[linux-elitists] Ten Reasons
Brooklyn Linux Solutions CEO
Mon May 7 18:36:34 PDT 2001
In the summer of 1991, in a story now familiar with almost anyone
remotely connected to the computing industry, a young Linus Trovalds
was finishing up the prototype of his revolutionary new operating
system kernel in Helsinki, Finland. In what is very much an
American-like tale, the young Mr. Trovalds, with little more than his
talent, his determination, and a vision, began a quest that fateful
summer which would succeed wildly beyond the anyone's expectations.
With the help of his friends on the internet, Linus loosed upon the
world a software design which would build into an industry, and his
vision has been responsible for the generation of thousands of jobs
world-wide, feeding families and empowering individuals to produce
sustaining wealth through freedom of the human spirit. Disney could
not write fables as perfect as this.
However, the benefactors and leaders of Linus's vision, need to come to
grips with the essential truth that the Helsinki Miracle was dependent
upon a number of pre existing conditions, any of which if missing,
would have prevented the development of Linux today. The three
essential conditions which were needed in the summer of 1991 were
political freedom, technological maturity, and economic opportunity.
In 1991, all three of these things nicely converged to produce Linus
Prior to 1991, independent break throughs such as Linux could not have
taken place in the voluntary atmosphere of free software simply because
the networking technology needed for world-wide remote co-operation
simply hadn't been mature enough or been implemented widely enough to
reach the necessary critical mass of people (to borrow a chemical
phase) to formulate the social process which Linux embodies. The
community couldn't form because the information infrastructure had not
yet existed for them to do so. Once this technological barrier was
reached, a technologically based hackers community was inevitable.
The second condition which existed in 1991 was that hardware in the
personal computing space was largely openly compliant to known
standards. Many regard this as an accident, but when we examine the
development of the PC computer, especially the governments insistence
of a competitive industry in PC hardware without monopoly, the
standardization was a natural outcome of the political expectations of
the day. Compacts cleanroom reverse engineering of the IBM PC was
legally protected in statutory and judicial law. This did not have to
be the case. Compacts reverse engineering could have been viewed as a
patent or copyright infringement. Had it been so, it is unlikely that
Linus would have had enough information about the specifics of PC
hardware to create Linux. Nor would he have the right to access the
needed device drivers to make the affair worth pursuing. In addition,
even if he gets past this barrier, use of closed protocols could have
been viewed as a violation of the copyrighted material and exploitation
of trade secrets. The only thing which prevented this obstruction of
Linux, aside from government anti-trust action, was 'Fair Use'. Fair
Use assured the political freedom necessary for Linus to produce Linux.
The final thing which made Linux possible was a proper economic
environment to stimulate innovation. The fact that Linus was able to
afford getting the necessary education which gave him the background to
be able to investigate the construction of an operating system is often
overlooked. Linus was not only a well fed graduate student when he
created Linux, but he was also able to afford a PC to hack on, and
money for books and information on computer sciences. He was in an
environment which could afford to freely offer copyrighted information.
He was able to access others works in his production of the kernel.
Journals and Libraries promoted his efforts both through publication of
the resultant works and through a steady feed of reliable information.
The economic conditions which Linus experienced were designed to
encourage Linus to exploit his potential as a world citizen and in so
doing, added to our own heritage.
The title of this this essay is "Ten Reason Why Fair Use is Important
to Geek Linux Users". So nothing that has been said appears to address
the title. What needs to be understood is that Linus, in today's
environment, would not be able to produce Linux. The Linuses are
facing an escalating hostility to future Linuses. Free enterprise in
the computing field today is coming to an end. He are destroying the
right to innovate.
When the internet erupted onto the public consciousness, the potential
for acquiring information became immediately apparent to any of it's
users. Internet access has changed the way people today think about
acquiring information. Back in the old day, in the dark ages, as far
back as the middle 1980's, we people toiled in a limited world, limited
to our block, our families, our town and our friends. Reliable
information was scarce and expensive. If I was discussing with someone
the historical background behind the painting of the Mona Lisa, my
options were very limited. I could go down to the local library and
look up the Mona Lisa in the card catalog, hoping to find a book on the
topic. Failing that, I am stuck. Specialized libraries on Art History
were simply unavailable, and institutions lucky enough to have such
detailed and specialize libraries had limited access to the general
public. Journals on the material were expensive when they existed, and
mostly unarchived or unavailable. And more importantly, finding a
community of people with expertise in the area of interest required
nothing sort of a lifetime academic membership in an reputable
institution of higher learning.
