Monday, January 05, 2009

Free software and Capitalism

Some people have the misconception that Free software is anti Corporation, anti capitalists.

When presented with that argument the best response is to recommend reading Richard Stallman's Essays. In particular page 18 and 28

Here the two excerpts:

"Since “free” refers to freedom, not to price, there is no contradiction between
selling copies and free software. In fact, the freedom to sell copies is crucial

"The free software philosophy rejects a specific widespread business practice, but
it is not against business. When businesses respect the users’ freedom, we wish
them success.

For me it is clear that the main spirit of Free software is neutral. Free software is not a business practice or a business model. It is a social movement.

Some people on the Free Software community may be anti capitalist, they may even be loud and radical but that doesn't define the whole community.

I personally believe that it reinforces the capitalistic principles of private ownership of, production and distribution of goods. Anyone that has the inclination and wits can join the Free enterprise taking advantage of Free Software. But it also reinforces the socialist principle of cooperation. It levels the playing field encouraging innovation. Success of Free software is based on supply and demand, and even there success is relative.

Regarding the Competition: What if in a marathon it were valid to put obstacles to your opponents, to make them trip and throw sand to their eyes, to have a "secret private shortcut". Would you consider it a fair competition?

Regarding Ownership:
Ownership is very well established in the Free software movement. The main point of contention is "What can you own?": Can you own Ideas?. For a good reflection on this issue I recommend listening to Who Owns Ideas?

Regarding Cooperation:
Capitalism does not have to be a win-lose equation. Free Software is always a win-win situation. What's even more important: It does not matter how much you contribute your own work and ideas, It is an absolute truth that you will get back many orders of magnitude more. Free software reinforces the principle that it does not matter the size of the slice, what matters is the size of the pie.

In conclusion: Neither socialist nor capitalist. Free software is a social system and whose resulting product may be distributed and controlled using any number of business and economic models.