Juan Rodriguez posted his dissatisfaction with the Free Software Foundation’s tactics in recent free software campaigns. This is a response to that post, but I thought it a good opportunity to raise awareness of various FSF posts and positions for a wider audience at the same time.
The FSF asks people to use more free software (naming specific programs such as The GIMP), but some of Rodriguez’s alternatives are against FSF’s ethics and therefore cannot be done. If anyone has suggestions for the FSF, don’t forget to send the suggestions to FSF Executive Director John Sullivan firstname.lastname@example.org as well. He has solicited your thoughts on what the FSF should do.
On recommending Fedora GNU/Linux: The FSF defines guidelines for free system distributions but Fedora GNU/Linux does not qualify. The FSF lists completely free OSes which qualify. As I write this there are 9 such systems (including one based on Fedora — BLAG Linux and GNU).
On starting a free tablet system, perhaps based in Android: Richard Stallman, head and founder of the FSF, recently wrote an essay for the Guardian which describes that Android is not really free software. I believe anything based on Linus Torvalds’ fork of the Linux kernel is non-free in the same way because Torvalds includes proprietary software in his fork of Linux. In his essay, Stallman includes a valuable explanation of a principle free software activists take seriously: the power of doing without; where can free software activists (including himself and the FSF) do without features in the pursuit of freedom:
Important firmware or drivers are generally proprietary also. These handle the phone network radio, Wi-Fi, bluetooth, GPS, 3D graphics, the camera, the speaker, and in some cases the microphone too. On some models, a few of these drivers are free, and there are some that you can do without ”“ but you can’t do without the microphone or the phone network radio.Richard Stallman, September 19, 2011
Reading e-books: In one of the followups to his post, Rodriguez said he desired to read recently-published e-books. One can certainly do with reading a paper copy of the book instead. In the US there is an added incentive for readers to prefer a paper book over some e-books: right of first sale is all too easily taken away from people via DRM. Ask George Hoteling about this with regard to audio tracks, for instance (more on this from EFF). The same is true for any electronic media, it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a book, audio track, movie, or anything else. When people give in to DRM the fight against DRM is made that much more difficult because their money ends up being used to fight against them.
One does oneself a disservice by calling people names (“PETA nuts”, “Green Peace crazies”) without facts to back up what one is saying. Such language is certainly not forbidden, this is a practical concession to readers who are eager to dismiss what one says. Sadly, people give one another permission to use name-calling as an excuse to ignore what you’re really trying to say (think of the conversational consequences to Godwin’s Law); some readers will not choose to ask for details to justify the language. Instead you should ask the FSF why they don’t “create a store of their own” and go from there. Perhaps there is a recent recording of an FSF representative giving a talk where an audience member asks this question. I don’t represent the FSF but I’d bet their answer is remarkably practical and focused, something like: starting such a store is for billionaire multinationals which can sustain the unprofitable early years. Furthermore, stores in no clear way address the reality that the suppliers can simply opt-out of selling through an ostensibly DRM-free FSF store. I think that in time more people will come to see how defending the interests of proprietors was and is unwise but this realization will take time and more disasters.
Fortunately for DRM objectors, every DRM story is ultimately a loser for the DRM proponent. What the customer loser is minor enough (music tracks, a few books, and the like) where people can learn the lesson the hard way without risking something truly important like their health and civil liberties. As DRM enters health equipment (like heart monitors) and adversely affects our civil liberties, we may have to learn these lessons regardless of our wishes.