Software is not a ordinary object but an instrument good at building other tools and instruments.
Software instructs computers in writing letters, calculating, drawing, and it’s also usefull for writing music, recording stories and ideas and projecting machines and environments, for recording climate changes or warning us of an earthquake.
Software is a peculiar language form through which people manage culture and knowledge accumulated over centuries and because of that it’s not a simple utensil. Software is a cognitive artifact and it incorporates intelligence and work, it transmits meanings and values, it brings with it the idea of its creator and of its user. The fact that its use is exclusive, limited in space and time, or vice versa that it might be modified, given, freely exchanged even behind geographical barriers, makes a remarkable difference.
If the language, la langue et la parole, is the “operating system” of the society, software is the language of scientific and technological innovation in the information society. Because of this it has to be free, that is freely usable, to favour the progress of all the society, of every society, because, otherwise we would be all less free.
Think if someone patented the language. A comic strip story of 1991, made by Zzywwuruth e Cicare’ and published in Italy by Editori del Grifo, is really prophetic over this terrible perspective.
The ”bad” in the story, a certain Brevetto Protoplasto, ask the courthouse to have his rights over the dictionary and the kitchen granted, provoking hilarity among the court and the audience. The judge states that in order to address such request he should at least demonstrate that he has invented the fire and the word. The bad claims them as Adams’s descendant. But, according to the judge we are all Adam’s descendants and we have all equal rights of talking and cooking. But Brevetto claims that he is Adam’s direct descendant by means of Caino and that, in conflict with other human beings, he can prove it: his proofs are a precise family tree compiled and countersigned by priests, bonzos, and muezzins, even by Darwin, and particularly he has the apple of the Adam’s original sin brought intact after 7000 generations. Having examinated the proofs the court is forced to acknowledge to him the ownership of every language and cook recipes and since that moment humans are forced to pay a toll to Brevetto Protoplasto everytime a word is spoken or someone cooks something, actually rendering the humanity slave as insolvent debtor towards Brevetto Protoplasto.
If the language would be patented thus we would be suddenly slaves, forced to pay a toll everytime that we “execute it” and copyright on cook recepies would prevent even our grand mother to give them to us if we should’nt pay royalties to its inventor.
Something similar has already occured for software.
Since fourty years ago software was copyright free, but someone, convinced that profits could’nt be made without applying a user licence, took possession of it putting a label and setting such and many restrictions to the use that today is impossible using it for studing or research scopes or for a scope not in asset with the licencer.
Copyright on software has interrupted the cooperative practice of decentralized planning, collective review, free exchange which have characterized its birth and initial development, limiting the three main ways in which the accumulation of human knowledge proceeds and which is well explained by public scientif research.
As time passed by copyrighted software has been imposed to the most part of the users by means of unscrupulous business operations or aggressive market campaigns, with the complicity of who, the public decision makers, did’nt understand the potential that such transformation was bringing, but even as the result of more prosaic lobbying operations which did’nt allowed an independent estimation of such effects. Thus the most important software owner of the world has built an empire through a monopoly which excluded others from the advantages that software was bringing in terms of social and economic progress. This monopolist can be set as a negative model of how the job results of multiple generations of creators and inventors might be exploited without recognizing the contribute they gave to software evolution, often denying the original spirit it was made with, such as sharing among equals. It is useless to name this monopolist because he’s not the only leading character of this story. Therefore other entrepreneurs subjects, following the same logic, took profit from closing software earning politic benefits and further advantages.
But as long as all those facts occurred a new fascinating venture began: the battle for the liberation of software.
An extraordinary civilization struggle focused on bringing back into collective dominion what it was public at the beginnings, computer’s instruction language, that is software.
Giving back software’s ownership to his creators and enlarging user’s rights was the first objective of this struggle.
Nowadays every time we pay for a proprietary software subjected to exclusive use license with no source code included, we are not owners but licensees and the personal use of it is tied up by the restrictions enclosed with the license which often we don’t fully read. It happens indeed that if software does’nt work properly we cannot open it to get into the mechanism in order to mend its bugs. If we would like to study its characteristics to improve it, it is not allowed, if we would like to copy it on another of our computers we cannot do it and if we borrow it or if we want to give it as a present to a friend we become criminals. Ignorance is not admitted by the law.
What is obstructed is the aesthetic and functional reinterpretation of software, the same custom that, talking about every day’s life tools, is on the basis of social creativity and of innovation which proceeds indeed through the ability of approaching an issue from a different and unusual perspective. Moreover this practice which makes us all criminals for the law keeps from building and enhancing that social tie which come by means of free and unlimited exchange, discoveries and intuitions and so it makes us every time less joint and several and a little less free.
It’s not an accident that today the consideration of whom says that when a law is different from the most part of social behaviours it should’nt be acknowledged as it is, is to be added to the objection of the juridical legitimation’s form of this social piracy and unless we would’nt consider all as criminals, the jurisprudence, which is legitimized by the sovereign people, should be rewritten.
A mechanism which could make all this possible has been generated by the birth of GNU project and by Free Software Foundation and subsequently with the starting of the Open Source Initiative.
A user license, which even if based on copyright it overturns it and transforms it in “author’s permission”, has been written taking the copyright back to the bed in which was born, the one of the need for protecting the written work’s authors from the possible appropriation by the publishers and at the same time the need for yielding necessary earnings to the authors and to the publishers to continue this praiseworthy work of knowledge spreading with balanced rights.
This license is the GPL, the General Public License (www.gnu.org), which draw on and enlarge the original concept of fair use for copyright, that is the fair usage of an intellectual work, which allows “protecting the wine instead of the bottle”, pledging profits to creators without damaging the users which, thanks to it buy the right to improve the product, to exchange it, to enhance it, restarting up the vicious circle of innovation.
This license and the enthusiastic consent to free software philosophy of thousands of developers has generated a big innovation: the GNU/Linux operating system and many others auxiliaries free software applications good also at replacing propietary software on less expert user’s computers.
Behind this grand philosophy is the idea that software have to be a Commons: a common good, universal, not exclusive and inalienable. But behind the implementation of GPL and of its derivatives there’s a mechanism which prevents, differently from the Commons epoch, the temporary advantage of a selfish behaviour, the individual appropriation of part of the common good, which makes at the beginning richer the individual but in the long run makes everybody poorer, to be useless and self-defeating, asserting the idea that in an interdependent society individual welfare is strictly tighten with the collective one.
Remarkable topic for those who feel averse to the logics of profit which proceed to the appropriation of what is a collective property. By our side we are not afraid to say that the privatization of common knowledge is a rip-off . On the other hands, private or privative is semantically related to “deprive”.