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Reflecting upon free software:
Deconstructing disruptive designs
Gisle Hannemyr
Information Systems, Ifi
November 9, 2005
Partly based on a retrospective view on the free
software movement and hacker culture through four
decades the the culture and politics of hacking and
hackers is discussed with a particular emphasis on
the recent controversy surrounding IPR-legislation
and DRM (digital rights management).
― “Hacking considered constructive”, first presented at
the Symposium on Pleasure and Technology,
Sausalito, CA, May-5-9, 1997
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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• Open source is rooted in (at least)
four distinct communities:
 1960ies:
 1970ies:
 1980ies:
 1990ies:
Nov. 2005
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Computer Craftsmen
Programming standards and code review committees
attract all the jerks trying to angle their way from the ranks
of us hackers into the Vice-Presidency of the Division.
While these characters are deceiving themselves into
believing they have a career path, they cause everyone else
a good deal of trouble. […] Structured Programming is
often the buzzword for an attempt to routinize and deskill
programming work to reinforce the control of hierarchy
over the programming process – separate from and
sometimes different from, improving quality.
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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Computer Counterculture
I have an axe to grind: I want to see computers
useful to individuals, and the sooner the better,
without necessary complication or human
servility being required. […]
A chant you can take to the streets:
(Nelson 1974)
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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Computer Underground
The criminal justice system is a game to be played, both by
prosecution and defence. And if you had to be a player,
you would be wise to learn the rules of engangement. The
writers and contributors to this file have learned the hard
way. As a result we turned our hacking skills during the
times of our incarceration towards the study of criminal
law and, ultimately, survival. Having […] endured life in
prison, we now pass this knowledge back to the hacker
(J. Petersen, Hackers in Chains)
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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Computer Entrepreneurs
Much of brand management comes down to
market positioning. […] The current OS market is
crowded, and dominated by a definite market
favorite from a brilliant marketing organization.
Positioning a competing product correctly is
crucial to competitve success. Linux fills this roll
naturally and extremely well.
(Robert Young, CEO Red Hat. Inc., 1999)
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #7
The four communities
In the outset, however, it should be noted that these four
communities are not completely disjunct. The master
programmer of the sixties was not beyond appreciating
lock-picking skills, both those addressing physical locks
barring access to computer rooms, and software
protection schemes such as password files and encryption
schemes, and he also believed that information should to
be free – including the source code he had written and
the knowledge he had about the inner workings of various
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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The underground and
the counterculture
Some commentators (Lafayette 1993,
Rosteck 1994) considers the criminal
computer underground to be radical
partisans, very much in the same manner
the Russian nihilists in the 19th century
was considered by some to be part the
radical political movement of that time.
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #9
Entrepreneurs and the
computer underground
In 1990, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation
was set up as a response to Operation Sun Devil
(a US Secret Service raid on the computer
underground), funding was provided by John
Gilmour (of Sun Microsystems), Mich Kapor (cocreator of Lotus 1-2-3), Steve Wozniak (cofounder of Apple Computer) and other computer
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #10
Information wants to be free
On the one hand information wants to be
expensive, because it's so valuable. The right
information in the right place just changes your
life. On the other hand, information wants to be
free, because the cost of getting it out is getting
lower and lower all the time. So you have these
two fighting against each other.
— Stewart Brand, Report from The First Hacker Conference,
Whole Earth Review, May 1985 p. 49.
Nov. 2005
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Ideology: GNU Manifesto
I consider that the golden rule requires that if I like a
program I must share it with other people who like it.
Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer
them, making each user agree not to share with others. I
refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I
cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure
agreement or a software license agreement. For years I
worked within the Artificial Intelligence Lab to resist such
tendencies and other inhospitalities, but eventually they
had gone too far: I could not remain in an institution
where such things are done for me against my will.
(Richard M. Stallman, 1985)
Nov. 2005
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Page #12
Ideology: Negroponte
My belief in [a new era of respect for avocations and a
future with more active engagement in making, doing,
and expressing] comes from watching computer hackers,
both young and old. Their programs are like paintings:
they have aesthetic qualities and are shown and discussed in terms of their meaning from many perspectives.
Their programs include behavior and style that reflect
their makers. These people are the forerunners of the
new expressionists.
(Nicholas Negroponte, 1994)
Nov. 2005
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Page #13
I think one general rule of software design is that you should be writing
a program that you want to use. Ken and Dennis wanted to use Unix.
