Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking

By E. Gabriella Coleman | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION
The Cultural Critique of
Intellectual Property Law

The door that is at least half-open, when it appears
to open onto pleasant objects, is marked hope.

—Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope

This book concludes by examining one of the most significant, although unintended, political consequences of F/OSS technical production: the way it worked to fundamentally refigure the politics of intellectual property law. Using this material, I will revisit various themes raised throughout previous chapters and draw some preliminary conclusions about the importance of what I designate here as a material politics of cultural action.

A paradox is at work here: How can a movement narrowly configured around a technical craft to ensure software freedom help catalyze broader political and economic transformations? Although F/OSS is foremost a technical movement based on the principles of free speech, its historical role in transforming other arenas of life is not primarily rooted in the power of language or the discursive articulation of a broad political vision. Instead, it effectively works as a politics of critique by providing a living counterexample, or in the words of free software’s most famous legal counsel, Eben Moglen: “Practical revolution is based upon two things: proof of concept and running code.”1 Returning to the terminology offered by Bruno Latour (1993, 87), F/OSS production acts as a “theater of proof” that economic incentives are unnecessary to secure creative output—a message that attained visibility as various groups were inspired to follow in the footsteps of free software, and extend the legal logic of free software into other domains of artistic, academic, journalistic, and economic production. Equally crucial was that free software production was never easily shackled to a Right versus Left political divide, despite numerous attempts early in its history by its critics to portray it as communist. In an era when identification with Right

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Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction a Tale of Two Worlds 1
  • Part I- Histories 23
  • Chapter 1- The Life of a Free Software Hacker 25
  • Chapter 2- A Tale of Two Legal Regimes 61
  • Part II- Codes of Value 91
  • Chapter 3- The Craft and Craftiness of Hacking 93
  • Chapter 4- Two Ethical Moments in Debian 123
  • Part III- The Politics of Avowal and Disavowal 159
  • Chapter 5- Code Is Speech 161
  • Conclusion the Cultural Critique of Intellectual Property Law 185
  • Epilogue How to Proliferate Distinctions, Not Destroy Them 207
  • Notes 211
  • References 225
  • Index 249
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