Free Software which Censors and Restricts what Sites and services the user is Allowed To Read and use is still Free Software

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Free Software which restricts the user in certain ways is not a new concept. Gentoo Linux started shipping a modified version of the Bitcoin crypto currency software which restricted who users were allowed to send BTC to using a big blacklist in 2014. The question of censorship in free software is becoming increasingly important as more and more developers are building blacklists restricting what the end-user can do into their software. Does user-restricting censoring software qualify as being free software? We asked the senior authority on this matter and apparently, it does.

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Honorary doctor Richard Stallman, who wrote the original GNU GCC Compiler and the GNU General Public License, had this to say about user-restricting free software with built-in blacklists in an e-mail reply to us on July 9th, 2019 (answers in bold):

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An increasing amount of software licensed under the GNU GPL have built-in blacklist which restricts what web servers end-users of the software are able to use.

Authors of such restrictive software argue that it is still free software because more technically adept users are able to download the source, remove the built-in censorship blacklists and recompile their own non-censoring version.

"That is correct."

Others argue that the distributed binaries are not free software even though they have a GNU GPL license because they do place restrictions on the user, restrictions most of the people using the software are not able to by-pass since they do not know how to compile software.

"Someone can publish a modified version which works with any web site, and distros can include that. Then non-wizard users will get around those restrictions."

"I will look at posting something about this point."


Honorary doctor Richard Stallman is the creator of The GNU Operating System (sometimes referred to as "Linux" on the Internet). You can learn more about it at http://www.gnu.org/

He is also the founder of the Free Software Foundation who's website is at https://www.fsf.org/

Honorary doctor Richard Stallman's personal website is at http://stallman.org/


published 2019-09-10last edited 2019-07-10


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Anonymous user #1

7 days ago
Score 0++
Where did this happened?
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Necklace

7 days ago
Score 0++
Anonymous user #1; Öyvind Saether asked Stallman in an email, do you see the image all the way to the right of the screen? This one? https://linu...ip-reply.png
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Anonymous user #2

7 days ago
Score 3 You

Stallman has earlier written about Privacy with regards to an Apples license, and about the Latex-license that it might not be free software for other programs because of the burden it has one programmers to make large changes.

When someone deliberately cripples an open standard regardless of cause, Mastodont-software or Bitcoin, it seems it should not be welcome in a free software-enviroment. If this is allowed to continue it will be the end of the free software-community. People will not trust a software that hardcodes targets against users. They might come to wounder if the binary is not supplied with extra anti-features such as surveillance etc. (ref. Ubuntus malware/surveillance) This will mean that everyone needs to choose their trusted developer to fork their own version for their community. And it will stop people from donating/helping with cross-cultural projects, due to less trust. No one wants to help themselves or their community getting targeted.

An email-client that bans, all iranians mail-servers, and mail, a browser that stops all communication to Israeli websites, etc. If this is combined with DRM and Intels ME, the user has no ability to change this program either, despite it being a free license.

Stallman has written that a license should not include export-restrictions, and while this is not the same, it does seem to go against the spirit it much the same way as tivolization does.

The free software-community has been able to work together despite being divided philosophically with open-source people, but that is because people could always appeal to a the code and trust people to write trustworthy code. With politic entering the coding-process that will change and in 20 years the free software-community will be split apart in different groups that doesnt trust one another.

A huge win for propritary software and MS/google/apple/etc.

Divide and conquer.

Very sad, did see many pitfalls for the community, but not this.
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Anonymous user #2

6 days ago
Score -1 You
lol u mad?
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Oyvinds

6 days ago
Score -1++

While you raise a lot of good points I do respectfully disagree with a few. You fear that it will be the "end of the free software community". I know about Gentoo's censorship of Bitcoin back in 2014 because I was using that distribution at the time. I switched in 2015 when it became clear that such censorship is acceptable in that distribution and I never looked back. Gentoo's decision to censor software did not effect any other distribution. This is why I do not see censoring software as a huge problem as long as end-users are able to easily switch to something else.

One aspect to Gentoo's censorship of Bitcoin software, which does apply to all other censorship in free software, is worth noting: It was not announced or indicated in the changelogs. That is problematic and dishonest. Free software with blacklists should be honest about it. Such projects should be publicly shamed when they are not. I really don't care if some app or program censors some domains as long as I can easily find out and avoid using the software. You can be certain that I will clearly state it in the review if I review a web browser which can not be used to browse parts of the web.

I was hoping Stallman would give another answer but he did not. He does have a good point: you can fork free software with censorship if you are a "wizard" and you can get a censorship-free version from a "wizard" if you are a "non-wizard". There is, of course, also the option of just ignoring software with censorship if there are other alternatives.

What if you are not a wizard and you do not know any wizards and there are no free software alternatives? Well, I guess you will just have to become a wizard...
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