They did what they needed in order to make it work. We wanted to use
sendmail, it wasn’t something where we said: “Oh, let’s write a mailer
and send it out.” Bill Joy didn't come to me and say “ Oh, Eric, what we
need is this. ” We had a problem that needed to be solved. Ken had a
problem of sorts: he didn’t have an adequate system to do space
games so he wrote one. Compare this to X.400, where I'm convinced
that people who never actually use mail simply write papers about it.
Other proprietary OSes, too, because you assign people to do the jobs.
(Eric Allman, quoted in Salus 1997)
Nov. 2005
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The politics of programming
• Proprietary software does not expose its
source code.
 Users can not see how the software works.
 Users can not critizise its inherent properties.
 Users can not improve it.
• By exposing its source code, free software
invites its users into a communal and
collaborative project.
Nov. 2005
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Free software
• No restrictions on use
• Access to examination of the programs
source code
• Access to adapting the program to own
• But not: Free as in free beer – or software
that exists beyond or outside the
Nov. 2005
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Free software:
Four freedoms
1. The freedom to run the program for any
2. The freedom to study and modify the program
3. The freedom to copy the program
4. The freedom to improve the program, and
release your improvements to the public, so
that the whole community benefits.
Nov. 2005
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Licensing Free Software and Free Culture:
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GPL: Gnu General Public License
Grants user broad rights to use and to modify
Can be used as part of a commercial offering.
Yiu may charge for distribution.
You may produce derivative works.
Does not require licensee to make source code of
derivative works public; however …
… if a derivative work made public, the source
code of the derivative work must be published.
This particular aspect is known as “copyleft”, or the
viral aspect of GPL.
Can not be combined with royalty-encumbered
Nov. 2005
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CC: Creative Commons Deed
1. Let’s copyright holder mix&match. Basic
license only requires attribution, but
additional conditions may be added to
the cc deed:
Nov. 2005
Share Alike (copyleft, re: GPL viral clause)
No derivative works
Free Software
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Hacker Culture:
Remixing outside the software domain
• Hip-hop/reggae: Sampling and dubs.
• Blogs: Everybody participates in the
• Wikis: Everybody invited to hack the
actual content.
• Community Sites: Soundjunction, /., Flickr,
boing boing,
Nov. 2005
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Open source
Term popularized by
programmer and author
Eric S. Raymond as a
challenge to the Free
Software Foundation and
Richard Stallman’s leadership of the alternative
software movement.
Nov. 2005
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Raymond about C&B:
[It was my antropological] observation of what
made the free software world work. […] I was
setting up a contrast between […] two opposed
styles of development – one which is the
conventional closed development style, which I
call the cathedral style, and on the other hand
[…] a much more peer-to-peer decentralized
marked- or bazaar-like style.
Nov. 2005
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C&B – actual quotes
• […] the cathedral-building style of the Emacs C
core and most other GNU tools (p. 37)
• [] problems in the FSF’s catherdral-building
development model (p. 39)
• But by a year later, as Linux became widely
visible, it was clear that something different and
much healthier was going on there. Linus’s open
development policy was the very opposite of
cathedral-building. (p. 39)
Nov. 2005
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Page #24
Confused politics
While Kevin Kelly (1994) and Eric S. Raymond (1999)
claim that the open source entrepreneurs are the avantgarde of neo-laissez-faire economic liberalism, Richard S.
Stallman (1985) of GNU and the Free Software Foundation is opposing the notion of ownership of intellectual
What is shared by the open source and free
software communities is a distrust in authority,
and a tendency to disparage bourgeois society's
norms and values.
Nov. 2005
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A personal development
1. Scriptkiddie ethics
From: "Jon Johansen" [email protected]
Subject: Re: [Livid-dev] DeCSS 1.1b has been released
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 1999 20:21:53 +0200
In case you didn't know, WE had already sent the css
decryption source to our connection in the linux
community. So why don't you just shut up? That means we
have shared with those who shared with us. You didn't get
anything; shouldn't be too hard to figure out why....
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #26
A personal development:
2. GNU/Linux
SourceForge Forums
Posted By: nanocrew [Jon Lech Johansen]
Date: 2001-01-10 12:12
Summary: Status
Reverse engineering of the jazPiper(tm) Win2k driver
and software has been completed successfully. Driver
replacement and simple user land software has been
written and are working well. Porting to GNU/Linux
coming up next!
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #27
Jon Lech Johansen —
Minister of law and police, Hanne Harlem :
“There are many that opinionated that DVD-Jon
was cool when he broke the code, but it is
destructive for the business sector if that type of
destruction becomes acceptable.”
«Det er mange som syntes at DVD-Jon var tøff da han
knakk koden, men det er ødeleggende for næringslivet
hvis man aksepterer den typen ødeleggelser.»
