Tuesday, April 22, 2008


As Coar and Stallman and Raymond all acknowledge, freedom to use other people’s work and source code enables collaboration and thus quick and effective development of programs. Coar writes” Since our purpose is to make evolution easy, we require that modification be made easy.” This suggests a utilitarian edge to the Free Software/Open source that permeates the GNU manifesto and the Open Source definition—-collaboration is important because it helps people benefit from the evolution of these programs.
Its fascinating to me, though, that in FOSS what is dubbed “freedom of speech” is actually freedom to copy, and openly so. Raymond writes, “It is absolutely critical not that the coordinator be able to originate designs of exceptional brilliance, but that he recognize good design ideas from others.” In the desire to achieve total utility and software evolution, FOSS discards originality. The “digital artisans,” working out of voluntary passion for programming, privilege collaboration over individuality, utility over creativity.
If programmers are artists as Cramer suggests, shouldn't they should be given the right to create un-collaboratively if desired? Stallman answers no, writing that “because programs are used rather than read and enjoyed…creates a situation in which a person who enforces a copyright is harming society as a whole both materially and spiritually.” Because programs are functional, he says, programmers shouldn’t have privacy rights to their creations. In my opinion, this is just another example of valuing utility over creativity or originality. Though he dubs this philosophy as free, it seems to me like just another example of Deleuze’s idea that new control tactics are instituted in our society under the guise of freedom and mobility. FOSS takes creative control and originality out of the hands of the individual programmer while replacing it with a freedom (read: obligation) to share and contribute to the goal of utility. As Terranova says, free internet labor is inseparable from the “outernet” late capitalist system—perhaps FOSS is a way to present a capitalist goal of efficiency and utility using a new discourse of collective knowledge and free collaboration.

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