11.25.19

Four More Freedoms? Free Software Force Ponders Those and More

Posted in Free/Libre Software, FSF at 9:25 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

By figosdev

Four

Summary: “I would be willing to contribute to a project that creates a second tier, or “Four More Freedoms” but I have to ask: what freedoms do we need that we don’t have?”

Today’s article is NOT from the Free Software Force, but it is partly about them. Created in September to defend Richard Stallman and advocate Stallman-inspired software freedom, The Free Software Force has an active and growing mailing list. Topics include debate over articles written by Jagadees, Free software education and strategically “bloated” software. (Strategic to those who want to control our projects.)

“…I have spent years trying to think of a way to address modern threats to Free software without amendments to the FSD that would nullify existing freedoms.”Today the topic of the Free Software Definition came up. I think the FSD is extremely important, as much a cornerstone of the Free software movement as its author, Richard Stallman. The FSD is something we want to continue, even when Stallman retires, and I don’t think editing it should be considered lightly.

In fact, I have spent years trying to think of a way to address modern threats to Free software without amendments to the FSD that would nullify existing freedoms. So let’s have a look at the list we are talking about here:

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (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.

From What is free software?

The freedom to run the program for any purpose; the freedom to study and change the program; the freedom to distribute modified and unmodified copies — these are very broad freedoms. Almost anything we could add to these, might also take away from them.

For this reason, I propose two key ideas — one, that we only consider amending this list with the greatest possible care. Free Software organisations may come and go. The Free Software Definition is our cultural touchstone; it is a guide to both our licences and our organisations. Editing the FSD is not just like editing a license; it is like editing the very reality of the Free software movement. This is as vital to our cause as a constitution is to a nation.

“People often assume that the four freedoms were originally numbered 0 to 3. They originally started with 1, but the freedom to run the program for any purpose was considered so fundamental, that it was added as “Freedom 0″ to underscore its importance.”Second, I have thought about this for years now, and I don’t know if it’s possible to add to this list without taking something away unintentionally. And I propose we create a second(-tier) list, instead of amending the first one.

People often assume that the four freedoms were originally numbered 0 to 3. They originally started with 1, but the freedom to run the program for any purpose was considered so fundamental, that it was added as “Freedom 0″ to underscore its importance. So it is possible to add Freedoms — very carefully.

I’ve long considered a second tier as a way to protect the user, without putting undue limits on the same user. In software freedom, there is no necessary dichotomy between user and developer. All developers are users, while all users have the potential to become developers.

The reality of course, is that most users are not also developers. But by protecting the rights of users, we protect the rights of all developers — we simply don’t create any “special rights” or privileges for those developers — we demand that every user have the same rights whether they are developers or not.

“We want every person who obtains that source code to have all 4 freedoms along with that code. If we enable more users to make useful changes to it, so much the better.”Whether everyone has the opportunity to be a developer is sometimes contested. I’m in favour of creating more opportunities for everyone to not only learn more about software development, but to make it easier for people with a range of skills to collaborate on improving software.

I consider this a positive, even though it is an aside. A great deal of software that we can all benefit from is in fact developed by very few volunteers. One person can create a useful software project without a community sometimes. We want every person who obtains that source code to have all 4 freedoms along with that code. If we enable more users to make useful changes to it, so much the better.

“Having written a substantial amount of the Librethreat database, I feel qualified to make an effort to summarise its most important points.”To figure out what “new freedoms” we want in our second tier, we might consider the modern threats to Free software. I’ve spent a lot of time doing just that.

Having written a substantial amount of the Librethreat database, I feel qualified to make an effort to summarise its most important points. Doing so is a useful if we want to address as many threats as possible in amendments to the Free Software Definition. We can start by grouping together threats with significant overlap.

Tivoisation, Appliance-like Distributions and the Cloud are all ways in which Free software can be abused in freedom-limiting technical applications:

Tivoisation “Exploits DMCA law and vulnerabilities in GPL2 so owners cant change software in their devices”

“This is sometimes called “OSPS” or “Open Source Proprietary Software” which I admit is both catchy and amusing, though personally I hate giving any more credence to the term “Open Source” even as a joke.”Cloud “Violates privacy, freedom… control”

Appliance-like Distributions use Free software to “simulate or act as a non-free platform”

The mitigations for these threats are better licensing (GPL3 over 2) Scepticism of and avoiding “Cloud”-based computing, unless it is “Cloud” that you control yourself, and avoiding platforms that are more locked down than traditional GNU/Linux, including Android.

