The Four Freedoms Applied to Hardware

by chromatic

The Free Software Foundation has defined Four Freedoms related to software. These freedoms apply to users of software, not necessarily developers. In the view of the FSF, these freedoms are ethical in nature, so much so that they argue that software which violates these freedoms is unethical.

Like many other rights, the four freedoms are specific expressions of abstract freedoms in the context of software. They represent concrete examples of underlying notions of freedom. You can see this principle if you ask "Why should I be able to run my own printing press or weblog?"

If those underlying principles exist, then it should be possible to identify them. It should also be possible to extrapolate concrete expressions of those principles in new contexts... such as hardware, not software.


Carla Schroder
2007-08-28 10:41:02
It's only in the computer world where sanity flies out the window, it seems. For example, Freedom 3 has never been an issue in other industries (that I know of.) Think of the thriving custom-mod industry for vehicles- performance cars, RVs, motorcycles, luxury vehicles, you name it.

You can purchase modified cameras for astrophotography and other specialized uses. Farm equipment, logging machinery, homes and commercial buildings- no one crabs at them for violating their sacred IP by modifying and reselling them.

Geeks are supposed to be smart, but unfortunately the trend in high-tech seems to be towards ruthless greed and damn the consequences. If it weren't for FOSS we'd up a creek in so many ways I lose count- no meaningful competition or customer choice, no civil rights, no customer rights, nothing but toll gates at every turn and Big Brother over all.

Istvan Belanszky
2007-08-28 12:03:06
Given the scale of integration in today's computers vs. other hobby focuses you really can't expect modding and customizing Hw to go much further beyond dremeling that peecee case and adding some fancy lights inside it.

You hardly find fablabs and chip engineering knowledge even with the most dedicated peecee hobbyists.

Simon Hibbs
2007-08-28 12:07:47
@Carla: Custom-mods and the ability to sell them are freedom 2 and 4. Freedom 3 applied to other industries would eliminate all copyright of any kind.

I'm all for freedoms 1, 2 and 4 but I don't agree with Freedom 3. I think copyright has a valid place in the software industry and that, within limits agreed by society, the creator of a work should have the right to decide under what terms to market it. Skoda shouldn't have the right to sell exact duplicates of Ford vehicles, but once I have bought a Ford I should be able to modify and sell it on as I see fit. So too with software.

Now access to source code is realy a seperate issue. I can definitely see a valid argument that users should have a right to see source code, and a right to modify it and even propagate diffs. However I see no reason, moral or otherwise, to exempt software from copyright protection.

Simon Hibbs
2007-08-28 12:33:39
Thinking further, I realise there's a word I should have used instead of User, adn that's owner. If you think of the purchaser of a software product as it's owner, then rights 1, 2 and 3 become obvious and uncontentious. The idea that software is only ever licensed and never sold is a pernicious one that must die.

@Istvan: Think XBox mod chips, Nintendo DS memory card adapters, overclocking, unlocking iPhones. There are still plenty of valid and useful hardware hacks. Fortunately these are largely legal because owner's rights over hardware are reasonably well established.

Cathy Malmrose
2007-08-28 23:35:13
A while back, we were trying to explain proprietary drivers to our eldest and he asked us, "Why isn't the hardware industry opening up like software did?" It helped frame our Open Hardware Warranty, something we hope to see replicated across the industry.

Simon, thank you, a thousand times thank you. I have been searching for a term to replace customer / user and "owner" hits the sweet spot. You know, I have asked Econ professors, marketing experts, yet no one could quite grasp it. Thank you. Finally. "Owners" it is.

Outer Vision
2008-04-04 11:49:36
I'm totally with Simon on Freedom 3.