Brett Smith Joins Conservancy as Director of Strategic Initiatives (The Software Freedom Conservancy)

A news item from Software Freedom Conservancy.

Free software advocate brings longtime community focus with expertise in licensing and software development

Software Freedom Conservancy is pleased to announce the addition of Brett Smith as its Director of Strategic Initiatives. Brett will be Conservancy's fourth full-time staffer, and will contribute to the organization's charitable mission on several wide-ranging fronts — from software development, to systems administration, to organizational operations, to logistics. Brett will contribute to FLOSS projects that support Conservancy's infrastructure, including leading Conservancy's NPO Accounting Project. Brett will also provide Conservancy's member projects with additional support and mentorship, and will strengthen the public voice of the organization.

We had an overwhelming response to our job posting, with a lot of exceptional applicants said Karen Sandler, Conservancy's Executive Director.After a careful hiring process, we're thrilled to hire Brett. He's demonstrated an impressive commitment to software freedom and has the talent to fill so many of the roles that Conservancy needs.

I'm excited to join Conservancy, commented Brett. The organization's work has already brought tremendous benefits to the entire FLOSS community. I'm eager to work full time on initiatives like the NPO Accounting project to address needs that free software hasn't met yet.

Brett brings to Conservancy fourteen years of experience as a free software advocate and software developer. Prior to joining Conservancy, Brett worked as a software engineer and FLOSS project maintainer for Curoverse, and as a systems engineer for the World Wide Web Consortium. Brett also further adds to Conservancy's expertise with free software license compliance: as the Free Software Foundation's License Compliance Engineer, he gained experience in managing copyleft license compliance matters, and has written and given talks on the subject. Brett's full bio is available.

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Hellwig Announces He Will Appeal VMware Ruling After Evidentiary Set Back in Lower Court (The Software Freedom Conservancy)

A news item from Software Freedom Conservancy.

In a statement on his website, Christoph Hellwig announced today that he will appeal the ruling of the Hamburg District Court, which recently dismissed his case against VMware. As Christoph underscores in his statement, the ruling concerned German evidence law and the Court did not rule on the merits of the case. The ruling centered around German evidentiary rules related to documenting Christoph's contributions that appear in VMware's product. Christoph also published (in German and English) the Court's ruling which explains why the materials submitted did not satisfy German evidence rules — despite publicly available information in Linux's Git repositories. In addition, the Court chose not to seek expert testimony.

Christoph stated on his website, I'm disappointed that the court didn't even consider the actual case of reusing the Linux code written by me, and I hope the Court of Appeal will investigate this central aspect of the lawsuit.

Conservancy publishes today its comparison analysis between Christoph's code and VMware's code. This particular analysis uses a two step process: (a) use Linux's public Git logs to find Christoph's contributions from Christoph, and (b) use a widely accepted and heavily academically cited tool, CCFinderX, to show that VMware copied Christoph's code into their product.

While these evidentiary points may be new to the German courts, they have been explored in US Federal Court. Conservancy previously successfully litigated as co-plaintiff with Erik Andersen over BusyBox. Many companies who settled, and the US Federal Court in their judgment against Westinghouse, ultimately accepted and agreed that Erik Andersen held copyrights in BusyBox.

The German civil legal system is not precedent-based. As such, this initial ruling creates no legally binding precedent. Our community continues our long journey to build definitive industry precedent regarding derivative and combined works under the GPL.

Reading the ruling, it's clear that VMware brought considerable resources to make every possible argument for dismissal, commented Karen Sandler, Conservancy's Executive Director. Christoph and Conservancy have a fraction of the resources for our enforcement efforts than VMware has at its disposal.

We ask everyone to become a Conservancy Supporter today to aid in our fight for software freedom through this appeal and other enforcement efforts worldwide.

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Bradley M. Kuhn To Keynote GUADEC & OpenSym 2016 (The Software Freedom Conservancy)

A news item from Software Freedom Conservancy.

