If It's Not Free (as in Freedom), You Don't Own Itby@deranian
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1,443 reads

If It's Not Free (as in Freedom), You Don't Own It

by DeranianMay 25th, 2023
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As companies increasingly use software to control products after they're purchased, only Free (as in Freedom) Software can ensure true ownership.
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In his article, The death of ownership, in Business Insider, Nathan Proctor of the US

PIRG, writes that "[a]s more devices in our lives run on software, manufacturers have started to exert more control over their products even after the customer has taken them home," he writes.

"Companies are just beginning to monetize this control, with dystopian methods and the assistance of America's unbalanced copyright laws."

Alarmingly, he writes that "[c]onsumers are afraid to do anything that displeases manufacturers, knowing that they can be punished," (punished!) and that, in some cases, the terms of service they have to sign to use the product "let the company take back ownership if they don't approve of how customers use [it]".

Proctor writes that manufacturers are also using laws like the DMCA to effectively outlaw repairing their own stuff.

This trend is big business: Proctor quotes an estimate that "[t]he global market for e-commerce subscriptions is expected to increase from around $73 billion in 2021 to some $904 billion in 2026."

So it stands to reason that the problem will get worse before it gets better, if only because there is big money in it.

And it is a problem. If a company can control something you’ve already purchased from them, you don’t really own it. Think about your relationship to your house (if you happen to own one) versus, say, a hotel room. Or your car (ditto) versus a rental.

There is something qualitatively different about ownership. People love the things they own; they don't care nearly as much about the things they don't. Loving the things they own means they tend to them, and maintain them, and express themselves through them.

Ownership is stewardship. In the business world, "owning" something means being responsible for it. So, the attack on ownership is also an attack on caring, devotion, expression, autonomy, and responsibility. Ownership matters*. This is a moral issue.

Software freedom (aka "Free software" or "Libre software") neatly and simply solves these issues. While the free software movement remains relatively on the fringe (especially compared to the open-source movement), it has never been more important.

The Free Software Foundation defines four fundamental freedoms for software: the right to run (or not run) the software as you wish, the right to see and change the software code, the right to share the original code, and the right to share changes to the code.

These freedoms intrinsically obviate any potential abuses in software because such abuses can be detected and removed. John Deere, for example, could not lock farmers out of repairing their own tractors with free software.

Apple could not use free software to stop customers from repairing their own devices with "unauthorized" hardware, etc. That is because people would be free to deactivate those features.

They would actually own their stuff, and when people own things, they are the ones controlling them.

This is not academic: I use free software extensively, and therefore have, relatively speaking, much more control over the software I use than I would otherwise. I trust it more. I don't have to agree to onerous terms in order to use it: on the contrary, free software licenses tend to be extremely generous.

I can almost always get rid of software I don't like or trust. I feel like I own it - I feel like it's mine.

As the title of this article says, if it's not free (as in Freedom), you don't own it. Tractors used to be free. But unfortunately, the lack of software freedom is now increasingly creeping into "the real world" of physical things. The antidote is clear.

* I make the same argument about owning media versus streaming it.

Feature image credit: Rollins, Beatrice Daily Sun