Bonum Certa Men Certa

Activism and Free Software

People all around the world still bought so-called 'fur' (dead farmed animals reduced to mere skin) for 'fashion' until animal rights activists got their act together and put an end to it in most places

Pom Pom Fur

Summary: The fight for software freedom ought to go on; software used to be free before it was stolen from us, soon becoming a de facto private monopoly of barons who amass software patents and buy control over all the work (e.g. GitHub)

THE term "Activism" and sometimes "Hacktivism" does not imply some sort of radicalism. Being active can be good, especially when a cause is noble and worth fighting for. After all, women and poor people (and people of all races) earned the right to vote not by sitting idly, waiting. They had to become active and demand change. The same is true for liberation of slaves (although many millions of 'classic' slaves remain on this planet to this very day, usually in very poor countries). The word "Hacktivism" may seem loaded only if one misunderstands the term "hack" or "hacking". There's even a font called "Hack". It's what I've long used in my text editor to write articles, including this one.

"Gates is fighting back of course, e.g. by buying GitHub, passing back all the code written to replace Microsoft... into Microsoft's own proprietary claws."The "hacker" movement predates proprietary software as we know it. It fought for its very survival rather than to overthrow something long in existence. Revisionist history might tell us otherwise, but good luck checking if Charles Babbage, Alan Mathison Turing, Tom Kilburn, and maybe ENIAC's inventors across the pond (J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly) did proprietary software. Back then it was rather natural, especially in a scholarly setting, to share and publish one's findings. I myself started coding in my early teens, then continued throughout my time in university; my code was never kept secret, ever. What's the point? If the code is decent, why not publish it?

Peace outFree (as in freedom, libre, livre) code is sort of the 'default' mode. In the era of the Internet, moreover, publishing code and distributing it widely is very easy. There are many forms of publication, including public vaults and repositories of code. So why did some companies work so hard to prevent dissemination of work? Especially given the zero cost associated with such dissemination? Well, people like Bill Gates created artificial scarcity and became rich in the process, in effect taking from the Commons and monopolising what was prior to that public.

A lot of today's activism works towards reversing that trend. Gates is fighting back of course, e.g. by buying GitHub, passing back all the code written to replace Microsoft... into Microsoft's own proprietary claws. Pillage and plunder? Looting? Those words are rarely used to describe what the rich and powerful "master" do to us, their "slaves"...

One could easily come up with analogies and parallels involving vaccines, typically developed using taxpayers' money to enrich few oligarchs who monopolise the solution (while denying poor taxpayers access to it).

Society would be not only just when Free software is the universal norm, a default everywhere. It would also be more equal (in this age when inequality and economic gap/disparity only seems to grow at astronomical rates).

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Reprinted with permission from Ryan Farmer