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