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What Did I Learn From Free Software Movement?

Back in 2010-2011, when I was a under-graduate student of computer science, I got introduced to GNU/Linux operating system and then gradually got introduced to the free software movement through FSFTN. Since then, I have been active with the free software movement by doing activism (i.e asking people and helping them to switch to free software by explaining the values underlying it), releasing all the code and utility scripts, that I create, under a free software license.

So with all these activities, I have learned certain values from the free software movement.

Be Inclusive - make sure everyone has option to take part in production as well as consumption.

A software is free software, if it's license allows anyone to use, study, modify, distribute or redistribute the code to anyone for any purpose. It invites everyone to use and it doesn't stop there, it even invites them to study and modify the code based on their needs and promotes them to share their modification to others as well.

Let's say we buy a bike. A bike is useless without fuel for it's engine, therefore we need fuel to run bikes. Fuel production is a separate industry on a large scale by itself. We cannot produce fuel with bike, we can only consume or use fuel with bike. If we substitute bike for a computer here, then a computer hardware is also useless without a software. If software is the fuel for computer hardware, then software is both produced and used in computers. The means used to produce and use are the same. This invites a new question,

"Why can't a user with a knowledge or a user with a friend who has knowledge on how to study and modify the software is unable to do so for their own computer?"

The answer is, we are able to do, but the proprietary software distributors have written their license that doesn't allow users to do so, instead puts a chain of dependency around the neck of the users. By separating software production and software usage it has built an exclusive system. Free Software is trying to liberate users by breaking these chains and invites everyone to produce as well. It is designed to be inclusive. It doesn't restrict people from a particular race or gender or religion or caste or color or whatever from contributing to it.


Collective progress > Individual Progress

This is pretty straight-forward. In a group of people, if only one of them gets access to a resource, then all others have to depend on that one individual. Now that individual, based on their morals and values, may or may not exploit the others for their own profit. In case of collective progress, everyone gets access to the resource and everyone collectively frames a guideline on how to utilize and manage a resource. This is how any free software project is developed, initially a community is formed around it and based on their contribution and suggestions bugs are fixed, new features are added and this in turn used by everyone benefits everyone. Mailing lists, forums, irc channels, bug trackers, pull requests, this is how the community self-organizes.


When contribution is to the collective, the resource should be managed as a commons

Drawing from the first two values of inclusiveness and collective progress, the outcome of such production cannot become a private property. The non-permissive free software licenses like GNU GPL, AGPL, etc., provides legal protection to the software produced in this manner from being appropriated or enclosed by private ownership. Similarly creative commons and PPL are doing the same for digital artistic creations like Music, Articles (wikipedia), Pictures, Videos, Audio, etc., This is why, I see permissive licenses as counter-forces which takes us back to the old system at the same time appropriating all the values created by the commoners.


Commons > Private Property

Commons as a social product promotes collaboration whereas private property promotes egoism and individual greed and thus exploitation. Private property pitches one individual against the other. This competition becomes more intensive and barbaric as the population grows. In this case, if people didn't bring resources under commons, then this inevitably leads to exploitation of one another. i.e one's cost of living depends on one's cost of suffering under private property regime. This is already true with wealth inequality & income inequality. It is this private property (specifically, Intellectual Property rights) that free software is questioning and proposes commons based organization.


Innovations doesn't rely on monetary benefits, rather innovations are driven by necessity to overcome certain limitations. For example, when centralized infrastructure of a website or a webservice is prone to single point of failure or power abuse like fb or twitter, people come up with interesting solutions like decentralized, p2p alternatives like torrents, ssb-patchwork, GNU social, diaspora, OStatus, Rumble, which are all free software or open protocols. It may or may not be later appropriated by private property regime like how skype was once p2p and then back to centralization again. For democratic control & ownership, distributed software run by different collectives is the way forward. And in order for the software to be run by different collectives, it has to be in commons.


Security and privacy for everyone cannot be guranteed by private property, instead it can only be guarenteed by being inclusive. When we have private property regime, we have competition among eveyrone to acquire the property for exclusive access, this automatically brings an insecure feeling about the future. What if someone steals or damages my property? Therefore, property owners promotes surveillance. In case of softwares, there is no way to make sure that a proprietary software spy or doesn't spy on you, because users have no access to the source code. It is a blind trust. With free software, access to the source code reveals any such malware practices and since free software also allows modification, anyone can get rid of such practices and can ensure security and privacy.


Now all these values of software production comes into conflict with the existing model. It is bascially a transition towards a commons oriented production. But the existing system based on private property, especially the contemporary owners of private property will not allow this transition to pass through easily. They will engage in all sorts resistance for the sake of their own profit and privilige in this system.

A change proposed in how production happens, also demands a change in economy. This is how production, economy, politics and society are all inter-related. We need to transition to commons based peer production for the sake of our species and our planet, especially when the current system is polluting everything.

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