In the next ten days, Bradley M. Kuhn, Distinguished Technologist at Software Freedom Conservancy, will keynote two conferences in Germany — GUADEC 2016 and OpenSym 2016.

On Friday 12 August 2016 in Karlsruhe, Germany, Kuhn will deliver a keynote at the GNOME Users and Developers European Conference (GUADEC) 2016 entitled Confessions of a Command-Line Geek: Why I Don’t Use GNOME But Everyone Else Should. Kuhn will discuss the incredible importance of the GNOME desktop project to the future of software freedom, despite that so much of “Open Source” now focuses on infrastructure projects rather than applications and GUIs. (Update: blog post, including a video, is now available for this keynote.)

On Wednesday 17 August 2016 at 15:30 in Berlin, Germany, Kuhn will deliver a keynote entitled Politics of Cooption in Free and Open Communities at The International Symposium on Open Collaboration (OpenSym) 2016. Kuhn's keynote there will discuss how the advent of cooption of software freedom by for-profit companies and their trade associations has created a complex political system, and how other communities inspired by software freedom may soon face similar challenges.

Kuhn thanks the organizers of both conferences from graciously inviting him to join other excellent keynoters at both events, and for the opportunity to share an essential message of software freedom with both of this important communities. Conservancy enthusiasts and supporters are encouraged to attend these events; registration details are available on the respective conference's websites.

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Book Review: The Homebrew Industrial Revolution (2010) (h+ Media)

  • Author Harry J. Bentham





Predicting an economic “singularity” approaching, Kevin Carson from the Center for a Stateless Society writes in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution (2010) we can look forward to a vibrant “alternative economy” driven less and less by corporate and state leviathans.

According to Carson, “the more technical advances lower the capital outlays and overhead for production in the informal economy, the more the economic calculus is shifted” (p. 357). While this sums up the message of the book and its relevance to advocates of open existing and emerging technologies, the analysis Carson offers to reach his conclusions is extensive and sophisticated.

With the technology of individual creativity expanding constantly, the analysis goes, “increasing competition, easy diffusion of new technology and technique, and increasing transparency of cost structure will – between them – arbitrage the rate of profit to virtually zero and squeeze artificial scarcity rents” (p. 346).

An unrivalled champion of arguments against “intellectual property”, the author believes IP to be nothing more than a last-ditch attempt by talentless corporations to continue making profit at the expensive of true creators and scientists (p. 114-129). The view has significant merit.

“The worst nightmare of the corporate dinosaurs”, Carson writes of old-fashioned mass-production-based and propertied industries, is that “the imagination might take a walk” (p. 311). Skilled creators could find the courage to declare independence from big brands. If not now, in the near future, technology will be advanced and available enough that the creators and scientists don’t need to work as helpers for super-rich corporate executives. Nor will the future see such men and women kept at dystopian, centralized factories.

Pointing to the crises of overproduction and waste, together with seemingly inevitable technological unemployment, Carson believes corporate capitalism is at death’s door. Due to “terminal crisis”, not only are other worlds possible but “this world, increasingly, is becoming impossible” (p. 82). Corporations, the author persuades us, only survive because they live off the subsidies of the government.  But “as the system approaches its limits of sustainability”, “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms” are destined to “break out of their state capitalist integument and become the building blocks of a fundamentally different society” (p. 111-112).

Giant corporations are no longer some kind of necessary evil needed to ensure wide-scale manufacture and distribution of goods in our globalized world. Increasingly, they are only latching on to the talents of individuals to extract rents. They may even be neutering technological modernity and the raising of living standards, to extract as much profit as possible by allowing only slow improvements.

And why should corporations milk anyone, if those creators are equipped and talented enough to work for themselves?

The notion of creators declaring independence is not solely a question of things to come. While Kevin Carson links the works of Karl Hess, Jane Jacobs and others (p. 192-194) to imagine alternative friendly, localized community industries of a high-tech nature that will decrease the waste and dependency bred by highly centralized production and trade, he also points to recent technologies and their social impact.