The internet has turned that all on it's ear for two reasons. The cost
of publication on the internet is very low and the freedom to share
ideas is protected. Previously, when someone had an expertise on a
topic, or a passion for a topic, that person would have years of
research and generalized knowledge on the topic locked up in his
person, with little or know way to make the information available to an
interested public. This individuals full potential is bottled up.
First he needs to generate a manuscript in the hopes that the
manuscript fills a particular need in the marketplace of information.
It gets submitted to a gatekeeper who controls the flow of information
to the public. This gatekeeper is either a publisher, or a program
manager. Censorship of the work is then applied to the work for the
benefit of the publisher. Finally, if everything goes right, the
censored information is made available to the public unidirectionally.
Feedback is neither required or desired. The closest we get to peer
review or public conversation is the censored Letter to the Editor
section of the press and the heavily censored talk radio phenomena
which started in the 1970's.
Obviously the process is fraught with abuse and efforts to correct the
problem in the traditional media have been unsuccessful in the face of
a demoralizing assault by private economic interests on the public
space. Spin doctors belittle the use of public set asides in the
media. Most of the efforts are being driven out of public view. Public
Access television, editorial broadcasts, and even guarantees of
childrens television programming, and balanced political air time have
been driven from our publicly owned broadcasting channels by the
private interests which have been entrusted with them.
Over time, failure of the public to protect the public domain, in
combination with a quirk in our available technology, has eroded our
participatory civic lives. The foundations of Democracy dissolving.
Until now, there have been two means of mass communication. There has
been the Telephone and Broadcasting. The technologies involved with
Broadcasting have always required large capitalization by centralized
organizations to successfully publish. Examples of this are Movie
producers which needed production budgets and distribution channels,
Book Publishers which need print houses, advertizing budgets and book
outlets, Television Broadcasters who needed radio equipment and studio
facilities, and so on. All these technological factors prevented
individuals from participating in publication.
The telephone as a form of mass media has been more personal than the
Radio, Television and Book Publishing. The nature of the telephone
connects two individuals where each party is a receiver of information
and a publisher of information. This wildly successful invention
encourages people to express themselves to others. In fact,
telephoneitis is a common disease which inflicts young women between
the ages of 9 and 17. It's spread is a painful experience every parent
comes to dread. And it is closely related to the new malady 'chatroom
addictionitis' which is sweeping bedrooms and studies halls across
Today, we are experiencing the greatest increase in general literacy in
a 100 years. The internet is a convergence of traditional mass media
and the telephone. The history of comunication in the 20th Century has
been one of decreasing literacy. Increasingly dependent on recieving
information through the mass media, and decreasingly reliant on the
written word for personal communication, our generation is simply not
as literate as our grandparents.
The internet has changed all that. Who amoung us today is not a
publisher? Our appetite today for information is enormous and our
quest to provide information has reached an unprecedented scale. The
growth of the internet has turned the global village into the global
street corner. Everyone today lives on the same block. We all share
the same stoop. And we have discovered that we all have an unparalleled
need to heard and to share. As a world community we are in the
process of discovering that sharing information is the basic truth of
our existence. The ability to cooperate, share and trust to the degree
that humans do is unprecedented in nature. Cooperation and
communication is a genetically tattooed trait which has enabled and
defined us as a species. It is what make us human.
We have now reached a critical stage in the history of Mankind. A new
dawn for mankind is stretching across the horizon. And if our new
technology will continue to be a tool in enabling mankind, as opposed
to shackling us is very much in question. And the Linux user and
hackers are at the very core of the debates and choices we make for our
future. The economic interests built around unidirectional mass media,
and which have abused the public trust in the past are threatened by
the new technology which is ending their monopoly on publishing
information. Well funded and with political clout beyond their
importance, the publishing industry is willing to technologically and
legally strip all privacy and every aspect of control of information
from the public. What they are demanding and receiving is the
privatization of human civilization itself through complete control of
future venue of that culture, the modern computer. In doing so, they
are making it criminal to communicate about computer infrastructure, or
to explore the foundations of the technology that we use each day to
interface with others. Future Linuses have to contend with the efforts
to prevent ownership of information. Exploration and reverse
engineering is today a felony.
Many of us in the computing field is well aware of the issues involved.
