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The Philosophy and Politics of F/OSS (Free and Open Source Software)

Code is Speech – Gabriella Coleman

In an effort to examine the ways in which Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS) developers are reconfiguring what source code and speech mean ethically, legally and culturally, Gabriella Coleman subsequently divulges that the broader political consequences of these redefinitions on for understanding the connections between code and speech.

At the beginning of her essay, Coleman utilizes a long haiku written by software developed Seth Schoen to begin to outline her arguments abut freedom of speech in the software developing world.  The source code is a transcoded bit of Free Software called DeCSS that “could be used to decrypt access controls on DVDs in violation of current copyright laws” (pg. 421).  By utilizing this example of Schoen, Coleman is attempting to highlight how such developments that challenge the meanings of both freedom and speech concurrently tinker with technology and the law using skills that transform and consolidate ethical precepts among developers” (pg. 449).  The legal action surrounding Schoen’s haiku of protest that source code is speech sets up Coleman to better explain the legal pedology and the subsequent battles over intellectual property, speech and software and in particular, the arrests of two programmers (Jon Johansen and Dmitry Sklyarov) and the manner in which their actions both provoked protest, questioned the value of source code and speech and how they made social processes a publicized, media frenzied event. Continue reading