The next group of threats that go together involve software being co-opted and changed so as to limit the freedom of all or most users:

Punix/Redix are the creeping takeover/disruption of POSIX, projects and organisations. This is sometimes called “OSPS” or “Open Source Proprietary Software” which I admit is both catchy and amusing, though personally I hate giving any more credence to the term “Open Source” even as a joke.

“There is nothing wrong with coming up with ways to enable people to chase fads, provided that the stability and freedom GNU/Linux is known for is a priority.”Gratuitous interdependency attacks modularity, user control, Free software development / packaging / vital software many people rely on.

Framework attack replaces mature and stable frameworks with less stable ones, and can disrupt a project from the inside. For example, if your distro switches from GTK2 to GTK3, guess what just happened to loads of existing packages? Possibly nothing — but that depends on how the distro is maintained.

Framework / dependency hijacking is similar to a framework attack, except this is when upstream decides to ax things that loads of downstream developers rely on (CPython is an example of this, and PyPy is one example of mitigation.)

“As much as Debian is a “Universal” operating system, its quality control policies (welcome in many contexts) tend to be brutally unhelpful to anybody working to maintain compatibility amidst great changes in the distro.”Mitigation for these threats includes PONIX, which is an ideal, perfect distro that makes everyone happy — yes, that one is tongue in cheek, but also a sort of Holy Grail to aim for in design… It includes forking / replacing / documenting examples of Punix in software, assisting anti-Redix distros like Hyperbola and Guix, and avoiding software that is based on Gratuitous interdependency and dragging users through too many unmitigated software fads.

Leaning significantly more towards compatibility on the compatibility/fad scale tends to make the people who complain about these things happier. There is nothing wrong with coming up with ways to enable people to chase fads, provided that the stability and freedom GNU/Linux is known for is a priority.

As much as Debian is a “Universal” operating system, its quality control policies (welcome in many contexts) tend to be brutally unhelpful to anybody working to maintain compatibility amidst great changes in the distro. Creating smarter compatibility policies with their own rules and maintenance, to keep Debian development running smoothly without treading on the toes of projects like Mate, PyPy, Calibre, Devuan and Pale Moon could have prevented half a decade of strife, if they knew how.

“Both the Code of Conduct, as well as Bigotry, can stifle, intimidate and silence contributors.”Instead, when Debian makes a major change, anybody working to maintain compatibility is treated more like a troll than a valuable contributor.

Both the Code of Conduct, as well as Bigotry, can stifle, intimidate and silence contributors. In the past, the Code of Conduct was put forth as a solution and not a problem, though we are seeing it now used as a weapon against participation rather than a solution to encourage it. Some of us knew it could be abused that way before it was use to push Stallman out of his own organisation.

Mitigation of Codes of Conduct, or the Malleus Hackerum (Nerds Hammer) as well as mitigation of Bigotry includes adopting a more reasonable version, avoiding altogether, addressing same problems that CoC aims to, but with more allowance for free speech and diversity of opinion, and working together to help prevent and counteract discrimination.

“Mitigation of Codes of Conduct, or the Malleus Hackerum (Nerds Hammer) as well as mitigation of Bigotry includes adopting a more reasonable version, avoiding altogether, addressing same problems that CoC aims to, but with more allowance for free speech and diversity of opinion, and working together to help prevent and counteract discrimination.”An increasing number of people believe that rather than leaping to exclude people in the name of “inclusion,” as has happened lately in mob form rather than with constructive resolution as a primary goal — we can do far better to resolve issues that were hijacked to kick important people out of Free software. A Free software federation is one effort to make the movement more resilient against such attacks.

“Co-opting charities” is a problem that is likely too broad and political to solve with the Free Software Definition, indeed these may all be. That doesn’t mean we should give up on solving them, rather we should consider what the best solution for these problems would look like.

“Apathy” is indeed a threat of sorts, but also an effect of other threats as much as it is a cause. When people are frustrated, co-opted, infiltrated, taken over, and cut off from reliable solutions, apathy is what things look like after long-term frustrations have given way to cynicism and long-suffering. Perhaps the best way to deal with apathy is to actually work to fix the other problems that are endemic.

“While the FSF remains the original (and very arguably, the most important) authority on Free software, they are not doing much to address or counter many of these threats.”For a long time, Free software has run up against new threats. Many Free software supporters have looked to the FSF for guidance. While the FSF remains the original (and very arguably, the most important) authority on Free software, they are not doing much to address or counter many of these threats.

In fact, it is a common theme in non-profit organisations that they will spend years focused on the same solutions, even as new problems arise. The FSF has indeed expanded its mission and addressed some new threats. But complaints of being dismissive have gone on for years, and instead of Stallman stepping down and someone rolling up their sleeves and getting to work ushering in a new era of fighting for freedom, Zoe Kooyman is writing classic, recycled corporate boilerplate on Join Us for blah blah blah blah…

Sorry Zoe, this isn’t your fault. If you had a far better idea, I bet the FSF would have asked you to go with the boilerplate anyway. I’m only using your name because it’s there at the top of it.