We have vented our frustration at the growing threat the the free flow
of information on slashdot and other venues. When the group 2600 was
taken to trial for the publication of the DeCSS source code in New York
in the Summer of 2000, many hackers showed up to protest the
infringement of fair use and free speech by the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act of 1998. But the community has not yet been able to
organize effective political action to protect itself and our free
Even worse, there is a large segment of the Linux User community who
consider discussion of copyright and fair use outside the scope of the
discussion of Linux. When the topic is opened for discussion on
various Linux User Group mailing lists, some list members complain that
the issue is noise. Even the much exalted Silicon Valley Linux Users
Group has suffered from this. NYLUG, the New York Linux Users Group,
and LXNY, her sister free software group, are generally active in this
area and it reflects on their mailing list. However, at times, even
they suffer from this same malady.
So, the case needs to be made to enumerate exactly why the use of free
software is essentially tied to political action on Fair Use issues.
Each Linux user needs to understand that the freedom that they are
experiencing in choosing to use Free Software, either software like
Linux, or Software of their own design, is a historical accident which
the modern mass media ogonolopy is trying to extinguish with a reckless
lack of regard for the chilling effect on our political freedom.
So here are the 10 reasons every Linux User must join in political
action to protect you right to run free software:
1: Computer Engineers and Programmer must have the freedom to practice
The right to practice your trade is being jeopardized as your access to
software and hardware is diminishing. Software intelligence systems are
on the drawing boards designed to circumscribe and to diminish the
information and access needed to touch or interact with software and
hardware systems. This is the same as a Carpenter who could use a
hammer only with size 6 IBM brand nails, and who is prevented from
using his own hammer on IBM size 6 nails, even if he built his hammer
2: Computer Programmers must have the right to freely use their
property as they see fit.
There is today a basic question of who owns your computer, software and
media. Obviously, if someone broke into your home and stole your
computer, Time Warner would not call to police to report the crime
simply because you has an mp3 of a song that they own copyrights to on
it's hard drive. Nor would IBM be able to press charges against the
thief because their hard drives are installed in the system. But IBM
and Time Warner want to prevent you from reading the information stored
on your hard drive and prevent your access to that data. Soon they
will be able to completely prevent the installation of any software on
the hard drive, including the OS, without complete prior approval of
the manufacturer of the system. Today, there are already system that
force to buy software that you don't want. In the future, it will be
illegal to even remove that software from your system to install
different software, and the software will turn itself off if a fee
isn't maintained. Essentially, this will be as if they sent to your
home henchmen to steal your computer.
3: Computer Programmers must have the ability to innovate new software
It's a common falsehood that innovation is completely new and unrelated
to previous works. Isaac Newton famously said, "If I've seen so far,
it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants". Newton was
clearly one of the most original and creative thinkers in world
history, but this might have been Newton's greatest observation. Even
great thinkers like Newton could not have made innovative contributions
to humanity without derivative (no pun intended) works. Programmers
must have the right to innovate. And this implies that they must have
fair use access to derivative works. The ability to improve existing
software through study and experimentation is the fuel of software
4: Computer Programmers, Users and Power Users must have free accesses
to their hardware.
Imagine the following Star Trek episode. The Starship Enterprise is
under attack from an unknown and relentless alien spaceship. They
manage to defeat the shielding and are boarding the ship. As all looks
hopeless, the Captain barks out orders and commands the ships computer,
"Computer lock out all command functions - Pickard 185Alpha". The
computer responds, "Failure to comply. Copyrighted material discovered
on your IBM hard drives. You are not permit access to this area of your
computer. This attempt to block access of copyrighted material by the
copyright holder is not permitted. This incident is being reported to
IBM and the content holders. User interface to communications is
being locked out and IBM is being notified through subspace. Too
Bad... Please see current licensing agreement for further information"
The damage of having a vital communications tool which is privately
owned being controlled by a powerful government sponsored third party
is so obvious that it amazes me that anyone in a position of
responsible government can be considering allowing this for the purpose
of protecting something as of questionable value as the copyright. If
Computer Users do not have free access to their property, then their
ability to reverse engineer is destroyed. In addition, the ability of
high end computer experts to protect the public by abuses dished out by
people who would use these devises to spy and otherwise damage others
5: Computer users must have uninhibited access to media they own.
Linux users are impacted negatively in two ways when they don't have
uninhibited access to their media. The first reason is because if the
media which they own is inhibited in it's use, then they can not
develope or innovate the needed software for the systems that they
create. It locks them into purchasing software that they choose not to
have in order to live their daily lives. For example, a Linux Users
who is a Dental Student at NYU College of Dentistry finds that books
are no longer available for dental education. Instead, all dental
textbooks are engraved on an encrypted dvd viewable only on a
proprietary OS with proprietary software. Now our Linux user have to
buy a whole second system just to participate in his education at
considerable cost. Such a break down of fair use prevents the use of
anything other than officially approved computers.
