Freedom of Use

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= one of the principles underlying Free Software


Rob Myers:

"Stallman’s conception of Free Software is the freedom of individuals to utilise the functionality of software as they see fit. I will call this “freedom of use”. The ethical value of freedom of use is that it supports the freedom of individuals to pursue their own ends within society in a pluralistic way.

It is not unusual for people to complain that they wish to be free to exploit the exchange value of software (including software that they themselves have written) rather than its use value, and that having to allow other people to be able to use the software without restriction affects this freedom. But this is not freedom of use, and indeed is not freedom in general as it involves reducing the freedom of others.

Stallman’s model for software freedom was the 1970s MIT AI Lab. The social contract of the AI Lab embodied the principles and benefits of free use and development of software. It is important to recognise that this is the historical emergence of an (approximately) ideal model rather than a historical accident or contingency. It is also important to recognise that Free Software is reform with a definite model in mind rather than radicalism with an unknown trajectory.

Non-Software Freedom

Stallman has written about the concept of freedom for non-software work. He divides such work into reference, opinion and expression, with different freedoms required for each. Reference material, like software, is a tool to be used to realise your own ends and so should be free. Opinion is designed to have some effect within society and so should not be misrepresented. It should therefore be freely distributable but not modifiable. Expression is not used to achieve or inform anyone’s ends within society and therefore need not be freely copyable. It is also a product of someone’s personality so like opinion it need not be modifiable.

The categories that Stallman describes are guided by the principle of freedom of use. As the usefulness of each category as a means for achieving pluralistic ends reduces, so the requirement of freedom reduces.

I would also argue that there is not such a neat break down of works into separate categories. To take the example of music, a song may be opinion (a satirical song), reference (schooling or tribal songs), expression (punk) or entertainment (corporate punk). Or it may a combination (a protest song may be opinion and expression for example)." (


Freedom of Use vs. Freedom of Speech

Rob Myers:

"As freedom of use is the basic freedom for software, freedom of speech is the basic freedom for culture and cultural works. Supporting and enabling freedom of speech, and opposing censorship, is the pursuit of cultural freedom. Speech here includes art, music, film, and other non-verbal and non-textual forms. Authorship therefore includes artistic, musical, dramatic, cinematographic and other forms.

An author may need to use other speech through reference, parody, satire or quotation (of which sampling is a form) in order to achieve their ends. This is true whichever of Stallman’s cultural categories the work they are producing and refering to fall in. In expression or entertainment, freedom of use peters out (unless, presumably, those works are represented as software) but freedom of speech remains."

The ethical value of freedom of speech is that, like freedom of use, it is vital for the freedom of individuals to pursue their own ends within a pluralistic society. There are many historical models of robust cultural exchange and derivation, from Homeric Verse through Shakespeare and political pamphleteering to Blues, Jazz and dance music and contemporary documentaries and satire." (