(Werenskiold 2000)
Nov. 2005
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GNU/Linux —
an official commentary:
In Norway, the department of law and police has
prepared an action document: “Strategy for prevention of computer crime among children and
youths” (Strategi for forebygging av IKT-kriminalitet blant barn og unge), where the growing use
of Linux among youths are flagged as a cause for
concern. ― Justis- og politidepartementet, 2000
Nov. 2005
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Page #29
Free software —
as viewed from the outside (1)
Redmond, Washington, Feb. 14 2001 (Bloomberg)
Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating-system chief, Jim
Allchin, says that freely distributed software code such as
rival Linux could stifle innovation and that legislators need
to understand the threat.
The result will be the demise of both intellectual property
rights and the incentive to spend on research and
development. Microsoft has told U.S. lawmakers of its
concern while discussing protection of intellectual property
Nov. 2005
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Free software —
as viewed from the outside (2)
“Open source is an intellectual-property destroyer,” Allchin
said. “I can’t imagine something that could be worse than
this for the software business and the intellectual-property
Allchin said he's concerned that the open-source business
model could stifle initiative in the computer industry.
“I’m an American, I believe in the American Way,” he said.
“I worry if the government encourages open source, and I
don’t think we've done enough education of policy makers
to understand the threat.”
Nov. 2005
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Page #31
It is probably to early yet to talk about “closure”
with respect to free software. But to understand
what free software is today, we need at least to
understand that the term is not defined by one
group or a single community, but is negotiated
by a large number of disjunct voices (as
exemplified by the preceeding slides).
If anything, “free software” is an amalgam of all
these voices.
Nov. 2005
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Page #32
DRM: The content of your computer is
controlled by your supplier
“Microsoft may provide security
related updates to the OS
Components that will be
automatically downloaded onto
your computer. These security
related updates may disable
your ability to copy and/or play
Secure Content and use other
software on your computer.”
— Microsoft Corp. Windows Media Player EULA
Nov. 2005
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Truly strange aspirations:
“You may not use the Software in connection with any
site that disparages Microsoft, MSN, MSNBC, Expedia,
or their products or services, infringe any intellectual
property or other rights of these parties, violate any state,
federal or international law, or promote racism, hatred or
— Microsoft Corp., FrontPage 2002, EULA
• “Looking for a Washington Dime in mint condition.”
• “Position available for programmer cum analyst.”
Nov. 2005
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Importance of Free Software
• To ensure the public free and equal access to
public information and public digital services.
• To ensure a level competitive field for providers
of software and information infrastructure.
• To ensure that access to digital archieves are
• To ensure that innovation in fields such as
software, information infrastructure and digital
services continues (re. Clay. Christensen)
Nov. 2005
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Breaking the DeCSS protection
• Hackers and crypto-stormers are in some
ways reminicient of the 19th century
machine-stormers (Luddites), that
protested the application of technology
that shifted power by breaking it.
Nov. 2005
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Internet origins:
Actors and Networks
Vannevar Bush: As we may think (1933…)
J.C.R. Licklider: Galactic Network, Man-computer Symbiosis (1962…)
Paul Baran: Packet network/Nuclear war (1964…)
Ted Nelson: Hypertext, Computer Lib (1965…)
Bob Taylor: Economical computer usage (1966…)
Douglas Engelbart: Augment, oNLine System (1968…)
Jon Postel, Steve Crocker: RFCs (1969…)
Ray Tomlinson: Electronic mail (1972…)
Vint Cerf/Bob Kahn: TCP/IP (1974…)
Chuq von Rosbach: SF-lovers mailing list (1983?…)
Tim Berners-Lee: The World Wide Web (1989…)
Nov. 2005
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Internet topology (Baran 1964)
Nov. 2005
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Internet architecture
1. Distributed topology
2. Packet switching
3. Connection free network layer
Taken together, this type of architecture sets the scene
for what one of the Internet’s chief architects, Vint Cerf,
calls an open architecture.
Nov. 2005
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Page #39
J.C.R. Licklider: The computer as
a communicton device (1968)
Creative, interactive communication
requires a plastic or moldable medium
that can be modeled, a dynamic medium
in which premises will flow into
consequences, and above all a common
medium that can be contributed to and
experimented with by all.
Nov. 2005
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Page #40
Steve Crocker:
The origin of RFCs
«I remember having great fear that we would
offend whomever the official protocol designers
were, and I spent a sleepless night composing
humble words for our notes. The basic ground
rules were that anyone could say anything and
that nothing was official. And to emphasize the
point, I labeled the notes “Request for Comments.”»
