Redefining Freedomware

“Freedomware” is a marketing term for Free Software which conventially refers to software that is licensed in a way that grants the software user rights corresponding to the four freedoms devised by Richard Stallman.

Many believe that licensing software with these rights, and offering it along with source code which is a precondition to exercising these rights, is the only moral and/or ethical way of offering and distributing software. Others may merely concede that it is ethically superior, but not necessarily the only ethical way or even that ethics doesn’t even enter the picture and that it is merely a practical concern.

Rarely, if ever, does anyone take issue with the act of “licensing” itself as it is understood by most people today. As such licensing essentially involves a software developer combining a chosen piece of text or his own piece of text with another piece of text written by someone from the organization called government to form a set of rules which, as the general belief is, must be respected under the threat of force if you don’t.

Don’t look so surprised. Every set of rules that comes from the government organization and is usually called “law” is forced. There appears to be no exceptions.

That said, since I don’t believe in initiatory force I don’t believe in government nor law, and therefore I don’t believe in copyright law. You can tell that greatly alters my perspective of Free Software. I no longer see government as a valid party in the developer – user relationship and what a “copyright license” ends up being is nothing but a statement of probable requests by a developer to the user of conditions he wants to be met before and while the software he produced is used. I could call it a sort of a contract.

Furthermore I actually believe in developer’s right to state whichever conditions he wants stated for the use of software he originally made, no matter how restrictive they are. I believe, in fact, in his right to do just about anything that doesn’t involve force upon someone else.

And that’s a catch. :) In a circumstance in which all involved parties, unlike me, believe in the validity of government and law, therefore giving others the power to initiate force upon them, they also believe that a copyright license is forced. So when a developer’s conditions are too restrictive, those restrictions are forced on users, unless they choose to not get that software in the first place, which as we’ve seen was a pretty hard thing to do considering the fact that vast majority of software used to be under restrictive licenses.

What gave this threat of force teeth are numerous cases in which such force was indeed initiated, such as many homes raided in search for “pirated” software or music CDs etc. It was enough to show people that they have something to fear, albeit not quite enough to stop mass illegal file sharing from continuing.

In such conditions, in which everyone believes in this force as legitimate they would of course try to find just as legitimate means to impose conditions which are a little more favorable. Enter four freedoms, BSD, GPL etc..

These are copyright licenses just as any other and are therefore using the system of force just as any other. They just happen to be a little nicer in their requirements, according to most people. You are *allowed* to do more. It was definitely a path to *more* freedom and as freedom always does it spawned more innovation and production of software wealth.

Unfortunately, by depending on an anti-freedom system to exist, however, Free Software has not nor ever will, alone and by itself, give people true freedom and 100% of freedom. Richard Stallman, indeed, is not your savior. The proliferation of his ideology merely enabled an option which makes the force in the name of law more bearable, even if much more bearable. His copyleft may turn copyright may have turned the “default license” on its head, but it changed absolutely nothing about the nature of copyright as a set of rules forced on anyone.

Now, if everyone, like me, stopped believing in the validity of “government” and “law” they would also stop feeding the power of those professing to work for the “government” and “law”, removing the teeth of force. A developer still has every right to state his conditions, but the only laws that could enforce whatever these conditions are the laws of nature, or if he chooses so, his own fist or gun, in which case he’ll quickly find himself out of the software business and in the shame of ostracism, if not worse.

So a proprietary software equivalent in this situation would be software binaries offered by a developer under the conditions that it not be copied at all (perhaps with the exception of a backup copy) and that it is installed on only one computer at a time. If someone buys a copy of his software and specifically agrees to these conditions, yet breaks them by making more copies and installing on multiple machines, the developer would have all right to complain to the undersigned arbitration agency and seek damages.

The arbitration agent is an expert in law, but not the law some people wrote to force on everyone else, but the natural law, the reality, the science of things, including the nature of humans and human interaction. That said, it is still possible that an arbiter would sometimes judge that the user needs to pay small damages fee, but it is unlikely that it would ever be a prohibitively expensive sum. However, after a while it is likely that there would be a precedent set which would essentially determine that in reality there is nothing the user actually damaged the developer for.

The copies he gave are often to people who wouldn’t buy it anyway, yet neither of the copies made leave the developers with one less. Software is not moved from one location to another like physical objects. It’s multiplied. I don’t lose anything if you make a copy of a song I made and gave to you. It would also soon likely be determined that often times the user actually gave developer free marketing by sharing his software, even if against his will.

Before you know it it would simply be a normal free market practice to not even bother with such restrictive contract terms because they just don’t work in reality. Not only do they sooner or later put both the developer and the user through the arbitration costs, but denying people to do free marketing for them is just a bad business strategy, not to mention stupid.

Interestingly, this is something even today when most people believe in “law” and “government”, Sun Microsystem’s president Jonathan Sczwartz realized.

The conclusion is, in a free market without government proprietary software as we know it would be simply stupid. Today it exists because it can still count on governmental coercion and related institutions of force. As long as we cling to such surreal abstractness as “government” and “law” to justify initiatory force we will suffer this dichotomy between reality and our own shared belief (illusion).

Free Software is extremely likely to be the default consideration of everyone in the truly free market.

This is partly why being a voluntaryist far outweighs my being a free software supporter. I believe the problem of proprietary software will be resolved much more easily and much more naturally in a truly voluntaryist free market.

However, not enough people have realized the illusion that their belief in government and law institutes yet. Within those circumstances the way I would define Freedomware or Free Software is as software which has been offered to me without the threat of force for such uses which correspond to four freedoms defined by Richard Stallman, which happen to coincide with everything I might want to do with my software anyway, without anyone who does believe in law and government viewing me with contempt and wishing to force me from doing otherwise.

In other words, the realm of Freedomware is just a bubble within the current system of force in which I can do some things I want to do without force being threatened against me for such actions. This is, of course, what makes Freedomware largely preferable to me, but since these rights provisioned for me via Freedomware licenses still totally depend on the system I oppose and invalidate it’s a rather awkward situation. I therefore will not promote “better copyright licenses” as a reason for people to consider free software.

Some might make that statement to mean that I am withdrawing from the free software movement, considering that some might consider the freer licensing to be THE definition of free software. But I find a little more in it: the culture and the mentality. Even if I forget the licenses, the law, the government, all that crap, I’m still left with the culture of sharing that developed around the concept that software should be free. There is still the mentality which makes people not mind if I something they made is shared.

That kind of mentality and that kind of culture is the kind of mentality I want to thrive in a free market and therefore I will continue to stand by it.

Where does that put my involvement with GNU/Linux Matters and Freedomware Marketing I am yet to decide. How do I promote this culture without promoting copyright law and the current system that involves coercive government?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 17th, 2008 at 6:33 pm and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through this RSS 2.0 feed. You're welcome to leave a response, or a trackback from your own site.