Every Nonfree Program Is A Moral Slip, Not A Shortcut

Thu, 22 Feb 2024

As a free software activist, I find the existence of nonfree software, no matter how seemingly innocuous, to be a moral and ethical injustice. It's not a technical matter but a moral one with far-reaching consequences.

The allure of nonfree software often lies in its apparent ease of use. It can be pre-packaged, ready to go, more polished than free software or more functional or featureful. But this comes at a cost.

When you use a nonfree program, you surrender control over how it works. This relinquishing of power creates an inherent imbalance, where developers hold the reigns while users become subjects.

But the harm isn't limited to individual users. Developers hold immense power, dictating access, functionality, and even the direction of technological evolution.

Imagine a world where a single company controls the software that runs critical infrastructure, education, or even healthcare. They alone decide what is or is not allowed to be done, undermining our fundamental right to control our computing.

This is why promoting nonfree software, even indirectly, is ethically problematic.

Presenting nonfree software as a solution, even inadvertently, legitimizes its problematic nature. It's akin to nudging someone towards a metaphorical cliff, one click at a time. By promoting nonfree programs, we encourage users to surrender their autonomy. They lose the right to understand how the software works, modify it to their needs or share it with others. It normalizes the notion that it's okay to give up control over our computing, that it's okay for control over software to rest with a select few rather than with the people who use the software. This acceptance not only perpetuates the problem but also diminishes the efforts of the free software movement.

Thus, distributing, recommending, or even passively endorsing nonfree software isn't just a neutral act - regardless of how we might try to frame it - but instead it becomes an act of complicity in this power imbalance. We cannot ignore the ethical implications of our actions, both as individuals and as a community. Instead, we must embrace free software, the antidote to this injustice. As a community, we are responsible for guiding others toward software that respects their liberty, not shackles in disguise.

The path toward a free software future can be challenging. There have been and will continue to be challenges, technical hurdles, and entrenched interests to overcome. But the ethical imperative is clear: we must reject nonfree software as an injustice and work towards a world where freedom reigns.

In our quest for expediency or familiarity, we might be tempted to suggest nonfree software, forgetting the long-term repercussions. However, it's important to resist doing that - such compromises undermine the very foundation of the free software movement and its fight for users' rights.

Choosing free software isn't about a technical solution because it is not a technical issue but a moral and ethical imperative.

It's about upholding fundamental ethical principles that software should be controlled by those who use it. It's about creating a world where everyone has the right to access, understand, and control the software that so often controls their lives.

One of the most powerful tools in our arsenal is refusal. We can refuse to endorse nonfree software, be complicit in its spread, and refuse to accept it as a solution. By saying "no," we send a message that our freedom is not for sale.

This isn't just about software; it's about the very fabric of our society. Do we want a world where software dictates what we're "allowed" to do or one where we remain in control? The choice is ours.

Join me in building a world where every program empowers, not enslaves. Choose free software, choose freedom, and choose a future where the software is controlled by those who use it, not vice versa.