Nov. 2005
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Ray Tomlinson:
The origin of email
«Don’t tell anyone! This isn’t
what we’re supposed to be
working on.»
(Cavender 1998)
Nov. 2005
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Cerf on patents:
Vint Cerf (1997):
“[Tim Berners-Lee] didn't patent the [World
Wide Web]. He didn't copyright. He made
that openly available. And that's what has
fuelled a great deal of the network development, and all the innovative ideas. [...]
There is a continuing ethic in the community
to give back to the network what it has
given you.”
Nov. 2005
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Enzensberger on media (1970)
Repressive media
Emancipatory media
Centrally controlled program
Decentralized program
One transmitter, many receivers
Each receiver a potential transmitter
Immobilization of isolated individuals
Mobilization of the masses
Passive consumer behavior
Interaction of those involved, feedback
Political learning process
Production by specialists
Collective production
Control by property owners
Social control by self-organization
Nov. 2005
Free Software
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Independent media
• Senator Trent Lott’s racism not reported in
mainstream media, known to the public
through bloggs.
• CNN news manager Eason Jordan utters
un-american sentiments at a conference
in Davos, not reported in mainstream
media, known to the public through
Nov. 2005
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• Electronic Disturbance Theatre and
• Major electronic sit-in against president
Zedillo of Mexico in 1998.
 FloodNet deliberately designed to only work if
there is massive participation of protesters.
Nov. 2005
Free Software
Page #46
The Internet as Multitude
A distributed network such as the Internet is a
good initial image or model for the multitude
1. The various nodes remains different but are
all connected in the Web.
2. External boundaries are open such that new
nodes and new relationships can always be
― M. Hardt & A. Negri: Multitude (2004)
Nov. 2005
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Summing up
Anyone who works with information or
knowledge […] relies on the common
knowledge passed down from others and
in turn creates new common knowledge.
― M. Hardt & A. Negri: Multitude (2004)
Nov. 2005
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Page #48
Baran, P. (1964) Introduction to Distributed Communications Network, August, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, CA.
Bloomberg News (2001) Microsoft Executive Says Linux Threatens Innovation, Bloomberg News, Redmond, Washington, February 14.
Cavender, S. (1998) Legends, [2004-03-12], last updated: 1998-10-05, Inc., (web magazine)
Cerf, V. G. (1997) Vint Cerf: Father of the Internet, interview conducted by technical editor Leo Laporte, The Site, MSNBC, USA.
Christensen, C. M. (1997) The innovator's dilemma: When new technologies cause great firms to fail, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.
Crocker, S. D. (1987) The Origins of RFCs, August, Network Working Group.
Enzensberger, H. M. (1970) Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien, Kursbuch, no. 20, pp. 159-186.
Hardt, M. and Negri, A. (2004) Multitude: War and democracy in the age of Empire, The Penguin Press, New York.
Johansen, P. A. (2000) Justisminister Hanne Harlem:Kamp mot yngres datakrim, Aftenposten, Oslo, 17. august, p. 22.
Justis- og politidepartementet (2000) Strategi for forebygging av IKT-kriminalitet blant barn og unge, udatert, Justis- og Politidepartementet, Oslo.
Kelly, K. (1994) Out of Control, Addison-Wesley.
Lafayette, L. (1993) Technology and Freedom, Bachelor of Arts, Sociology, Murdoch University, Perth, AU.
Licklider, J. C. R. and Taylor, R. A. (1968) The Computer as a Communication Device, International Science and Technology, pp. 21-41.
Microsoft Corp. (2001) Frontpage 2002 End-User License Agreement For Microsoft Software.
Nelson, T. H. (1974) Computer Lib / Dream Machines, Theodor H. Nelson, Sausalito.
Petersen, J. (1997) Everything a hacker needs to know about getting busted by the feds, [2003-05-10], Gray Areas Magazine, (webzine)
Raymond, E. S. (1999) The Catherdral and the Bazaar. Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary., O'Reilly & Associates,
Rosteck, T. S. (1994) Computer Hackers: Rebels With a Cause, Honours Seminar, Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University,
Montreal, CA.
Salus, P. H. (1997) How many bits, Matrix News, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 7-8.
Stallman, R. M. (1985) The GNU Manifesto, Free Software Foundation, (web page) <>.
Werenskiold, T. (2000) Hacker-jegere møtes i Oslo, [2000-05-29], last updated: 2000-05-29,, (webpage)
Young, R. (1999) Giving it away. In: Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, (Eds. C. DiBona, S. Ockman and M. Stone), O'Reilly,
Sebastopol, CA.
Nov. 2005
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