Software as speech

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by eric/, Mar 22, 2013.

  1. eric/ Guest


    Sep 19, 2011
    Ohio, United States
    Found an interesting article today while surfing the ole' web:


    What do you guys think about the concept of code as a freedom of speech issue? Kinda related to the whole open source movement.

    One quick note I thought of was that if code is speech, then perhaps programs are books?
  2. chown33, Mar 22, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2013

    chown33 macrumors 604

    Aug 9, 2009
    Sailing beyond the sunset
    The concept is quite a bit older than Debian Linux.

    See the Copyleft article on Wikipedia, under the History heading:
    The May 1976 issue of Dr. Dobbs Journal had Li-Chen Wang's Palo Alto Tiny BASIC for the Intel 8080 microprocessor. The listing began with the usual title, author's name and date but it also had "@COPYLEFT ALL WRONGS RESERVED".[6] ...
    The whole People's Computer Company venture was basically "free software", or "software for all", and not just in the "free beer" sense. PCC was quite aware of the "freedom" aspect.

    For reasons described in the History section, Richard Stallman crafted a license that specifically allowed certain things (modification, redistribution) and prohibited certain things (like refusing to provide changes for a published work). It was that license, which relied on copyright law to enforce certain rights and responsibilities, that really codified "libre" software, so that once someone modified a copylefted work, any public redistribution required the source for the changes to also be distributed. Before that, copyleft was more legally nebulous.

    "Free beer" software was even older. The usual approach for an author was to declare the source released into the public domain. That's been around for a very long time. I've seen public domain Fortran libraries with roots in the 60's, and I suspect it's much older than that.

    Since software is an expression of an idea in concrete form (code), I see no reason not to call it speech. There are often many ways of expressing an idea, and except in the simplest algorithms, there will be individual expressive differences. That is, given a description or specification (idea), different people will write different code (expression). Skilled coders can even discern style, and identify an author, just by reading code.

    Political cartoons are clearly speech, even if they contain no words. Since software is a written expression, then it is speech as much as any other written expression is.

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