Weblog:   The Growing Politicization of Open Source
Subject:   Politics and the Open Source movement
Date:   2002-08-16 18:39:20
From:   loca

Tim displays a naive and weak understanding of the relationship between the technical and political spheres in modern society. He seems to believe that the Open Source Movement would be better off leaving the sphere of politics well alone. And unfortunately this policy of burying your head in the sand is one which seems endemic across the Open Source Movement, the majority of which seem to think that if they leave politics alone, politics will return the favour.

All I can suggest is that you read your history Tim. Politics is in the habit of listening to those with the deepest pockets and this time it will not be any different. Multinational copyright owners, proprietory software companies and the Entertainment Industies have a lot riding on the tightening of control of intellectual property and they are not likely to just roll over and accept the dangers of Open Source to their control technologies (ie DeCSS et al).

You really need to think very carefully about what is actually happening here, we are not just looking at purely technical solutions to technical problems. Unfortunately life just ain't that simple. We are looking at big dollar signs seeking to maximise revenue through the enforcement of copyright and patent control assisted by law and technology. And in doing so they are threatening our freedom to use information because if they own it, you can't use it. Or at least not if you can't pay for it.

The foundations of our democratic states are built on the freedom of information to quote, reuse, critique and debate in a public sphere free from the control of private interests. Public goods need to be worked out in an arena where deliberation can be carried out and ideas freely exchanged.

The beauty of the Open Source movement is its commitment to open exchange, as Lessig terms it a cultural commons, where nobody owns or controls these public goods. Not just code, everything, literature, music, writings, speeches, essays, paintings all these things need to be reused and re-interpreted for our culture to remain vibrant and innovative.

Laws are there to protect and demark boundaries, and the state is there to enforce them. Crucially the decisions as to which Laws we should have are should be debated by all of us, that *includes* the Open Source movement. Without having a voice (whether radical or otherwise) no-one to hear what we have to say.

So I say more politicisation of the Open Source Movement, let it wake up and realise that its very existence requires that it move into politics and start contesting issues that it doesn't agree with. The Open Source movement needs to grow up and realise nobody else will hold its hand.

If that requires Law to protect Open Source from the very real threats that corporate interests make to it then SO BE IT. But these decisions and subsequent laws should be enacted after deliberation and debate with all sides putting their case in an open and democratic way, and it is up to us to put the strongest case forward for the Open Source movement.