Lokayat Free Software Initiative

Do you know?

You can be put behind the bars for using pirated copies of Windows. You pay Rs.7000 for Windows Vista Home. Yet you don’t own it! But you buy license and need to pay for renewal, when license expires. Have you ever read the “terms and conditions” that you “accept” while installing Windows? You can lend your bike to a friend, but you can’t lend a copy of Windows Vista.

A free-to-buy alternative is available to these dishonest practices. It is called “Linux”, and it gives you the freedom of copying and distributing it!

Proprietary Software: All for Profit and Profit

Today, only a few software giants monopolise the global software market. While they charge absurdly high prices, yet they don’t give consumers freedom to use the software; control over its use remains with them. They disallow copy, redistribution and even reuse by the same person. They refuse to give any insight into the working of the software. We are not allowed to improve upon it. Thus we are reduced to a mere consumer with no choice and no freedom.

Microsoft – The Notorious Leader

Appallingly, the world’s largest software company has a most dishonorable history. It has always been involved in anti-competitive and monopolistic practices. Internet Explorer is a classic example. It killed the competing internet browser (Netscape) by shipping Internet Explorer free of cost with (monopolistic) windows operating system, which dissuaded users from buying priced internet browsers. The EU ordered Microsoft to pay fine of $794 million for its anti-competitive practices. Given its monopolistic strength, it manipulates other companies to further its own interests. Thus, it used its influence on keyboard manufacturers to get them to install the “Windows” key on keyboards. Windows Vista can dictate what programs we can run and what we cannot. Have you ever noticed that we don’t buy software; we only buy the license to use it! So we cannot use the software once the license expires. The much talked about “Windows Genuine Advantage” reported more than 500,000 copies of windows as illegal, when they were actually purchased legally.

Others follow its footsteps

These practices just don’t stop with Microsoft. For instance, many companies don’t allow software reviews to be published without their permission. Apple Company’s iPhone’s DRM does not allow other software to run on the iPhone.

Governments are hand in gloves with big corporations in these crooked practices. It is alleged that Microsoft has provided the keys to decrypt user information to the National Security Agency (NSA) of USA, thus making it possible for the NSA to have its own spy code on every Windows computer in the world. Almost all software companies follow such practices in some or the other form.

Free and Universal Knowledge

All knowledge is actually social property. Society has developed most of its knowledge through co-operation and sharing, without the concept of individual ownership of knowledge. And that is the reason why we have never heard of the inventors of the most significant innovations which have played a key role in the development of human civilisation, like wheel, language, writing, cooking, etc. In more recent times, many major inventions like the lathe machine, the petrol engine designs, X-ray technology, electricity etc. were not ‘copyrighted’ or patented. Similarly, many important foundation software like early UNIXes and internet protocols were developed with free sharing knowledge.

Even where a particular invention is credited to an inventor, as Einstein said, an inventor is only standing on the shoulders of his contemporaries and the past to look ahead. And so, throughout human history, knowledge has always been free and accessible to all. It is only in the last hundred years, since the birth of monopoly corporations, that they have sought to control knowledge to maximise their profits. In the field of computer software, the concept of proprietary software came only in the late 1970s.

Patent and Copyright Laws: The Innovation Killers

Copyright and patent laws are advertised to be protectors of individual freedom, intellectual property and are claimed to promote innovation. The reality is exactly the opposite.

Copyrights and patents are creativity and development killers. More innovation will take place if more people have knowledge and share it. For instance, earlier, since agricultural development was in the hands of farmers, more than 30,000 indigenous varieties of rice grew in India. But after the green revolution, as agricultural research has gradually got concentrated in a few labs, less than one hundred varieties are researched upon and mainly cultivated.

Today, with all research becoming monopolised by giant corporations, the situation has become worse. While all research is done by hundreds of scientists working day and night in research labs, since the labs are owned by corporations, they patent the research. On top of it, the cost of patenting is very high, so that only big corporations can afford it. That’s why most patents are owned by big corporations. They dictate the areas in which research should take place – not in areas most needed for human wellbeing, but where they hope to earn maximum profits. By controlling all new ideas, corporations are able to charge exorbitant prices for products made using these ideas, and thus earn super profits.

While the very concept of patents is thus bad, in the case of software it is also absurd. Most software programs or their parts are common sense solutions. So you never know when you will accidentally use an idea which is already patented, and you may end up behind bars for that.

“Free” Software

Human beings have always pursued higher degrees of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom from serfdom, freedom from colonization, freedom from bonded labour and so on. The field of software is no exception. As proprietary software emerged, and corporations began controlling knowledge and dominating the software world, thereby stifling freedom and development, a movement emerged which challenged it. The “Free Software Movement” initiated in 1984 stands for freedom in the world of software. “Free Software” gives its users 4 kinds of freedoms:

• Use the software for any purpose (freedom of use)

• Study and modify the software technology (free knowledge)

• Copy the software and give it to friends (social solidarity)

• Redistribute the modified software (community ownership)

Note that “free software” is “free” as in freedom for use, and not “free” as in free-food. The free software community earns either through selling the software or by providing service for software maintenance. Most free software is sold free-of-cost and charged only for maintenance.

Another world is possible: GNU/Linux

GNU/Linux was developed through the principles of “Free Software” and it has proven that knowledge can develop through cooperation, without patents, without intervention of the market. GNU/Linux was developed by thousands of programmers all over the world, through a voluntary effort and without any hierarchical setup. GNU/Linux has everything that Windows has, and many more things that Windows does not have. Here are few facts that prove that “People’s software” wins over “Corporate software”:

• Today most servers run on Linux based systems

• The free web server Apache beats all others

• Reliability of Linux is 10 times more than Windows

• Today most of the software companies have Linux on their agenda in some form

• Many governments like Kerala, Venezuela, Peru have completely switched to Linux

Let’s unite to work for it

The free software movement and GNU/Linux have proven that workers can voluntarily organize themselves, form associations and develop great products. The movement stands for freedom and promotes community spirit and co-operation. It defies the “market knows best” mania. The world needs free software activists, who will help propagate this philosophy, promote its usage among people, institutions and governments and thus free humanity from the clutches of proprietary software, from the dictatorship of patent and copyright laws.

Join us in spreading the movement for free knowledge!

This pamphlet was published by Alka Joshi for Lokayat, Pune.