Source code as free speech?
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Thread: Source code as free speech?

  1. #1
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    Post Source code as free speech?

    I recently read a thesis regaurding source code and object code as free speech that should be included under the first amendment. It made great reading and I thought It would be of interest here.

    "It cannot seriously be argued that any form of computer code may be regulated without reference to First Amendment doctrine. The path from idea to human language to source code to object code is a continuum. As one moves from one to the other, the levels of precision and, arguably, abstraction increase, as does the level of training necessary to discern the idea from the expression. Not everyone can understand each of these forms. Only English speakers will understand English formulations. Principally those familiar with the particular programming language will understand the source code expression. And only a relatively small number of skilled programmers and computer scientists will understand the machine readable object code. But each form expresses the same idea, albeit in different ways. "

    the rest of the doc can be found here.

    http://www.2600.com/dvd/docs/2001/0126-speech.html
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  2. #2
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    I think that open source is great, but I do not think that one can honestly put software into the category of free speech.

    Many people in a company spent hours of time creating games and applications so many would get cracks for or burn a cd of.
    Then we wonder why the companies are going out of business or having financial problems... Just my thoughts...
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  3. #3
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    Source Code as Free Speech

    I a gree with uraloony, open source is extremely great, but should not be considered an entity protected by the first admendment... I, on the other hand, would like to program an incredible application that is usable, but is incredibly hard to crack... just to give those crackers a challenge...
    Welcome to Hell , where we have served more than all of the fast food chains put together! And the number grows everyday! Stay tuned!
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  4. #4
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    I have to disagree with both of you. What's the difference between the source to my linux-based MP3 player and a petition to have a historical site saved?

    In essence, I can profit from one, but they are both my intellectual property, and should be protected as such. If you can consider a petition, or a protest, as protected by freedom of speech, how is software different?

    Perhaps a better analogy is in order. If you can consider a chemistry textbook to be covered by freedom of speech, how can you not consider source code covered under the freedom of speech umbrella?

    They both contain instructions that are merely tools; they can do good or bad, depending on the person using it.

    Software being free speech is (IIRC) the foundation of the DeCSS defense. The big problem is that the big industries are targeting the wrong people. Don't target the guy who writes code to decode DVDs so he can write his own player, target the people who rip DVDs and put them up ftp sites around the 'net.

    The MPAA et. al. have all seem to have forgotton the critical factor here: a screwdriver can be used to kill somebody, but that doesn't mean that was the designer's intent.
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  5. #5
    AntiOnline Senior Member
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    Originally posted by chsh
    I have to disagree with both of you. What's the difference between the source to my linux-based MP3 player and a petition to have a historical site saved?

    In essence, I can profit from one, but they are both my intellectual property, and should be protected as such. If you can consider a petition, or a protest, as protected by freedom of speech, how is software different?

    Perhaps a better analogy is in order. If you can consider a chemistry textbook to be covered by freedom of speech, how can you not consider source code covered under the freedom of speech umbrella?

    They both contain instructions that are merely tools; they can do good or bad, depending on the person using it.

    Software being free speech is (IIRC) the foundation of the DeCSS defense. The big problem is that the big industries are targeting the wrong people. Don't target the guy who writes code to decode DVDs so he can write his own player, target the people who rip DVDs and put them up ftp sites around the 'net.

    The MPAA et. al. have all seem to have forgotton the critical factor here: a screwdriver can be used to kill somebody, but that doesn't mean that was the designer's intent.
    I seems to me that thinking like that leads to a world with no rules. We, as a human race, do not want to spend the money for something that we can get free, even if it means illegally stealing it. (or cracking it, in this case.)

    <start quote>
    What's the difference between the source to my linux-based MP3 player and a petition to have a historical site saved?
    </end quote>

    There is a huge difference between the source code to your MP3 player and a petition to have a historical site saved. The company that wrote that code (assuming that they have copyrighted and registered the rights to own the code) owns it. Who are we to say it is OK to steal it? If you look at it that way...

    For example, I am a farmer and I have spent days of hard labor in producing a great crop of apples. Then some person comes along and says, "Oh here, I see these apples here and I think I will take some." There is no difference in stealing physical items in the real world and stealing a program that a company has put work into and has copyrighted properly.

    Now don't get me wrong. I like true open source programs like linux and other various freeware programs. They are great! In my whole argument I am referring to the programs released by software manufacturers that have copyrighted their own product.

    As you recognized yourself, there is a honest ownership of a chemistry textbook. If I typed it up and spread that same book illegaly in form of an e-book across the internet, would it make it any less of a form of stealing than if I re-printed the book without permission?

    I will end this with a quote that I think sums up my entire argument here.

    "Honesty is not what you do when people are watching, but rather it is what you do when people aren't watching."
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  6. #6
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    This is about free speech. not open source... there's a very BIG difference... The point with including source code under the first amendment is the following...
    I have a right to live, a right to think, to speak, to write whatever I wish... I can write books or make programs but it's all the same... this isn't about piracy or megacorps vs. open-source... this is about having the right to make a program that e.g. descrambles DVDs. That's what e.g. 2600 is fighting for in the DeCSS case... The right to publish the source code for such a program and to educate ppl about it... remember that this source code isn't stolen but open-source which means that no other laws have been broken. The only crime 2600 commited was to publish some good reading (for us programmers)... they made no real crime but now the MPAA is trying to break their neck...
    Freedom of Speech is one of the cornerstones of open-source... we can't afford losing free speech and that's why it should be protected under the first amendment...
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  7. #7
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    Lightbulb I think we are getting of track.

    Though the debate weather we should treat all programs as open source and freeware is a great one and I would love to put my two cents in on the topic, I don't think that was the intension of the afore mentioned doc.

    We should all have the rights of the First Amendment and that includes every form of expression up to and including code. Zion1459 is exactly right. We should have the right to program any kind of prgram for any application as a right to free speech. If I wanted to program a new trogen that could "potentialy" infect some computer I should be allowed under the first amendment. The use of said program would still be illegal of course but not the creation of such code.

    Any thoughts, ideas, flames...
    Those who are awake all live in the same world.
    Those who are asleep live in their own worlds. -Heraclitus

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  8. #8
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    Actually - a couple of points here (I didn't see these above; if they exist, my apologies) -
    1) Legal Precident in the U.S. has been set for this. DeCSS and the poor kid who wrote the program. The source code was published as part of the legal briefs. It became the same as a text, which follows under speech/press rulings.
    2) In Australia, Linux is banned under their profanity ban. I remember reading a /. story on this about six months (or more?) ago - it seems that Torvalds and Cox liked to put in such commentary as, "Torvalds *****ed this up" in the kernel.
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  9. #9
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    DOH!

    Looks like the first link may well point to the case given by (1), above.

    But ... the second thing is still new to this thread! :/
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  10. #10
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    hey tekfrost

    " It made great reading "

    you shur do have a way of understating things. That was f*(ken brilliant.

    i laughed! i cried! it was better than cats.

    Seriously, imho that subject belongs here. send that to grisham, maybe he'd make a novel out of it...."barbarians at the gateway" or something.
    its going to dominate my thought for the rest of the weekend.

    thanks for sharing
    Bukhari:V3B48N826 “The Prophet said, ‘Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?’ The women said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.’”
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