Open-Source Socialism?

When I first announced ObjectivismOnline, I got an email from a college CS major who warned me against using Open Source software because (a) the leader of the movement is a dirty marxist, and (b) free software in general is anti-profit, and this anti-capitalism. After doing some (very little) research, I indeed found out that Richard Stallman, the founder of GNU is a pretty sick character, who rants against self-interest and capitalism. (Not to be confused with Richard Salsman, who writes great articles.)Understandably then, I had to give a lot of thought to using free software, which is mostly released under the anti-IP GNU GPL license. There are other free software licenses such as the Creative Commons license, which features a dollar sign with an line through it as a logo, and the simple BSD license. (BSD=”Berkeley Software Distribution”) Not all free software is hostile to profits however. ImageMagik, a popular graphics library, starts out with John Galt’s pledge, and simply asks for postcards in exchange for using it.

So is using and making free software consistent with supporting intellectual property and profits?

First, the very concept of a “software license” – whether GNU or commercial, entails the concept of “copyright,” since it restricts what one can or cannot do with software. The GNU cannot simultaneously use copyright law to restrict software rights and oppose copyrights at the same time.

In a similar sense, the GNU is not “free” either – it allows less freedom than commercial software in many ways. Owners of commercial software can dispose of their property in any way they choose, but users of GNU software face strict limitations on commercial usage and redistribution of modified code.

The advantages of open source software have already been covered at length, but I think the widespread usage of open source projects like linux, apache, php, and MySQL in commercial enterprises speaks for itself. For companies, open source projects are especially useful for creating standard platforms that they don’t have to develop on their own, and that their customers don’t feel chained to. From a personal standpoint, working on free software offers opportunities to develop new skills, work with a team on important projects, and show off your abilities. None of this is to say that there’s something wrong with closed software development. Both have their own niche, and I think that one should decide what kind of software to use based on their technical merit.

3 Comments

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3 Responses to Open-Source Socialism?

  1. It’s interesting that, in 2003, you would even need to make a post like this. I would hope that by now (2007) most Objectivists would have overcome any initial discomfort with the concept of open source.

  2. As of 2008-Feb-09, the link to ImageMagick’s README has nothing to do with John Galt’s pledge. What were you referring to in 2003?

  3. The readme file used to start with the pledge:

    “I swear by my life, and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine. -John Galt”

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