Open Source
and the
Big Bad Wolf
Prashant Iyengar
Alternative Law Forum
Bangalore, India
Presentation Outline
• Modes of Software Production/Distribution
– Proprietary
– Open Source
– Free Software
– Freeware and Piracy
Commons based peer production
• 4 Critiques of Open Source
Basic Propositions
• Information underlies the very possibility of individual self-direction.
• How we make information, how we get it, how we speak to others,
and how others speak to us are core components of the shape of
freedom in any society
• Emerging models of information and cultural production, radically
decentralized and based on emergent patterns of cooperation
and sharing, but also of simple coordinate existence are
beginning to take on an ever larger role in how we produce meaning
in the networked information economy.
• Individuals are using their newly expanded practical freedom to act
and cooperate with others in ways that improve the practiced
experience of democracy, justice and development, a critical culture
and community.
Basic Propositions
• The belief that it is possible to make something valuable happen in
the world, and the practice of actually acting on that belief, represent
a qualitative improvement in the condition of individual freedom.
They mark the emergence of new practices of self-directed
agency as a lived experience going beyond mere formal
permissibility and theoretical possibility.
• The Internet as a technology, and the networked information
economy as an organisational and social model of information and
cultural production promise the emergence of a substantial
alternative platform for the public sphere (which was never, until
now, distributed, or independent)
• “Code is law” - as computers are becoming increasingly embedded
in our world, what the code does, allows, and prohibits, controls
what we may or may not do in a powerful way.
• Open Networked communications are intrinsic rather than merely
instrumental to development.
Modes of Software
• Proprietary/Closed Software
– Produces and sells ‘canned’ software – eg. Microsoft
(About two-thirds of US industry revenues in software
development comes from activities that the Economic Census
describes as (1) Customizing, modifying, testing, supporting
software (2) onsite maintenance and (3) professional and
technical computer related advice and computer training)
– Impossible/Impermissible to view the “Source code” (human
readable version of software which enables
study/modification). (Online Policy Group v. Diebold)
– Impermissible/Illegal to redistribute freely.
– Produced on industrial model of information production
Modes of Software
• Free Software (a social movement)
– Richard Stallman and the GNU Project
• Early days (till mid 70s) computer programs habitually shared
among developers. Gradually started being closed)
• Richard Stallman, a researcher at the MIT Artificial
Intelligence Lab, found this closing of software source code
• In 1984 he started the GNU (Gnu’s Not Unix) project to
develop a complete Unix-like operating system which would
be Free Software.
• In 1985, Stallman established the Free Software Foundation
(FSF) to work to preserve, protect and promote Free
Software; the FSF then became the primary organizational
sponsor of the GNU Project. The GNU project developed
many important software programs, including the GNU C
compiler (gcc) and the text editor emacs..
Modes of Software
• Free Software (contd.)
– Definition
Freedom to run program
Freedom to Study and Adapt
Freedom to redistribute copies to 'help neighbour'
Freedom to improve the program (facilitates
distributed development.)
– Refers to Liberty not price
– Non-free software is a social problem
Modes of Software
• Open Source
– Non OS software is a suboptimal solution
– Definition (Open Source Initiative)
• Free Redistribution
– Free as in Speech, not beer
– Right to sell as a part of a larger package
• Access to Source Code (Freedom to tinker)
– Must be in a form that enables a programmer to modify
• Must permit derived works
• Must not discriminate against any persons
• Must not restrict to a field of endeavour
• Technology neutral etc.
Modes of Software
• Examples
– Firefox Browser
– Apache – (Server for 60%
websites on the internet)
– MySQL – One of the most popular
– GNU/Linux is the #1 server OS on
the public Internet
– PHP is the web’s #1 Server-side
Scripting Language
– Google, and run their web servers
on GNU/Linux
– – website that is
the most popular hosting-meeting
place for such projects has close
to 100,000 registered projects.
• Benefits
– Quality
– Support (Bugs fixed faster)
– Cost - OSS/FS costs 24-35% less
to initially acquire, upgrade
– Security
– Politically ‘neutral’ – Users not
dictated by agenda of producers
• Motives
– 78 percent of developers join the
free software community "to learn
and develop new skills
– 30 percent participate in the free
software community to "improve
job opportunities"
– 30 percent derive income directly
from this participation and a
further 18 percent derive indirect
Open Source Paradigm
• “Commons Based Peer Production”
– Radical decentralization of intelligence in our
communications network and the centrality of information to
advanced economic activity are leading to a new stage of the
information economy – the networked information economy.
– Free software offers a glimpse at a more basic and radical
change. It suggests that the networked environment makes
possible a new modality of organizing production: radically
decentralized, collaborative, and nonproprietary; based on
sharing resources and outputs and among widely
distributed, loosely connected individuals who cooperate
with each other without relying on either market signals or
managerial commands.
Open Source Paradigm
• “Commons based”
– Not built around the asymmetric exclusion typical of property
– Inputs and outputs shared freely or conditionally in an
institutional form that leaves them equally available for all to use
as they chose.
• “Peer Production”
– Production systems that depend on individual action that is selfselected and decetralized rather than hierarchically assigned.
– Collaboration is not managed by any one manager, but is the
outcome of all contributors reading the same Internet based
forum or using the same software.
