Monday, September 13, 2010

Electronic Freedom

As a modern analogue to the Protestant Reformation, I would like to introduce several important organizations that fight for electronic freedoms.

The free software movement was started in 1983 by Richard Stallman with the foundation of the GNU Operating System project.  The goal was to create an operating system using only free software, where free is defined using four principles:
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The project is known for having developed a large suite of software that is run with the Linux kernel (the heart of the operating system), forming the GNU/Linux system.  To ensure that this software remains free, the project uses the GNU Public License, which requires programmers to release any modifications of the licensed code using the same license.  In other words, free software using this license must remain free and include the source code so that other programmers can make changes.  Many people refer to software using this license as open source software, since a program must come with the source code required to modify its functionality.  The GNU Public License has become the most widely used license by open source programmers.  A popular license for protecting the written word are those developed by Creative Commons.

Another major organization in the open source world is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit group that advocates for digital rights legislation.  The EFF has worked on many issues, including free speech, open access, intellectual property, international agreements, privacy, and transparency.  For example, the EFF has advocated against the DMCA, educated users about digital rights with respect to electronic books, warned of the dangers of those "click" licenses we all agree to, lobbied on behalf of Net Neutrality, and fights software patents it feels are overly broad.

Many of these issues affect all of us and the myriad ways we interact with computer technology.  It is important to be aware of these developments so that we can help shape the society that will evolve from the digital revolution.

Which of these issues concern you?  What parallels can you draw to Martin Luther's time?


Shaun Frenza said...

I just want to comment about the moment when Dr. Gideon's head exploded today: "can you see how radical this is!!!"

The word might have better been said, dangerous.

How can anyone of us in that room not believed that one day all things would be done "open source" - what is it our GOD holds from his children until they pay the copyright fees?

But how will we eat - how will we survive - how will we live? Well, if your not a horrible human being, you will find a way. There absolutely is a way to freely share all knowledge and live WELL (Wealthy). I can look up how to raise beef cattle for my dinner - but I'll still buy it at the store.

Jake C said...

My mind too was blown at the thought of 'free' software. as an economics major i couldn't wrap my mind around it. so i found an economic article about it. and it set my mind a little at ease about it. however i just think that if i were to build a house and anyone could take it and change it and call it their own then i would have no motivation to build a house again in the future (except for a place to get out of the rain). but here is a great site : and you can see my entry entitled "free software" on my blog: Blogging is for Lovers

Shaun Frenza said...

I think that the idea has nothing of calling it your own, but calling it OUR own. We all share it. We all improve it. We all use it freely.

Kevin said...

Collaboration is what will drive us forward in this day and age. I don't think we are going to have any single genius like Einstein or Isaac Newton to discover future technologies. It will be through COMBINED efforts. We've gotten to the point where developing technologies cannot be done without building on top of, and with, others efforts.

Chase said...

It's almost as if we're moving toward a sort of utopia where everyone works together to create a better world. As for the metaphor of having your house taken and altered by someone, I think it's more of having someone "copy" your house and then improved for both you and anyone else to use. As the saying goes, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

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