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Free Software Entrepreneurs

January 27, 2004

I think that anarcho-capitalists, libertarians, and Austrian economists should be interested in Free Software (FS) and Open Source Software (OSS). I believe there is much to gain from studying FS and OSS. It would allow us to bring computer-oriented individuals into the larger picture of a free society overall.

The Free Software movement started with Richard Stallman, who was an AI programmer at MIT. Angered because a printing company with-held the source code for printer drivers which he wanted to fix (so they would work properly at MIT), Stallman, commonly called "RMS", created the Free Software Foundation in...1984. The foundation's goal was and is to make Free Software alternatives and innovations, so that anyone wanting to do a job on a computer could use Free Software. Stallman laid out his objective and why he started the FSF in the GNU Manifesto.

This is a very interesting example of how one individual -- without even the incentive of great profit, but only of moral correctness -- can make an enormous difference, and create alternatives, which individuals on a free market can choose over expensive competing products. Essentially, RMS said, "I don't like proprietary software, I think programmers should share source code," and he did something about it. He created the FSF, which is the starting point for all of the Free Software, and Open Source Software, that we have today (OSS is a rift from FS, OSS being more focused on appealing to business than the moral issues dealt with by the FS). Various competitors have whined and whined about MS out-competing them, and have nagged the government into wasting billions of taxpayer dollars to "sanction Microsoft" (despite the fact that it is not violating anyone's proeprty rights). Meanwhile, at the same time and before, RMS and his followers were actually doing something productive.

Interestingly, RMS has often been accused of being a communist (perhaps his last name, Stallman, has something to do with it). Though RMS is not a libertarian, he is also not a communist, and accusations of such confuse an individual's private morality with what he thinks should be law. RMS has not suggested that contracts should not be obeyed; indeed, when he was refused the source to printer-drivers due to a NDA, rather than raving to the government and mandating they invalidate all such consentual contracts, he did something productive. He created software that required signing a different kind of contract, which would turn copyright upside down (into "copyleft"). The deeper problem with that accusation is that anyone who is against copyrights and patents is a communist. This is simply a flat-out lie, as there are no natural proeprty rights in non-scare resources, and any attempt to create such property rights (absent voluntary contract) is a Statist intervention, which creates an artificial monopoly.

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