– Not entirely new: Science involves people contributing
incrementally, independently deciding what to research, bringing
their collaboration together and creating science.
Open Source Paradigm - Examples
NASA Clickworkers
– Experiment to see if public
volunteers each working for a
few minutes can do do some
routine science analysis that
would normally be done by a
scientist or graduate student
working for months on end
– Users could mark craters on
maps of Mars and classify
– First six months more than
85,000 users visited.
– 1.9 million entries.
– Analysis showed that the
quality was “virtually
indistinguishable from imputs
of a geologist with years of
Users forward articles which they rate.
Peer-produced accreditation system for
technology related content.
Project Gutenberg
Enables anyone to edit any page.
All version stored making changes
easily visible and reversion easy.
By June 2005, almost 630,000 articles
in English. (1.6 million in all languages)
Vandalism corrected within minutes.
Nearly 13000 texts of books made
available fo free.
Volunteers submit scanned version
which are then collaboratively proofread.
Open Source Beer
Open Source Paradigm
• Networked information economy makes individuals better able to do
things for and by themselves, and makes them less susceptible to
manipulation by others.
• Increases the relative role that each individual is able to play in
authoring his or her life. Increases the range and diversity of things
that individuals can do by themselves.
• Proviedes non-proprietary alternative sources of communications
capacity and information alongside proprietary sources. Reduces
reliance on and control by mass-media.
• Increases range and diversity of information available to individuals
by enabling mainstream and fringe producers to “publish”. This
diversity provides a richer basis for individuals to form critical
judgments about how to live their lives.
• Openness can be discussed as a liberal principle. As an
intention it is the dogma of our times. However what
happens once we’ve passed the point of good
intentions that openness is the better way to go?
Who are the losers and gainers of this concept?
• It is not hard to read the celebrations of inclusion as
rhetoric that hides actual existing exclusion
mechanisms. It is not hard to sum up the complaints.
Open Access only exists for those who have made it
to the machine and are literate enough to login. The
freedom of free software is only for those who have
the technical skills to write computer code. – Geert
• Open Systems are really ‘isolated’ systems where the tendency is to
maximum disorder for those inside them.
• In physics entropy is understood as an indicator of the randomness
of molecules in an isolated system; and randomness, according to
the 2nd law of thermodynamics, always increases, never decreases.
In other words, an isolated system will always tend towards
maximum disorder – the greatest homogeneity known.
• As much as the internet and the blogosphere appear to be ‘open‘
spaces with infinite possibilities, we must always be aware that they
have the capacity to be quite the opposite; vast isolated (and
isolating) mechanized systems, which in addition to facilitating
powerful operations of identification and control, also obfuscate
optimism, progress and order by alienating people from each other,
from their tendency to be open in the everyday world. – Kenneth
• Software needs to be cheap. While ‘clean’ software
addresses the imbalance of power between the
developer and the user, cheap software allows more
social groups to use that power than simply those
with money.
• At the centers of technological development this is not
such an important point because the connection
between knowledge and money is more direct.
• The situation is different in developing countries
where knowledge is more abundant than money.
Open Source software because it is cheaper, allows
more peole to use the amplifying power in computers.
Here, however it has to compete with pirated
commercial software which is also very cheap.
Pirate Aesthetics
• In most cases the reason for the fall in price of electronic
goods, computers, great access to material, increase in
photocopiers is not caused in any manner through any
radical revolution such as free software or open content,
but really through the easier availability of standard
mainstream commodities like Microsoft and Hollywood.
• In a country like India where censorship still prevails, the
grey market emerges as the domain in which free
speech can circulate without restriction. Some of the
biggest clients of the grey market are renowned
filmmakers who have started to look beyond Hollywood.
Pirate Aesthetics
Piracy as a faciliatator of infrastructure in conditions of scarcity.
“Piracy is not simply parasitic but generative, it doesn't simply corrupt but
builds and is not merely a neutral conduit of traffic but is a mediating force”
Brian Larkin.
Pirate Aesthetics
• Piracy rates in Asia
– India – 70%
– Indonesia – 84%
• Recalling Amartya Sen
– Development is a process of expanding the real freedoms that people
enjoy. Development requires the removal of major sources of
– Freedoms of different kinds strengthen one another.
• Political freedoms (in the form of free speech/elections) help to promote
economic security.
• Economic facilities can help to generate general abundance as well as
public resources for social facilities.
– With adequate social opportunities individuals can actively shape their
own destiny without being passive recipients of cunning development
– There is a strong rationale for recognizing the positive role of free and
sustainable agency and even constructive impatience.
• Open doesn’t mean chaotic let alone democratic. How can we read
openness as a new power modality and not merely as an idealistic
• Whereas production of open source code in India is still at the low
end, should not shy us away from putting associated issues on the
agenda for instance open access to documents.
• The link between pleasure, desire, aspiration and trespass has
always been a complicated one, and the closer that the
transgressive act is to the domain of pleasure the more difficult it
seems for it to be redeemed socially. Thus while the question of
medicie and textbooks are far easier to deal with, movies, music and
software get characterised as being outside of the moral economy of
development. The demand for low costs entertainment commodities
is seen to be one which is normatively more difficult to sustain.

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