Free Software is About Software Ownership

“Free software” is a confusing name/term. The “free” here means freedom. So it is freedom software. But to exercise freedom you need something more. What is that? You have to own the software. Therefore, free software is about ownership of software.

All software is free software for its owners

Take any software. Who owns that software? User, seller, developer, lawyer or whoever it is, if they have the ownership of some software, then that software is a free software for him/her/them. Majority of software/programs used nowadays are owned by software companies. So we can say majority of software/programs are free software for those companies.

Private software

These companies can sell software, modify software, share, or ‘open’ their software. They can have or exercise full rights over it. Others — including users — have limited ownership; only things which are allowed by the owner/company. In other words, these software programs are privately-owned software. So let’s call them private software.

Problems with private software

There are lots of issues with private software. As a user, you can only run the software if you’ve paid the license fee. You cannot use it in a different way from what they they allowed (for example, a 10-user licensed software cannot be used by 11 users). You cannot give it to a friend. You cannot modify anything in there. You cannot know what the software does behind the scenes. The list goes on.

Public software

Because of all these issues, in 1983 a person named Richard Stallman began a movement. Its aim was to give full control, full rights and full ownership of software to the person who uses it. That was the Free Software Movement. At that time it was an Utopian idea. Nobody cared for it. But because of his and his group’s persistence and commitment they could made it a reality. So software got public ownership. That is Free software. Let us call it public software.

Impact of public software

What will happen if the public gains ownership of software? Then, no private person can control software.

– Cannot sell copies of software.
– Companies can charge a price for software (maximum) only one time.

In effect, companies will lose control and profit. Will they accept that?

No way. Anything that that is publicly owned will cause reduction in profits of companies. Look around and learn about the idea of public education, public health care, public housing, public utilities etc. So, they will find ways to destroy the idea of public ownership. If anything publicly owned is still existing, they will make it corrupt and finally dismantle it, because people don’t understand their value when they exist and they are always distracted.

They know that if you attack anything directly, that will always strengthen that. Understand please, they have 10,000 years of history in ruling humankind. So to attack public software they’ve created decoys. Then they attribute some ideas of public software to those decoys and they’ve slanted the game.

For all these games there’s no need for any secret conspiracy or anything like that. The system is self-sustaining. So it will work automatically. Whatever we do in this system, it only strengthen the system unless we’re consciously and purposefully doing something against it. Still, that also not 100% effective.

So instead of dealing with public software, i.e. Free software, they are playing with decoys. There are lots them now. Open Source (OSS), FOSS etc. are among the notable examples.

What do OSS and FOSS do?

They imitate the Free Software Movement. They turned the idea of public ownership of software upside down by ignoring the user or removing the user from the picture. They marked users as dumb and passive actors. (They appear only when talking about their dumbness, which means “user friendliness”.[joke]) Now, who is in the picture? It’s the software providers. Who are they? Programmers and mostly companies.

They hide companies as next twist. They put the spotlight on a poor, intelligent, isolated, expert programmer who is trying to save the world from some “xyz”. With these two twists they completely changed the narrative.

Then again, they introduced another twist. That is changing the objective. Instead of user’s ownership they use “Opening” of source code. Does software closed in some container? What you mean by open? What a stupid idea. Source code is always open. Problem is whether you have rights or not. They are just fooling all the people, who should get full ownership of software in the first place.

By hiding the user they removed the politics of ownership and rights of users. By hiding the companies as the main actors, they concealed the profit motives and vested interests of companies. By hiding the objective of free software, they reduced it to nothing. Now there is nothing left in free software. What a perfect decoy!

From 1998 onwards they not only started but exacerbated this. Since companies are backing them they have had huge funds, they could literally buy all media, pundits and of course the developers. Now all these developers are doing Gig 2.0, which means unpaid voluntary work for companies, dreaming that their code is saving the planet (which actually is destroyed it by the same masters themselves). Media is flooded with their narcissistic “success” stories. These high-end organised works may have completely destroyed the Free Software Movement within its founder’s lifetime.

First-generation Free software activists retired. Second-generation Free software activists are in the OSS/FOSS trap. Third-generation Free software activists actually don’t know what Free software is. These people think that the OSS/FOSS things are the movement. The bad things these companies are doing stomped/stepped on the movement, too. They fired the founder from his own organisation. But there is a complete silence from these kids. They are busy writing gratis code for the masters. This is the situation now.

Wake up, Free software friends

This is nothing new. Think about the Great Depression. People suffered a lot. They politically organised and forced the person in charge to implement their demands. The New Deal era began. Then what happened to it? Gradually it got destroyed, causing another great depression in 2008. So, if we loosen our attention a little bit, they will turn things upside down in their own favor. Same thing has happened to the Free Software Movement, too.

Software freedom is like democracy. Initially it was just ‘there’, albeit only for white land-owning men. There were other people and they protested to get representation. With a long struggle — one by one — new groups got chances in democracy.

Like the above, nowadays software is only free for the private owners. We cannot let this current status quo continue. We have to fight to get the ownership and rights. We have to end this rebranding of Free software by OSS/FOSS kind of ‘corporate pimps’. So let’s work for a strong software freedom movement that empowers users as well as developers.

Long live the GPL.

Note: This is part of the software freedom series. To see all posts please go to FSM category.


Written by: Jagadees.S
India

Nullius in verba


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