As the ideals of Free Software gain wider acceptance, people who resist them tend to rationalize the compromising of their own freedoms on the grounds of freedom of choice, often posed as the fifth freedom. When this freedom is used to justify the acceptance of proprietary drivers [ULP], firmware [FPG], multimedia codecs [FPC] and web-based applications [FSW], it might as well be stated as the freedom to enslave oneself, but this wouldn't do it justice. It's a much bigger problem.
The Free Software movement was created with the goal of enabling users to live their digital lives in freedom. To this end, four freedoms related with software were established [FSD]:
0: the freedom to run the software for any purpose;
1: the freedom to study the software and adapt it to your needs;
2: the freedom to distribute the software the way you received it;
3: the freedom to modify the software and share your modifications.
As long as all the software you run respects your four freedoms and runs on computers you can control, you live in digital freedom.
However, whenever you choose to sacrifice any of these freedoms, you are probably harming not only yourself, but your entire community.
Consider the consequences of buying hardware from a vendor that won't offer Free Software drivers for Free Software operating systems, or won't even share specifications for others to develop Free Software drivers. When you give the vendor money and marketshare, you strengthen its position. But you also divide our community, as some of us will stand firm and reject such hardware, while you give in.
Proprietary firmware poses a very similar problem. There's nothing in the Free Software definition that limits its scope to software that runs on the main processors of a computer. Unfortunately, more and more hardware components require such non-Free Software to be loaded onto them every time the computer boots up. When you purchase such components, you take bargaining power away from our community, and hand it to the vendor.
When an operating system distributor arranges for its system to work seamlessly with components that require non-Free drivers or firmware, many users don't even realize they are being deprived of their freedoms before it's too late. As they perceive that the combination of hardware and operating system "just works", and recommend it to their friends, the hardware and operating system distributors that do not respect their users' freedoms gain further power. Meanwhile, the operating system distributors who remain committed to Free Software often take the blame for their similar system not working out of the box, on such freedom-deprived hardware.
Codecs are more perverse in that they rely not only on copyright and secrecy, but also on patent law, to restrict what users can do, and they're often used to implement DRM (Digital Restrictions Management). On the good side, software patents are not allowed in most countries, which enables reverse-engineering and Free Software implementations of most such formats. These free implementations have been prohibited in the USA, the European Union and some other countries, and that keeps them out of most major Free Software distributions. Accepting DRMed formats and non-Free codecs in order to enjoy artistic and technical works strengthens the proponents of such formats, even when you use only Free Software to do so. Even if you don't pay a fee to enjoy the works, the encoding often involves paying copyright or software patent licensing fees.
Web applications are different in that they take freedom away from the user without any unethical or immoral acts by the software "provider", even when the applications are Free Software. Making private changes is one of the core freedoms we fight for, and it's arguable whether enabling third parties to run software through a web server makes such software no longer private. For sure, users should not expect to be entitled to modify the copy of the software that runs on the server.
It is desirable, however, for users to be entitled to download their own data from the server, and to obtain a copy of the entire program, so as to keep control of their digital lives, by enjoying the freedoms to modify the software locally, and to run it for any purpose. When you use web applications that take your digital freedom away from you, locking you in by means of your data or software functionality, you offer positive feedback to such behavior and strengthen the provider, at the expense of your own data and freedom. We urge users to resist the temptation to use web applications to do their own personal computations.
Trading freedom for short-term convenience is most often a bad deal in the long term. Of course we can and should offer convenience to users [UTU,GNS], but only as long as this doesn't harm our ultimate goal of freedom.
Whenever someone draws a plan that involves sacrificing some freedom now to gain more freedom later, he'd better be sure the goal is achievable. For example, it was necessary to use non-Free Software to bootstrap the GNU Operating System. The sacrifice would unmistakably lead to more freedom, since the non-Free Software was used only to develop its own replacement [LMI].
But what to say of the argument that we need a critical mass of users to become relevant to hardware manufacturers and media distributors, such that they will respect our freedoms, and so we need to sacrifice our freedoms now to lure more users into our camp using proprietary software as the bait [WD2]?
Quite often, supporters of such arguments lose sight of the ultimate goal, aiming at popularity rather than freedom. Although the argument cited above does not lose sight of the goal of freedom, it fails to draw a clear and safe path from critical mass to freedom [BFS].
The flaw in the argument is the assumption that the users lured in with convenience as the bait would give us leverage to obtain more freedom. Why would they? The convenience afforded by non-Free drivers, firmware and codecs would grow our community with people who don't share our values and goals. If these people were not willing to trade convenience for freedom before, why would they stand by our side when we reached critical mass and demanded our freedoms back?
