Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The ethics of free software licensing

OK, so here is a description of Chapter 2 in "Decoding Liberation" plus another link to the paper (PDF version here) that is a skeleton for it (HTML version here). We presented this at the Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry Conference in July 2005 (at Twente University in the Netherlands - where I also got to check out some spectacular F-16 maneuvers taking place behind the university!). We discussed this paper in some detail with RMS, and interestingly enough, he felt like we were too harsh on open-source licenses like the BSD license (read on, as they say, to find out why this might be the case).

Chapter 2: Ethical Perspectives on Free Software

Software is subject to the same assessment in a normative dimension as other political and social phenomena. From an ethical perspective, one of the most pressing questions raised by free software is the question of the rights, and the restrictions on them, that are passed on to users and collaborators by software developers. That is, what freedoms do software users deserve, and how can they best be protected? We analyze free software licensing schemes in order to determine which most effectively protects such freedoms. Following the link from freedom to rights, we explore the nature of the right to access to software, locating it within contemporary theorizing on rights, human, social and economic. We conclude that so-called copyleft licensing schemes are the morally superior alternative. Our analysis provides a new perspective on the passionate debate among the free software, open source and proprietary software camps.


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