Free Software and the State

Over at Tech Liberation Front, our own Tim Lee’s other home, you’ll find some brilliant remarks on the future of state power.

But increasingly, 21st century tech policy debates are not about power struggles between business and government. They’re often about policies that use the power of the state to shift power from individuals to large corporations. The DMCA, for example, shifts power away from individuals and small businesses wanting to produce competing media products, and toward large companies with the resources required to develop a DRM scheme of their own or jump through the hoops of a licensing authority like Microsoft or the DVD-CCA.

And so,

In these cases, the “anti-corporate” side isn’t seeking more government regulation, more government spending, or any other increase in the size or scope of government. To the contrary, they’re seeking the removal of government restrictions on the behavior or private individuals. The practical effect of their preferred policies would not be to empower government at the expense of corporations. It would be to empower individuals.

For a long time, libertarians have extolled the free market as an example of the way individuals can cooperate without the benefit of a central planner. What open source software helps to highlight is that the free market isn’t the only example of successful cooperation without a central planner. Linux, Firefox, and dozens of other software projects are all examples of successful cooperation without government help. Like the success of the proprietary software market, they’re arguments against government meddling in the software industry.

Tim is very unpopular among net neutrality activists, particularly the crudest and most underinformed who operate according to a Bushian mental model of good vs. evil. What they fail to see is that his first commitment is to the dynamism and openness of our technological society.