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  1. 1. Coding Freedom
  3. 3. Copyright 2013 by Princeton University Press Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND Requests for permission to modify material from this work should be sent to Permissions, Princeton University Press Published by Princeton University Press, 41 William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540 In the United Kingdom: Princeton University Press, 6 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TW All Rights Reserved At the time of writing of this book, the references to Internet Web sites (URLs) were accurate. Neither the author nor Princeton University Press is responsible for URLs that may have expired or changed since the manuscript was prepared. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Coleman, E. Gabriella, 1973 Coding freedom : the ethics and aesthetics of hacking / E. Gabriella Coleman. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-691-14460-3 (hbk. : alk. paper)ISBN 978-0-691-14461-0 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Computer hackers. 2. Computer programmers. 3. Computer programmingMoral and ethical aspects. 4. Computer programmingSocial aspects. 5. Intellectual freedom. I. Title. HD8039.D37C65 2012 174.90051--dc23 2012031422 British Library Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available This book has been composed in Sabon Printed on acid-free paper. Printed in the United States of America 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 This book is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE
  4. 4. We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it. William Faulkner, On Fear: The South in Labor Without models, its hard to work; without a context, difficult to evaluate; without peers, nearly impossible to speak. Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Womans Writing
  5. 5. C O N T E N T S Acknowledgments ix Introduction A Tale of Two Worlds 1 PART I HISTORIES Chapter 1 The Life of a Free Software Hacker 25 Chapter 2 A Tale of Two Legal Regimes 61 PART II CODES OF VALUE 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 Chapter 5 Code Is Speech 161 Conclusion The Cultural Critique of Intellectual Property Law 185 Epilogue How to Proliferate Distinctions, Not Destroy Them 207
  6. 6. viii C ON T EN T S Notes 211 References 225 Index 249
  7. 7. A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S This project marks the culmination of a multiyear, multicity endeavor that commenced in earnest during graduate school, found its first stable expression in a dissertation, and has, over a decade later, fully realized it- self with this book. During this long period, over the various stages of this project, many people have left their mark in so many countless ways. Their support, interventions, comments, and presence have not only improved the quality of this work but also simply made it possible. This book could not have been written without all of you, and for that I am deeply grateful. In 1996, at the time of my first exposure to Linux, I was unable to glean its significance. I could not comprehend why a friend was so enthused to have received a CD in the mail equipped with Slackware, a Linux distri- bution. To be frank, my friends excitement about software was not only incomprehensible; it also was puzzling. Thankfully about a year later, this person clued me in as to what makes this world extraordinary, doing so initially via my interest at the time: intellectual property law. If it were not for Patrick Crosby, who literally sat me down one day in 1997 to describe the existence of a novel licensing agreement, the GNU General Public License (GPL), I would have likely never embarked on the study of free software and eventually hackers. I am thrilled he decided that some- thing dear to him would be of interest to me. And it was. I was floored to discover working alternatives to existing intellectual property instruments. After months of spending hour after hour online, week after week, read- ing about the flurry of exciting developments reported on Linux Weekly News, Kuro5hin, and Slashdot, it became clear to me that much more than the law was compelling about this world, and that I should turn this distractingly fascinating hobby into my dissertation topic or run the risk of never finishing graduate school. Now I not only know why Patrick was happy to have received the Slackware CD back in 1996and I found he was not alone, because many people have told me about the joy of discov- ering Slackwarebut also hope I can convey this passion for technology to others in the pages of this book. Many moons ago in graduate school at the University of Chicago when I proposed switching projects, my advisers supported my heretical decision, although some warned me that I would have trouble landing a job in an
  8. 8. anthropology department (they were right). Members of my dissertation committee have given invaluable insight and support. My cochairs, Jean Comaroff and John Kelly, elongated my project in the sense that they always asked me to think historically. Jean has also inspired me in so many ways, then and now. She is everything a scholar should be, so I thank her for be- ing such a great mentor. Nadia Abu El-Haj encouraged me to examine the sociocultural mechanisms by which technoscience can act as the basis for broader societal transformation. I was extremely fortunate to have Gary Downey and Chris Kelty on board. In 1999, I was inspired by a talk that Gary gave at the American Anthropological Association meetings on the importance of positive critique, and I hope to have contributed to such a project here. Chris, a geek anthropologist extraordinaire, has added to this project in innumerable ways. Because of his stellar work on free software, his com- ments have been breathlessly on target, and more than any other person, he has pushed this project to firmer, more coherent ground. His insistence on not only understanding the world but also (re)shaping it is inspiring, and I hope that I can one day follow in his footsteps. Although Patrice Riemens was not an official adviser, he nonetheless, like any hacker would, shared freely. His advice, especially pertaining to hacker politics, was as indispens- able as the guidance from my official committee members. Fieldwork, of course, is where the bulk of anthropological research oc- curs. For me, most of that took place in San Francisco, with a short stint in the Netherlands, and throughout copious time was spent online. While there were countless people who made my fieldwork possible, I have to single out three who really went out on a limb for me, over and over again: Seth Schoen, Praveen Sinha, and Zack Brown. I think each one of you knows how much you have helped me start, proceed with, and finish this project, and I am grateful from the bottom of my heart. Many others have helped me understand with much greater depth what drives people to write free and open-source software (F/OSS). Among those in the Bay Area, I would like to especially thank Brian Behlendorf, Rick Moen, Karsten Self, Don Marti, Mike Higashi, and Evan Prodromou. Also, all the folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Online Policy Group provided me with the invaluable opportunity of interning at their respec- tive organizations. Will Doherty, in particular, deserves a special nod (even though he worked me so hard). Quan Yin also gave me the opportunity to volunteer at its acupuncture clinic, and perhaps more than any other experi- ence, this one kept everything in place and perspective. My Bay Area room- mates, Linda Graham and Nikki Ford, supplied me with an endless stream of support. My time in the Netherlands, in October 2002, was short but made a lasting impression. The Hippies from Hell were welcoming and helpful. x AC K N OW L E DGM E N T S
  9. 9. They also organize the best darn hacker conferences in the world, and a big thanks to them (and all the other volunteers) for putting in so much effort to ensure that others can have an amazing time. Niels Hatzmann was a gra- cious host, great biking partner, and now good friend. A bulk of my work was with Debian and its developers. I cant thank these developers enough. Words cant capture how much I admire the ways in which you have managed to not only produce an operating system (OS) but also a stunningly vibrant online communitya word I rarely use for the Internet, and yet one that absolutely pertains to the case of Debian. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with everyone as well, whether in person; on Internet Relay Chat (IRC), where countless folks have helped me answer questions and get through the many stages of writing and editing; and most especially, at the various Debconfs I have attended from Edinburgh to Porto Alegre. And after helping to organize Debconf10 in New York City, I was able to fully experience the unmistakable pride that swells when a collec- tive works to conjure something into being. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have participated and look forward to attending many more in future times. Though there are many developers who have taken the time to share their thoughts about Debian and other F/OSS projects, Benjamin mako Hill, in particular, has been a close friend and collaborator. I wish him well as he embarks on his own academic career and look forward to future col- laborations. Martin Kraft, Clint Adams, Paul Wise, vagrant, Joey Hess, Erinn Clark, and Daniel Khan Gilmore have also been great friends as well as teachers over this journey. I returned to the University of Chicago in fall 2003 to write my disser


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