6: Computer users must have the right to participate in the economy.
Media outlets have been fortunate until recently to have the ability to
push material on the public in a one way direction. Data goes from
producer to consumer. Computers break that very profitable model for
distributors of mass media. The public, in the old model, is perceived
as consumer widgets. No thought is given to the public as producers of
media, or for that matter, producers of economic production. Computers
have unshackled the public from being forced to endure the intrusive
push of pre-censored media and advertizing. Experienced computer users
quickly transcend passive monitoring of information for a model of two
No longer is it a necessary by product of the economy for us to suffer
disenfranchised pockets of communities which interact with the large
community only as consuming widgets. Linux gives these users the
opportunity to be producers in our economy and to become wealth
builders. Linux allows these users to produce software, images,
networks, advertizement, animation, recordings, video, and more,
without having to face cartel efforts to pigeon hole them into a
consumers role, or crush there efforts under forced upgrades and per
license fees, and limited access to tools..
The ability of this growing subset of the Linux user community to join
in our economy as producers means they have to climb over the hurdle of
diminished fair usage of the cultural artifacts stored on their
computers. The fabric of their existence, nurtured for decades on a
mindless consumerism, is the current pop culture which they have been
bombarded with. A head on collision exists between the use of the only
cultural artifacts of import to these communities, and the felony
charges for infringed of access control that currently exists under the
DMCA. DJ's using Linux to create music mixes will be felonies.
Programmers altering sound and images, or creating the tools to do so,
will be likewise, criminals. This group is crippled without access of
these materials for use in derivative works.
7: Computer Engineers and Programers must have educational freedom.
The future of education looks truly bleak at this moment. And the
future of computer engineering and programming looks bleakest. Unlike
students of physics and chemistry who have general academic freedom in
the discovery of new sciences and mathematics, and are free to make
discoveries which aid in the production of newer and more portable
atomic weapons, computer science students are faced with the prospect
of having all knowledge on the topic of computer sciences sealed in
encrypted DVD's accessible only on a pay as you go and need to know
bases, no addition to all the materials and platforms in which they
need to do legitamite research and discovery sealed off from student
access. Today's legal and technical infrastructure is destroying the
ability to produce the discoveries of tomorrow. It's even possible that
in the near future that their won't be enough people trained to
understand the technology built today if access to materials and
information is blocked by our new found love affair with access
control. Capable engineers and cryptographers don't grow on trees.
They need freedom to be nourished developed.
8: Computer users must have a freedom of choice of software and
As computer users, we all have different needs and abilities. Free
choice between computer systems and client programs is essential to
assure the possibility for users to discover the best tools to solve
their individual problems. Essential to this freedom of choice is
common standards for media exchanges. Freedom to choose between
products is threatened by hardware and software lockouts which prevent
the free movement of information from platform to platform. These are
the lockouts designed to prevent fair use of copyrighted materials in
the digital age. These lockouts will prevent to use of unapproved
systems and programs on specific hardware. This ability to read
material on unapproved platforms will also be eliminated, including
instructions to program systems or to interface with hardware, or to
play your favorite music or video. We are facing a future where if you
want to read the Wall Street Journal in the morning, you'll have to use
a Microsoft product with an IBM storage medium.
9: Computer programers must have the freedom to innovate.
Microsoft has been claiming this for months. Individual programers
have needed this for years. Fair Use is the only thing protecting
programers from being locked out of their systems by overreaching
corporations and private concerns. Fair Use is the legal guarantees
that programmers have assuring full usage of their legally purchased
machines. Innovation of software and hardware demands unapproved uses
of the systems. Having to ask permissions prior to innovation would be
the equivalent of Gallilo asking the Church for permission to point his
telescope at Jupiter before being permitted to legally doing so.
Like your computer? Like to use Linux? Like to write new interfaces
for your hand held device? Your right to do so is called....Fair Use..
10: Computer Users Must have the right to reverse engineer.
Ultimately, this is the real test of fair use. The ability to reverse
engineer any system is fundamental to free software. If systems are
wrapped in encrypted firmware which prevent fair use access, then there
is no chance of reverse engineering. In addition, reverse engineering
mandates reverse engineering without prior permission of a devices
designer. Reverse engineering is given lip service in the 1998 DMCA,
but no practical adoption of a methodology of fair use has yet emerged
which the courts have yet to recognize. Simply, it is impossible to
uphold the DMCA and uphold it's access control provisions. Access is
the key to fair use and to reverse engineering. Access control is
directly in conflict with Fair Use, Open Source Software, and the
freedom of humanity.
More information about the linux-elitists