Those who won't take part in rejecting hardware, DRMed works and non-Free Software for the sake of freedom today would probably remain so in the future, unless they learn to appreciate the value of freedom. But if more and more people in the community are willing to sacrifice freedom and not even mention it for the sake of growing the community faster, how are the new users going to learn about freedom? As the voices for freedom get dilluted in a larger but weaker community, freedoms may actually be eroded, as vendors who now respect them, because of the strong voices for freedom, cease to do so as the same voices get lost in the noise.
While it's true that, by giving up freedom, one shoots one's own foot, shrapnel spreads out and hurts our whole community. Instead of trying to rationalize the acceptance of non-Free Software as a good thing, we must keep on doing all we can to teach more Free Software users to appreciate it for the freedom it gives them, because only then will they stand up for freedom with us.
There's no doubt that freedom of choice can be beneficial, but is it not wise to sacrifice other freedoms for some immediate convenience, when you know that this will cause your community to end up without freedom of choice, without convenience, and without the other freedoms. Your choices can enslave yourself and your entire community. Choose wisely.
[FPG] http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Packaging/Guidelines, under Binary Firmware
As promised in the latest newsletter, we've published our draft constitution at http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/134, for public comments. Please send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and help us translate it at http://wiki.fsfla.org/wiki/index.php/Constitution.
We have a number of other ongoing translations at http://wiki.fsfla.org/wiki/index.php/Traductores (mostly in Spanish):
an article on GPLv3
Richard Stallman's speech in Zagreb, Croatia in 2006
Eben Moglen's keynote speech at the Plone Conference 06
an article on DRM
an article on the Brazilian constitutional preference for Free Software
with probably more to come.
Speaking of the Wiki, we're considering a switch from Drupal and MediaWiki to the Latin-American svnwiki. Alejandro Forero Cuervo, the svnwiki development lead, has helped us set it up for testing. You're welcome to experiment with it at http://www.fsfla.org/svnwiki.
We thank Alejo, Exal Carrillo and Eder Marques for offering to help us maintain our web site. If you'd like to join them, or just offer comments about svnwiki or our site, send e-mail to email@example.com.
You may have noticed that our mailing list software now offers Portuñol as one of the language options, and that's the default language for all of our mailing lists. If you look closely, you'll see it's just the Spanish translation under another name, which is in line with the fact that it appears to be far easier for Portuguese speakers to understand and pretend to write in Spanish than it is for Spanish speakers to do so with Portuguese.
When you participate in our lists, please make an effort to make it easier for other participants to understand you, avoiding Spanish and Portuguese words, constructs and phrases that might be difficult for non-native speakers to understand.
Niibe Yutaka, from the Free Software Initiative Japan, and G. Nagarjuna, from the Free Software Foundation India, have kindly agreed to become observers of our board, in response to our effort to strengthen our relationship with other FSFes and nearly-FSF organizations such as FSIJ. Niibe-san and Nagarjuna join in this role Richard Stallman, from the original FSF, and Georg Greve, from FSF Europe.
It is also our pleasure to announce that Alejandro Forero Cuervo, a very active Latin American Free Software developer and advocate, original organizer of FLISOL and co-founder of Colibrí, a Colombian Free Software users community, has also honored us by accepting the role of board observer.
The third draft of GPLv3 is expected to be published around the time this newsletter goes out. Keep an eye on http://gplv3.fsf.org/, read the drafts and submit your comments, such that they can be taken into account for the final release. Watch our translators web page for translations of the draft as well. This is going to be the last draft, and the release won't take long, so don't miss this last opportunity to participate in the first major Free Software license developed under a Free Software development model.
Alexandre Oliva spoke about Free Software and DRM at the National Digital Inclusion Seminar promoted by the National Students Union in Rio de Janeiro on January 30, 2007.
He was invited to the first meeting towards forming the Free Knowledge Network organization in Brazil. The meeting is scheduled to take place in São Paulo in early February, 2007.
We take this opportunity to apologize for the omission, in the Spanish translation of our December/2006 newsletter, of Richard Stallman's speeches in Colombia and Ecuador early that month. It was a translation error that unfortunately went unnoticed for longer than one month. Alexandre Oliva publicly apologizes for his mistake.
FSFLA depends on voluntary work from Free Software enthusiasts. If you can and want to help, please join our workgroups listed at http://www.fsfla.org/?q=en/node/121. If you'd prefer to work on another workgroup we haven't set up yet, please bring it up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2007 FSFLA
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