“A lot of us would be just as happy to ignore the FSF and take “orders” directly from Stallman.”The FSF doesn’t have many new ideas, new plans, or have much to say about what has happened in September. It would not be outlandish to assume that we will never hear anything satisfactory to resolve what happened, and I would be alright with that if someone stepped up to renew and reinvigorate the battle that Stallman has led for so long.

But nobody believes that will happen. Nobody I know is excited about the state of the FSF — everyone that has an ounce of hope is clinging to A. an alternative or B. something to tide us over until the FSF stops tiptoeing around. A lot of us would be just as happy to ignore the FSF and take “orders” directly from Stallman.

But you know, no matter how this sounds, there is a lot of love for both Stallman as well as the FSF, and nothing would make us happier to find both back on track. It’s just, all we are being asked for is “Money” and “Support.” Not ideas. Not solutions. And “Support” ought to include Stallman, but the FSF is still censoring the mailing lists — so, whatever.

“Not ideas. Not solutions. And “Support” ought to include Stallman, but the FSF is still censoring the mailing lists — so, whatever.”When the REAL Free Software Foundation starts acting like the real Free Software Foundation again, nobody will be happier than we are. And when Richard Stallman goes back to making a Gnuisance of himself, whether as the head of GNU or whatever he does this year, many of us will be very glad he hasn’t quit.

In the meantime, we still have these threats to deal with. We have software and devices that prevent changes, violate privacy, reduce control by the user, and kind of simulate non-free platforms with Free software.

We have platforms that are increasingly locked-down, development that is increasingly disrupted, stifled and co-opted, not to mention that the less free we get, the more corporate we seem to be… As I routinely tell people, I’m not an anti-capitalist and I certainly don’t have a problem with people making money.

“In the meantime, we still have these threats to deal with. We have software and devices that prevent changes, violate privacy, reduce control by the user, and kind of simulate non-free platforms with Free software.”I have a problem with monopolies. I have a problem with corporate dishonesty and corporate bullies. I have a problem with Free software being increasingly taken over by large companies that don’t care about us and even try to stop us from having our own solutions. First they lend a hand, then they take what’s ours with both hands. Then they say they’re the ones who really made it anyway.

Well, that’s theft. Maybe we should have told them “just get out and stay out,” but “Open Source” kept saying that’s not really Open.

Well honestly, who cares about that? Open isn’t really Free.

What we need are ways to say that you should be free to fork, even while a company tries to glue all your free projects together into a giant corporate-designed mess.

“Open isn’t really Free.”We need ways to make people free to participate, even when people think the best way to be inclusive is to let mobs kick out people that are loved by the community.

We need ways to get the FSF’s attention, even though they speak to us more and more in Public Relationspeak and empty Marketing nonsense.

We need to find a way to make Gnuisances of more of ourselves, and still find a way to work together amidst all this turmoil.

I would be willing to contribute to a project that creates a second tier, or “Four More Freedoms” but I have to ask: what freedoms do we need that we don’t have?

We are trying to protect the first four, but that’s the problem. There are so many attacks on those from so many angles.

“I would be willing to contribute to a project that creates a second tier, or “Four More Freedoms” but I have to ask: what freedoms do we need that we don’t have?”I agree strongly with the Free Software Force that we need to reassess many things. But I sort of think the Free Software Definition is just the tip of the iceberg, and I think we need to be very careful and very thoughtful what we do with that one.

Hopefully this article will inspire several people (just a small handful would do) to think seriously about what key changes will put Free software back on track.

I’ll be honest — YOU are more likely to do that than the FSF, for now at least. I’m not saying they’re useless, I think they’re vital. But don’t put too much stock in the “new” FSF based on the promises they make — they haven’t really even kept the ones we know them for.

“Hopefully this article will inspire several people (just a small handful would do) to think seriously about what key changes will put Free software back on track.”Rather, recognise the value of the FSF based on their history, potential and most importantly — their actions. When the FSF does something right, applaud it. When they screw up, don’t look surprised. Their “Board” of Directors is looking more and more like a Stick. They haven’t even got a President.

…Still!

But let’s hope they have some VERY good ideas. Not that I expect them to listen to any of ours. Seriously — why would they? Do we look like Platinum Sponsors to you?

Long Live Stallman, and Happy Hacking.

You can visit the Free Software Force website at https://fsforce.noblogs.org

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