Free Software Movement

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The free software movement began in 1983 when Richard Stallman launched the GNU Project. The free software movement is a social movement which aims to change the rights which software users have.

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Marco Berlinguer:

"The roots of the free and open source software movement lie in the 1980s, when it began to take shape among computer programmers and software researchers as a reaction to the increased ‘enclosure’ of software coding, which frustrated their habit of freely sharing, investigating and improving software.

Two developments were crucial in its emergence. First, Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and pioneer of new notions of copyright, released a new form of copyright licence in 1989 – the General Public License (GPL).

Instead of protecting the right of the producer, the GPL protects the access of the user to the ‘source code’ and her/his freedom to ‘run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve’ the software. Crucially, the GPL includes two further clauses: a requirement that whoever distributes copies or improvements of GPL software must to do so under the same licence; and a prohibition to hybridise GPL software with property software. Hence the GPL – under which most free software is released today – provided an institutional framework shielding an environment in which free software could develop in a cumulative and expansive way.

The second decisive step came in the early 1990s, when Linus Torvalds prompted a large, open, dispersed and selfassembled community of voluntary developers to complete a very complicated technical project: the first free computer operating system, Linux. Since then free software has expanded massively in many fields of application.

Together with its cousin, open source software (a more commercially friendly section of the movement), it contributed to the creation of ‘a new institutional ecology’ composed of volunteer communities, non-profit foundations, public bodies and commercial actors ‘actively using and contributing to the common resource (the code basis) in pursuit of their individual goals and strategies’. Within it, an alternative economic model emerged that ‘focused on solving unique problems, rather than selling identical copies’ and was regulated by new social norms combining ‘the competition for personal recognition among peers with collaboration in solving shared problems’.

Today the free and open source software movement is powerful – technically, economically, politically and culturally. It is hegemonic among the servers running the internet; widely adopted by individuals, public administrations, small and medium-sized businesses, and large corporations; and increasingly endorsed by a significant segment of the IT industry. Culturally it became a source of inspiration in many fields; politically it proved its strength in 2007, when it succeeded in blocking a change in software patent law in the European Parliament. This political victory halted, for the first time, more than two decades of extended protection of intellectual property.

What enabled free software to take off, at the beginning of the 1990s, was the spread among software programmers of personal computers networked through the internet. By the end of the decade, the same means of cheap mass (self-) communication, easy transformation and decentralised distribution became available to the wider public. When this was harnessed to bring together the massive diffused communicative, cultural and creative skills of the modern world, it led to the reshaping of every field of production of cultural works, information and knowledge.

Three main phenomena emerged. First, there was a huge entry and empowerment of new, micro, not-commercial producers previously marginalised by established distribution mechanisms. Second was the use of existing works to create new ones, as a central approach to cultural production (remixing). And third, there was a mass and public (online) infringement of copyright terms by making and distributing unauthorised copies of digital cultural products. Together they produced a de facto deep crisis of the copyright regime and of the culture and media industries." (draft for Red Pepper)


The Free Software Movement's incomplete conception of freedom

Toni Prug:

"Free Software has been accused many times of connection with the ideas of communism, explicit statements of Eben Moglen contributed to it.

However, not in a single point do Free Software freedoms include freedoms related to the worker’s work in its totality, e.g. related to the relationship of work and means of production situated in space and time. Space and time are from the start completely out of the Free Software discourse.

Similar like in the case of Lawrence Lessig’s non-existing categories of time, Free Software doesn’t deal with details like the necessity of space and time. In Lessig’s case, degree of freedom of a culture is determined by “how much, and how broadly, is the culture free for others to take and build upon”(Lessig, 2004, 30). He concludes that USA culture used to be more free, and now, due to the vast increase in copyright, it is less so. What he doesn’t consider is the “free time”, or disposable time as Marx called it, time necessary for culture being used, or built upon (Prug, 2006).

Since Free Software, Culture and Creative Commons are all constituted through discourses that don’t include space and time, and thus don’t include relations of production and ownership over time and property

- subjectivity through which such discourses of freedom and commons are being constituted is that of the liberal political subject – subject whose private property can not be questioned, challenged. Separation between private and public is thus constitutive separation of the liberal discourse of freedom, separation without which Free Software, Culture and Creative Commons are not possible.

Let’s not forget that, in the USA, participation in battles for political power does not include common, or prescribed, space and time. Space and time used for gaining political power (campaigns, elections) are paid for by private funds, while at the same time those funds secure access to those who end up holding the political power. Autonomy of the economy, where space and time are carved, determined, is not only not hindered, but it is actively strengthened by the political. Thus, it makes sense that these discourses of freedom and commons in software and culture that lack concepts of space and time do come from the state where the separation of public and private, of social and private, is inscribed into the political philosophy and constitution of the state in extreme ways." (