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[liberationtech] Copyleft and Capital: The free software and free culture movments’ orientation towards liberty and rights at the expense of coherent ideology and meaningful transformation

彭裕洪 pang.yue.hung at
Mon Jan 15 10:57:38 PST 2018

Hello all,

I've been working on a multi-part analysis of the online privacy and free
software/culture movements critiquing a lot of the reactionary and
self-defeating tendencies within them, and (hopefully) offering some
possibilities for stronger ways to organize around these ideas. I'd love
feedback from others who are well versed in critical race theory,
postcolonial studies, and dialectical and historical materialism.

It's called Copyleft and Captial, and is made up of three parts for which I
will paste the summaries below. Please let me know if you would be
interested in reading it, or a section of it, and I can send you a copy!

1. Treachery of the Commons: Media’s Commodity and Ideological

The free culture movement advocates for copyright and intellectual property
reform, or total abolishment thereof. In doing so, its proponents celebrate
democratizing, decentralizing, and utopian qualities of digital technology
and the internet. While they argue for greater artistic freedom,
creativity, and innovation, they ignore the greater part of the damage
inflicted by, or rather through, intellectual property. The continued
legacies of colonialism, racism, and slavery live on through whatever
commodity forms exist within capitalism, and a holistic critique not only
of private IP such as copyright, trademark, and patents, but also of the
commons, public domain, and free culture is needed for a movement against
the former to have salience for those marginalized peoples who have endured
the brunt of economic and cultural devastation enabled by private
immaterial property.

2. Some Were Already Anonymous: The Liberalism of Privacy Rights and the
Persistence of Surveillance

The rise of user tracking, data mining, and other forms of digital
surveillance has, in some capacity, been met with a growing movement for
online privacy, digital rights, and cyber security. Digital technology is
often offered as an empowering force for the public while also constituting
the vast majority of the broad and ubiquitous apparatus of mass
surveillance. Examining the work and messaging of prominent technologists
and technology-focused organizations in the arena of free software (also
popularly marketed as open source software) as they tackle issues of
privacy, this paper considers the types of surveillance that are challenged
by technology-focused approaches, their limits, and the extent to which
these projects address the stratified use and impact of different forms of
surveillance across populations.

3. The freer the software, the freer the user:The self-defeating liberalism
of the free software movement

The free software movement, while rarely expressed in these most critical
terms, opposes outright the private ownership of software and, to a lesser
extent, any means by which technology users are detached or restricted from
having full control over their data and computing. While that may not sound
particularly reformist in its own right at that fundamental standpoint, and
with some modification or alternative approach may even hold some value for
radical leftists, the reactionary liberalism of the free software movement
as a whole becomes evident when pulling into examination its foundational
texts, formative contributors, and contemporary advocacy materials. This
paper interrogates the motivations, rationale, tactics, ideology, and
impact of  this particular movement to outline its contradictions,
limitations, and shortcomings. In unpacking the so-called philosophy of
free software (also called libre software), the movement reveals itself to
be detrimentally single-minded, politically innocuous, and ultimately
self-defeating. What possibilities lie in potential attempts at salvaging
or towards recalibration of some driving concepts behind the constructions
of “free software” and “user freedom,” or what valuable affinities with
other struggles might be forged from an entirely different starting point?

Pang Yue Hung
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