“Computers have promised to be a decentralizing force on the same scale as electrical power a century earlier” (p. 197), the author asserts, referring to theories of the growth of electricity as a utility and its economic potential. From the subsequent growth of the internet, blogging is replacing centralized and costly news networks and publications to be the source of everyone’s information (p. 199). The decentralization brought by computers has meant “the minimum capital outlay for entering most of the entertainment and information industry has fallen to a few thousand dollars at most, and the marginal cost of reproduction is zero” (p. 199).

The vision made possible by books like Kevin Carson’s might be that one day, not only information products but physical products – everything – will be free. The phrase “knowledge is free”, a slogan of Anonymous hackers and their sympathizers, is true in two senses. Not only does “information want to be free”, the origin of the phrase explained by Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly in What Technology Wants (2010), but one can acquire knowledge at zero cost.

If the “transferrability” of individual creativity and peer production “to the realm of physical production” from the “immaterial realm” is a valid observation (p. 204-227), then the economic singularity means one thing clear. “Knowledge is free” shall become “everything is free”.

“Newly emerging forms of manufacturing”, the author indicated, “require far less capital to undertake production. The desktop revolution has reduced the capital outlays required for music, publishing and software by two orders of magnitude; and the newest open-source designs for computerized machine tools are being produced by hardware hackers for a few hundred dollars” (p. 84).

Open source hardware is of course also central to the advocacy in The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, especially as it relates to poorer peripheries of the world-economy. It is through open source hardware libraries of the kind advocated by Vinay Gupta that plans for alternative manufacture as the starting point in an alternative economy for the good of all become feasible.

As I argued in my 2013 Catalyst booklet, not only informational goods will face the scandals of being “leaked” or “pirated” in future. The right generation of 3D printers, robots, atomically-precise manufacturing devices, biotechnology-derived medicines and petrochemicals will all move “at the speed of light” as the father of synthetic biology J. Craig Venter predicted of his own synbio work.

The fuel of an economic singularity, those above creations should be of primary interest in the formation of an alternative economy. They would not only have zero cost and zero waiting times, but they would require zero effort.  Simply shared, they must be allowed to raise the living standards of humanity and allow poor countries to leapfrog several stages of development, breaking free of the bonds of exploitation.

One area to be criticized in the book could be a portion in which it reflects negatively on the very creation of railways or other state-imposed infrastructure and standards as a wrong turn in history, because these created an artificial niche for corporations to thrive (p. 5-23). It seems to undermine the book’s remaining thesis that the right turn in history consists of “libertarian and decentralist technologies and organizational forms”. “Network” technologies and organizational forms only exist due to that wave of prior mass production and imposed infrastructure the author claimed to be unnecessary. Without the satellites and thousands of kilometers of cable made in factories and installed by states, any type of “network” organizational form would be a weak proposition and the internet would never have existed.

Arguably, now the standards are set, future technological endeavors that connect and bridge society won’t need new standards imposed from above or vast physical infrastructure subsidized by states. The formation of effective networks itself now produces new mechanisms for devising and imposing standards, ensuring interconnectivity and high living standards should continue to flourish under the type of alternative economy advocated in Carson’s book.

Abolish artificial scarcity, intellectual property, mandatory high overhead and other measures used by states to enforce the privileges of monopoly capitalism, the author tells us (p. 168-170). This way, a more humane world-economy can be engineered, oriented to benefit people and local communities foremost. Everyone in the world may get to work fewer hours while enjoying an improved quality of life, and we can prevent a bleak future in which millions of people are sacrificed to technological unemployment on the altar of profit.

About the author: Harry J. Bentham is a British futurist blogger who has been a contributor at a number of think tanks including the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies since 2013. His work at Press TV and the L’Ordre blog featured at the multi-faith Beliefnet website has gained increasing attention and praise, including in the international media. Commentaries on political and ethical controversies by Bentham have been published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, H+ Magazine, Dissident Voice and numerous other publications. He edits The Blog.

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