July 18th, 2007

Free Computing Environment as a Undeclared Human Right

According to Wikipedia, human rights are:

the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.

On the other hand, Wiktionary defines Liberty as:

The condition of being free from control or restrictions.

So, it is obvious that a free computing environment is a human right, an undeclared one. Then, it must be illegal for someone to forbid others from:

  • using a software,
  • reviewing or adapting its source code,
  • redistributing the original or the derived work,
  • transporting information by using unconstrained means,
  • storing information by using unconstrained formats.

It is not enough to have free alternatives: These constraints must not exist; nothing justifies them.

Software products have a key difference from other products: They can be copied almost instantaneously and its cost tends to zero. This is where the real problem begins: Many software vendors have been using typical commercial strategies in order to make a profit from an unprecedented product type.

These vendors must look for other ways of making money, without depriving their clients of their freedom in their computing environment. But they won’t, so we must stand for a free society and let our governments know that this is an undeclared human right.


  1. Taco Buitenhuis on 19 Jul 2007 at 9:09 am #

    I mostly agree, but I do not agree software freedom is a human right.

    It’s a bit unclear what is meant by liberty in the context of human rights, however most likely it means the opposite of slavery, and the freedom to go to any place one wants to go to.

    Absolute liberty as defined in wiktionary cannot exist in a world where human rights are respected, because the freedom of one always limits some freedom of another.
    To be free, one needs to be allowed to restrict others a little.

    So is non-free software by itself against human rights? Making it so that one has no say about what will happen to the results of ones work definitely is against human rights, so the choice to put a freedom-granting copyright license on ones software must be a free choice.

    On the other hand, only non-free software can be used to restrict the freedom of thought and expression, so it makes perfect sense to forbid the use of non-free software by government and natural monopolies.

  2. Gustavo on 19 Jul 2007 at 6:07 pm #

    Hello, tbuitenh! And thanks for the comment!

    Your remarks are definitely valid from my viewpoint, but I will elaborate more on this because I still believe that it’s a human right:

    On one hand, human rights are those rights to which all humans are entitled, but they are free to waive any of these rights. If someone decides to waive one of his rights, he must understand what he’s doing (and this seldom happens in computing, where computer users don’t get warned when they use Windows, for example).

    On the other hand, governments guarantee their citizens’ rights, such as the right to education and the right to health. It doesn’t mean that private education/health should not exit, but they must be optional.

    Then, I believe that every single person must have the right to a free computing environment and governments must guarantee such a right. It’s not enough that governments use free software internally: they must make sure that their citizens are able to do their day-to-day activities under a free computing environment.

    Freedom-depriving software (aka “non-free software”) takes freedom away from people and Societies that rely on freedom-depriving software are slave societies. So free software must be a priority for governments.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that what I’m claiming is an undeclared human right. Although it might be a declared human right, according to Article #27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

    Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    … despite some industries want us to believe that life is read-only (but it’s not).

  3. Taco Buitenhuis on 20 Jul 2007 at 9:46 am #

    I see we actually agree.

    When the government and also natural monopolies are required to use free software exclusively, that is the minimal condition to make sure nobody is forced to use non-free software. It’s impossible to avoid interacting with government and natural monopolies, so if those would use non-free software that can force us to use the same software.

    But when one says free software is a human right, that implies non-free software is a violation of this human right, and this is not always true.
    In the end it’s a matter of choosing words carefully.

    I think the free option to use free software is necessary for several human rights. From the universal declaration of human rights:

    Article 12.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

    Article 17.
    (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

    Article 19.

    Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    Article 20.

    (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

    Article 21.

    (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

    (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

    (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

    Article 26.

    (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

    Article 27.

    (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

    Non-free software is a potential problem to all of the above, usually without the author of the non-free software, or anyone else, intending to violate human rights.

  4. Gustavo on 20 Jul 2007 at 11:36 am #

    Yes, we definitely agree.

    Non-free software is sometimes a violation to human rights, it depends on the situation. If in a given place, to go to school people must pay, it’s a human right violation; likewise, if for people to exercise a human right, they must use non-free software, it’s a human right violation too.

    To sum up: A free computing environmen is a human right and non-free software might be a violation to this right in some situations.

  5. Taco Buitenhuis on 20 Jul 2007 at 2:28 pm #

    I would put it as “The availability of the option to use free software for any task is necessary to guerantee a large set human rights in the information society.” I know it sounds a lot less powerful, but to the uninformed it won’t sound equivelent to “A pony is a human right.”

  6. Gustavo on 21 Jul 2007 at 4:24 pm #

    I would complete it this way: “The availability of the option to use free software, free formats and open communication protocols for any task is necessary to guarantee a large set human rights in the information society; as a result, a free computing environment is an implicit and undeclared human right”. Would you agree?

  7. Taco Buitenhuis on 21 Jul 2007 at 8:46 pm #

    That’s one nice paragraph! Agreed.

  8. How much control do we have over what search engines say about us? « … in a tie on 06 Sep 2007 at 4:21 pm #

    [...] Talking to Dell Taco Buitenhuis flickr page I have an xfcelook account! Have you signed the petition for ethical patents? A livejournal community inspired by my dinosaur comics fan art (I had no idea this existed until I found it on an egosearch… too bad it’s not very active) Responding to an anonymus quoting me at Lessigs blog Free software and human rights [...]

  9. Ian Maxwell on 06 Oct 2007 at 2:52 pm #

    A free computing environment is a human right?

    One hundred years ago, there were no computing environments at all, let alone free ones. Who was abrogating everyone’s right to one?

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    You're visiting the technical blog of Gustavo Narea, a Software Developer based in Oxford.