatively, that person needs, more than anyone, to hear why freedom is important. So, let’s throw out that argument for good. It doesn’t convince people of anything except to buy the cheapest software for the job. In some cases, that software is not free, and does not respect the users’ rights.

Selling Not Software

So then, we all have to ask how software will be produced. Big companies do fund a lot of software production, this is true–but a lot of their effort is wasted. Take the competing anti-viruses, for example. They have all spent the same amount of time fixing the same amount of problems with their software. If they had respected their users, those problems would have taken up a fraction of the time to fix, and the companies could have moved on to better, more lucrative projects.

And notice that, if we abandon the “price tag” argument, there is nothing stopping the distributors of software from selling the copies. The only problems are the lack of source code, the restrictive licenses, and the army of copyright lawyers ready to threaten customers. CDs and downloads-for-money are still perfectly legal–so long as they include the source code and do not restrict the user from using, modifying, or distributing the code in any way.

Pay the Taxes

In short, the Free Software movement needs to realize that, though the “price tag” argument is a convincing one, it will not win arguments, and it certainly will not win freedom. RMS himself has said that if people were to begin using Free Software, but were not taught about why their freedom was important, they would very quickly abandon that freedom in favor of something else. Let’s listen to that argument, and not encourage people who don’t understand freedom to start fighting for it.

We also need to start realizing that while Free Software may come without a price tag, that doesn’t mean it has to. While copying might give some people a free copy, many people will also choose to buy the software just as they would have otherwise. I would encourage people who create Free Software to start selling it, too.