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I actually believe in developer’s right to state whichever conditions he wants stated for the use of software he originally made, no matter how restrictive they are.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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  • Thomas Jollans

    It would appear that what you view as "natural law" (which I don't believe exists to that great an extent, but that's another story) would include contracts (agreements). And if there is to be order in a society based on market and contracts, those that violate a contract have to be dealt with in some manner, for example with a market-based legal system as you have proposed.

    Copyright is based on nothing but agreements. It's not all that simple on the internet, but if you buy software, the seller can require use conditions. Now they are implied by law and common knowledge, otherwise a prominent notice somewhere or a verbal agreement between source and destination could make it clear.

    If contracts have no value, market cannot work.

  • admin

    Contracts are agreements and agreements are actions. What I consider as natural law as it applies to humans is that humans are alive, self aware, capable of thinking and acting always in pursuit of maximum value and who see the destruction of that value as immoral. This is in short from how I described it here:

    I see those properties as natural law because they always seem true and because they are not changeable by a human. It is the essence of our existence. Changing it would mean ceasing to be human and becoming a new kind of species.

    The amount of certainty about that is consistent with the amount of certainty a scientist may usually accept before proclaiming a particular theory as a scientific law.

    So just as an agreement can be forged by an act so it can be broken or terminated by another act, if that's what an individual ultimately finds of most value to him or her. If an agreement involved using something under certain conditions yet someone breaks those conditions but continues using it, then the other party in an agreement has the right to try and sanction that, in essence return what he has given or is giving, or be paid damages for it.

    Now, the reason I then said that it is unlikely for this to work after a while, and that people will ultimately get away with even breaking of such agreements is because there is a fatal flaw in the conditions specific to this case. In other words, it is just not consistent with reality. The developer may impose a condition that states that the user must stand on one foot every time he runs his program and the user may try to do so just to get the software. But if he fails (which he most certainly will eventually, especially considering that the dev is not always watching and that he did pay for his copy of software so the condition seemed unfair in the first place) and the developer somehow finds out, do you think he'd win the case with the arbiter?

    Not quite.

    Just the same, while you may require someone to not copy software or digital music or whatever, such requirement is just as surreal and ridiculous as requiring standing on one foot when using it. It's simply incomprehensible that rational arbiters would consistently judge in favor of such conditions, when they are broken, because the programmer is in *reality* not losing anything and in *reality* there is no damage to repair!

    Yes, this does mean that I consider proprietary software unnatural. It is, just as government and just as enforced law, a nation etc. an artificial abstract concept empowered by nothing, but an empty belief of a number of people. In reality, nobody is deprived from copying of software, yet can only gain.

    And a free market would swiftly adapt to this reality because there is no belief that *makes* the surreal ideas survive by deception (usually self administered and collective) and force (administered by the agents of institutionalized force that is government, such as police).

    That said, contracts or agreements have value when they have value to both of those who agree. If value is lost then the agreement fails either by the consent of both agreeing parties, or by it simply being impractical in reality (as is the case above).


  • Thomas Jollans

    So basically, arbiters would make arbitrary decisions ?

    If someone acquires proprietary software in return for money and certain conditions, that is an agreement that makes their having the merchandise not a result of theft. As long as they use the software, the agreement (as it gives them access to the software) has value to them.

    I'm not saying every condition should be acceptable, but if certain conditions are "banned", the market is not free. If contracts cannot be counted on, there may be a market, and you might call it free, but I wouldn't call the situation "order"

  • Thomas Jollans

    Another note: I agree that copyright-like systems wouldn't work in practice. As would and do a lot of things and concepts. I am also aware that there was nothing of the sort until his majesty's government introduced the idea.

  • admin

    Well, the purpose of arbiters is to be a third party in a dispute. To best play this role they are to be trained experts at human nature, human relations and everything else in reality that may usually be relevant to the disputes that may arise. In other words, while the two who are disputed both have their own usually opposite opinion about something, an arbiter is the neutral party and has an untainted view of the situation. His job is to determine, scientifically, who is really right and who really deserves a favorable judgment.

    There may be cases when they fail and the disputed parties fail to uphold the decisions of the arbiter, but there is only so far they could go in rejecting his decisions, limited by the costs of arbiter fees, their patience and the cost of time. Yet if they resort to violently taking justice in their own hands, it's gonna cost them both even more. Whatever they do, it is likely that the first arbiter hired is going to be the one whose decision they will have to live with, not because they are forced to, but because the costs of pursuing the matter further may be too high to justify the value of doing so.

    The agreement does not give them access to the software once they have already got the copy. Respecting the agreement from that point on merely becomes a matter of honor and keeping a good reputation of themselves as a customer or business person (which everyone in a free market is essentially treated as). This is what enforces the agreements – the desire to be valued as someone who can be trusted as someone who respects agreements.

    Of course, if the thing you got by the initial agreement is merely access, not a whole copy (like using online software), then respecting the agreement also means having access, like you said.

    But when you did get a copy that element no longer exists. In that case if you fail to uphold the agreement and get sued through the arbiter for it, we get the situation I described above. And again, ultimately it would be found that a condition not to copy and share software IS among conditions which aren't acceptable, and you conceded that such conditions may exist.

    Conditions that are "banned" in a free market, "banned" as in commonly found unaccpetable and impractical, aren't conditions which you must not use (there is no government to *force* you not to). But if you use them you do so at your own risk. You don't need to fear a fine, nor a jail nor any sort of violence against you for doing so. Worst that can happen is that your business takes a drop, and you ultimately realize it was a bad move.

    To explain this better here is a simple analogy. You jump off of the 5th floor's balcony and break a leg. You also heard that a few other people did the same and got hurt by the ground too. Soon, jumping off of 5th floor balconies becomes considered a bad thing to do. It is in that sense "banned".

    But nobody is quite forbidding you from doing so anyway. However you can't blame anyone else nor Earth and the Universe if you break a leg again. :) If something doesn't work then it doesn't work, unless you WANT to break a leg, or unless you WANT to lose business and pay arbiter costs over your impractical software use conditions. ;)


  • admin

    > If contracts cannot be counted on, there may be a market, and you might call it free, but I wouldn’t call the situation “order”

    Actually, if a certain kind of contract proves to often be one you can't count on then that kind of contract is a bad contract. :)

    As for "order", you might want to see;)

    There in fact is order, the best one there can ever be, once you just let go and live with reality as your only "law" – the way universe works – the only law that cannot arbitrarily be devised, the only law that cannot be broken. You act, the universe around you reacts. You observe the reaction and adapt your actions to get a reaction you like better. :)

    Voluntaryism is beautiful because it is the idea that says: "Let go, don't *force* your perception of reality. The reality is out there and it always applies. Learn more about it and then learn to use it to make your life a better one."

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