Tony Stanco: Why FreeDevelopers.Net Used The Declaration Of Independence As Its Model
Feb 22, 2001, 01:10 (17 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tony Stanco)
Desktop-as-a-Service Designed for Any Cloud ? Nutanix Frame
By Tony Stanco, FreeDevelopers.net
The following are the reasons that FreeDevelopers.Net based the
Declaration of Software Freedom on the Declaration of
The moral question between free and proprietary software
ultimately revolves around the issue, "Is code more like law (and
ought to be public and free) or more like literature (and therefore
can be private property)?"
We must ask developers, who are renowned for their independent
thinking, to suspend disbelief and skepticism until the end, for
new ways of seeing the world at first seem strange and thus
inherently wrong. But people from the earliest times have turned to
things they know well to better understand things that are new. And
the proper place for software development in the world is a new
Since everyone intuitively knows what law and literature are,
let's look to them in a thought experiment to better understand the
attributes of software, and specifically to resolve the question
whether the software development paradigm ought to follow a free or
LAW v. LITERATURE
What's the difference between law and literature? Both are just
words on paper. And both are created by men and women from their
native, intellectual powers. So why then does society treat them so
utterly different? Why is literature allowed to be private
property, subject to the capricious whims of a creator who can do
whatever he wants with it, while personal ownership of law is
forbidden? In fact, in free and democratic countries the creation
of law has been studiously circumscribed, and is subject to great
control, huge regulatory mechanisms and public participation.
While we in free and democratic societies have been thrust into
a world with these verities presented as gifts, who among us has
stopped for a moment of reflection to wonder why this is or how it
came about? Has it always been that law and literature were treated
Remembering back to high school history we can all recollect
learning of times when law was just the dictates of all-powerful
kings. When law was really just whatever the king wanted it to be
at the moment without restriction. Back then, writing good laws
made them good kings and bad laws made them bad kings. But either
way, kings were the solitary authors of law, creating real world
effects for their subjects with their mere utterances, just like
literary authors today create fictional worlds with their words.
So, at the time, law was just the private property of kings. Or to
put it another way, law was the king's literature.
So in fact even not too long ago, the world was confused about
the differences of law and literature. Some places today still live
under the confusion. But for the most part, the world through
bloody trial and error has discovered that law and literature are
somehow very different. With countless political wars fought over
who would get to write the words to be placed in law books, the
world came to slowly realize that law creation ought to rest in the
governed through some democratic means, and not be the private
preserve of a particular person. This is surely clear to all
thinking people in the 21st century and needs no elaboration
WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL DIFFERENCE?
Over centuries, therefore, the world has established that there is
a difference between law and literature, and that the two ought not
to be confused. But has the world ever rationalized the essential
differences in them to explain the difference in treatment more
specifically? Because to apply effects to different circumstances
as we are trying to do here with software, one must understand the
causes too, not just the outcomes. So what really is it in law that
makes it different from literature? Again, both are merely words
from people's intellect, so exactly what is the essential
For one thing, people don't have to read an ordinary book.
Experiencing literature is totally voluntary, whereas law is
compulsory. Does that explain all of the essential differences? It
certainly appears to go a very long way, but that is not the whole
story. Law is not only compulsory; it is coercive, also. Law,
unlike literature, does not only tell you what you need to know, it
tells you what you have to do, too. And if you don't do it, it
sends the police to knock on your door at night to politely, or not
so politely, make sure you do it. And this is ultimately the
essential difference between law and literature.
Therefore, in the final analysis, law is essentially not like
literature, because it controls people.
So to briefly recap, over the centuries, starting with rational
predispositions of equality, autonomy and freedom, the world has
deduced in bloody and deadly cycles of reductio ad absurdum that if
law is to control people, the only legitimate creation of that law
is a social contract among the people as written in a democratic
process by the governed themselves.
WHICH IS SOFTWARE MORE LIKE?
So the basic question at the beginning of the 21st century between
proprietary and free software comes down to the question whether
software is more like law (and ought to be public and free), or
more like literature (and can be private property). Under the
analysis above, the crucial question is, "Does software control
Well, the answer is both yes and no.
Up until very recently, before computers were interconnected by
the Internet, they were isolated tools, not instruments of control.
So, no, historically computers do not control people.
But with the creation of cyberspace in recent years, where more
and more interaction between people is through computers, these
machines are fast becoming a nonhuman, digital police force,
telling people not only what they need to know, but coercing them
on how to do it, too. Without complying with their specific rules
for participating in cyberspace, people cannot properly function
there. In other words, digital machines are beginning to control
how people interact with other people and with the physical world
in real and definite ways. So, the answer is quickly becoming
However, whereas a human police force takes its marching orders
from what we call law, the new digital, nonhuman, police force
takes its orders from what we call software. But both are
functional substitutes for ways to control people. And as such,
with the beginning of the Internet Age, software has begun to
supplement the traditional function of law.
As a functional equivalent to law, by analogy to thousands of
years of human history, software, therefore, should not be created
at the whim of a king (or his current day manifestation as CEO),
nor should it be owned as private property. Rather like law, it
should be public property, and open to general inspection and
deliberation, so that the governed can participate in the formation
of the social contract by which they will be governed. As a result,
software should be developed under a free model, rather than the
current proprietary paradigm that we have had up until now.
In conclusion, as Richard Stallman has said for 16 years, free
software is really about Freedom. As such, free software is this
generation's moral duty, just as much as the establishment of
democracy was the moral duty of our ancestors for which we, the
later generations, have been the beneficiaries. It is this
congruence between their revolution and ours that justified, in our
view, the use of the Declaration of Independence as the model of
the Declaration of Software Freedom.
For those who, inspired by these ideals, want to join
FreeDevelopers, please sign the Declaration at www.FreeDevelopers.Net/freedomdec.
For those who need appeals to their personal pecuniary interest
and an answer to the question, "How does this profit me?" please
wait until we unveil the proposed new commercial structure for the
development of software. It will be disclosed in the coming
- Declaration of Software Freedom Leaked Early; Release Was Planned for MS Court Date(Feb 17, 2001)
- FreeDevelopers.net: The Declaration of Software Freedom(Feb 16, 2001)
- Linux Journal: A Matter of Principle: RMS at Linux Expo in Amsterdam(Jan 31, 2001)
- Community: Richard Stallman to speak in Monterrey, Mexico(Jan 16, 2001)
- LinuxPR: RMS Becomes CEO of FreeDevelopers.net
(Jan 10, 2001)
- NewsForge: FreeDeveloper.net's eVote project struggles over code release(Nov 23, 2000)
- ZDNet: The coders' collective - Is the world ready for a democratically-elected software company?(Nov 17, 2000)
- NewsForge: Open Source elections: Can technology solve voting mishaps?
(Nov 16, 2000)
- LWN: FreeDevelopers.net - the way forward?(Nov 09, 2000)
- LinuxPR: RMS and GNU endorse FreeDevelopers.net
(Nov 06, 2000)
- LinuxPR: E-Democracy Project at FreeDevelopers.net gets started
(Nov 01, 2000)
- LinuxPR: FreeDevelopers.net -- A company of free developers, by free developers, for a free world(Oct 04, 2000)