Why Free Software matters for Society (draft)

Please give me your feedback on this draft article 😉 It is intended for publication on FSFE.org so for now it is All Rights reserved.

Free Software is defined by four freedoms, and intends to create ethical relationships in the digital age of society, based on trust, responsibility and freedom.

In a world where we rely increasingly upon Information Technologies such as software and networks, it is important to realize software is more than code. The effects of programs go beyond the limited scope of developers, and contribute to shape our future.

The Free Software movement aims at making this future possible for everyone by ensuring fundamental principles of freedom for all, equally.

In order to achieve this goal, Richard M. Stallman defined four freedoms. At first sight however, these criteria are only valuable to hackers and developers. It is true that for most users access to source code does not seem important, neither do the rights to modify and publish improvements. The utility of software freedom is not obvious for all because only few have the capacity to enjoy hacking.

Free Software is valuable to society since it enables the emergence of a system, in the same perspective as Democracy. Democracy leads to the transformation of political systems, especially towards more freedom for all. However, in order to achieve this the political system goes through several steps before everyone value political rights. The fact that someone cannot enjoy the freedom given by the system does not mean he cannot enjoy its effects. To illustrate this, think of the process of an election.

The Constitution gives to every citizen over a certain age the right to be candidate in a political election. But it does not mean that everyone will, because only some citizens have the capacity and want to become politicians. Would you say that Democracy does not matter because you do not want to be in politics? No, the scope of Democracy is larger than just the election system. Whether you participate directly or not, you as a citizen enjoy the effects of freedom in your political system.

Quite the same distinction occurs in Free Software. Its licences grant rights to use, share, study and improve the program. But it does not mean that everyone will. These rights are fundamental for the software system because nothing stops you if you want to learn how software works or how to read source code. It depends on your own choice.

Thus, Free Software concurs to a system in which developers and users are equal and potential hackers. It results in a system in which freedom and equality are at core. That is also why Free Software is good for business and for education. Because if your creation is better than the competition, you are allowed to start yourself.

It is also important for education because Free Software gives everyone the right to read and understand source code. And this is a very important step toward a free society in the digital age, when technology will be even more invasive. It is important that more people are able to read and modify source code, so that it is not an extreme minority of people who shape the system for us.

This is a question of social control. What freedom will we have in a society of digital illiterates? Free Software enables people to be in control in digital society and gives the possibility to learn, to read and to write.

“Free Software, Free Society”