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Checkpoints Lab

Checkpoints Lab

Work, Musings, Writings and Projects from FLEFF's Checkpoints Lab 2011

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Posted by Nicholas Knouf at 4:43PM   |  3 comments

Week 7's student summary comes from Annie Bunyavadhana.

In Code is Speech: Legal Tinkering, Expertise, and Protest among Free and Open Source Software Developers, by Gabriella Coleman examines how Free and Open Source Software developers were able to use their techno-craft to defend against the legal efforts that try to constrain their autonomy.

Connecting code and speech as presented in a haiku written by Schoen for a protest, Coleman argues that source code is speech. Developers construct new legal meanings by challenging the idea of software as property and by crafting new free speech theories to defend the idea that software is speech.

The essay used jurisgenesis to demonstrate how F/OSS (Free and Open Source Software) developers explore, contest, and specify the meaning of liberal freedom with the development of new legal tools, how developers bolster this legal expertise to engage in “contentious politics,” and how this technology based movement emerged into freedom and much more, the democratic citizenship. What is impressing to me is that this was a time where tens of thousands of technologists, who call themselves as hackers, were able to develop and enhance a project all virtually on the web, instead of trying to destroy the other person’s work. They were also reliable too. The free software developed by MIT hacker Richard Stallman, could be copied, shared, circulated, and modified, unlike proprietary software. The Linus kernel project later transformed Free Software into a larger scale movement where thousands of contributors can alter the legal and ethical principles of Free Software. By the late 1990’s, Eric Raymond revamped Free Software to attract business investors into “Open Source Software.”

Soon enter the legal issues where Coleman suggests that the law and technology blend into each other. With copyright laws and patents restricting developers from modifying and accessing the already made programs, the General Public License (GPL) or copyleft was invented to allow users and hackers to appropriately “transform to include a more specific language of free speech” (424). Coleman presents an insightful discussion on how political policy has placed restraints on creativity in that of copyrights from the time of print to today’s culture of programming. Hackers, or the artists, themselves have been successful in fighting the legal and political battle to suit their needs to be transformative and populist ideals to have their source code open and free to the public.

This idea of how free and public should information be relates to the project on Wikileaks. Who owns the right and control over the information? Should the owner/artist/programmer/investor profit from the information at the public expense? How does this correlate to our economic system and political ideals? If we are to have free speech, shouldn’t it be a right for citizens to have access to these information and freely share it without legal institutions coming in the way?


This was a captivating comment on the WikiLeaks and the ethics of public/private information. I was previously confused but this clarified a lot for me!

Isn't Wikileaks a political issue, rather than just an economic issue regarding the nature of property rights? Doesn't the very concept of Democracy presuppose the public's right to know the workings of their government, which should not be a collection of "individuals" but of "functionaries" elected to execute the public's will? The idea that an apparatus such as this should be given privacy is absurd, anti-democratic, and thoroughly Authoritarian.
Vive WikiLeaks!

I wonder if the government's recent unwillingness to release the photos of Usama Bin Laden can provide new reason to continue this debate about the boundaries of public/private space. Don't we, the American taxpayers, who have waited years (and provided trillions of dollars) for the government to carry out this manhunt deserve even the slightest indication of its success?

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