Linux News says Digital Rights Management Picking on the Wrong People is an article to defend Free and Open Source Software against the charges that they are the ones who promote piracy.
I was surprised to hear from someone on the Indie Gamer Forums many months ago that all of the contact he had with FOSS was with people who only wanted things for free and would pirate everything from movies to games. There is also a lot of animosity towards FOSS in the ASP newsgroups, and a few months ago there was even an article in the newsletter about how FOSS was supposedly bad for business and didn’t offer any benefits to the public.
My experience is very different. I have a friend who refuses to buy DVDs because he doesn’t want to support the media cartel and the digital restrictions management used in most DVDs. I know people who pirate games and movies, but I also know people who refuse to use anything to do with Windows. If it isn’t available, they do without. After all, if you can’t play a game on Gnu/Linux, what would be the point in pirating it? Rather than break the law to watch his own movies, my friend just decides to be very selective with his DVD purchases. Revolution OS is one of the only DVDs I know that doesn’t use stupid region encoding, something that does nothing but punish paying customers while allowing commercial piracy to still occur.
In any case, it seems to me that most people who use Free and Open Source Software are fully aware of the licensed terms under which they may use their software. They are the ones who refuse to use Windows Media Player because they would prefer that their software doesn’t change the way their computer works without them knowing about when, how, and why. You can read the WMP EULA and see that it is pretty absurd what you have to agree to allow Microsoft to do. If anyone is committing piracy, whether casual or not, it’s more likely the people who don’t realize what it is the license allows them to do. Why would FOSS supporters be part of a group of people who ignore licenses and EULAs?
Sure, there are those who don’t care about the license and just want everything to be available at no cost. Open source usually is free-as-in-beer, and so if you want freely available software, it’s definitely safer than trying to get away with copying software illegally. Still, some people are going to make illegal copies of Windows, or games, or office software, or even shareware, and it is definitely possible that those same people might support FOSS.
But what a broad paintbrush we would have if we made the assertion that FOSS users in general are the ones who will most likely copy software illegally. It really makes no sense that people who consciously use FOSS to avoid vendor lock-in or support software freedom would at the same time pirate software that was proprietary or work only on a proprietary system that they are not using.
I guess I don’t interact with enough people outside of the FOSS community. I haven’t heard of too many people who believe that we’re all criminals or out to destroy the livelihoods of software developers or that we’re just anti-Microsoft zealots, but those people exist. Somehow they “heard” or “learned” what they believe FOSS is all about. They get almost as shrill defending what they think as people do when you try to tell them that copyright infringement is not the same as “theft”, and it is probably because the two issues are so related in their minds.
Maybe it is just because it is an issue related to copyright, which is fairly complicated and even people who think they know about it can be wrong. Maybe it is because FOSS is really different; when you’re driving an automatic all your life and someone gives you a manual, you’d freak out at first because you have no idea how to drive. “Why is it so complicated?! I just want to get from point A to point B!!” Or, since a lot of you are probably geeks likes me, it’s like when you give someone vi or emacs after they have been using text editors like Notepad or Pico for years. It’s a different way to think about typing. Similarly, FOSS is a different way to think about software.
Some people dismiss FOSS for their own good reasons. They’ve at least thought about it, researched it, and come to their own conclusions. But it seems that when I do meet people who “don’t get it”, they really don’t get it. They don’t understand that Free, with a capital ‘F’, as in Freedom, is different from free, lowercase ‘f’, as in “no cost”. “But why is it such a problem to pay for it?” It isn’t! There is no problem with paying for FOSS. People can’t wrap their heads around it because of the unfortunate double-meaning of “free”.
But people for some reason have no problem making the leap from “FOSS means no cost”, however erroneous that thought is, to “FOSS means stealing software”, which is an even worse assumption. While I believe some might have an agenda and would purposely lead people astray, and some other people might honestly feel that they are fighting a good fight to defend non-FOSS, I think most people just attack what they don’t understand.