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Re: Advice Workplace that Forces Non-Free Software

From: Mike Gerwitz
Subject: Re: Advice Workplace that Forces Non-Free Software
Date: Sun, 30 Aug 2020 01:51:47 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/28.0.50 (gnu/linux)

Hey, Jean:

On Sat, Aug 29, 2020 at 08:41:28 +0300, Jean Louis wrote:
> * Mike Gerwitz <> [2020-08-29 06:34]:
>> Software freedom in the context of an employer is worth considering a
>> little bit differently than freedom in your own personal
>> computing.
> In my opinion injustice is injustice, if it happens to me personally
> or if it happens to other people. Spreading of free software is one
> way to liberate others, and talking about it and teaching others is
> also one good way to liberation. Injustice need not be personal for me
> to act to help other people.

I agree, and I agree that we ought to help whomever we can.

But I also recognize that not everybody sees it as an injustice, and not
everyone will be convinced.  Helping someone who does not want to be
helped has its own considerations.

>> When you are performing work for an employer, you are acting on their
>> behalf.  When a company adopts non-free software, then the company is
>> placing itself in an unfortunate situation---they are being denied
>> certain freedoms.  But you are not personally deprived of freedoms,
>> because you aren't acting in a personal capacity, so long as that
>> software is not installed on your own hardware (e.g. your personal
>> laptop).


> Employee working on software that cannot be improved, verified,
> distributed, is certainly deprived personally of many freedoms,
> employee cannot get the same software for himself, cannot study it,
> and cannot improve it for the company, cannot help other companies to
> use the same software. Right? So employee is denied personal
> freedoms to help others. We are back to same injustice and same
> sharing liberties.

Software freedom is different than entitlement.  Just because software
is free, doesn't mean that you have, or should have, access to it.  But
when you do have access to it, it ought to be free.

When a company distributes software internally to employees, that does
not count as distribution under the terms of the GPL, for example.  If
the employer distributes it outside of the company, then it is.

If an employer develops software internally, as another example: if that
software is kept internally, and not distributed to users outside of the
company, it makes no difference to users' freedoms (under the four
freedoms) if it's freely licensed or not.  It'd be a benefit to our
community if it were distributed, but it won't necessarily be a harm if
it's not.  I write plenty of software for myself personally that I never
share with anyone.  That's not a problem in the sense of the four
freedoms---it's a different type of social problem, in that others may
benefit from it.

The employee, as you described above, is denied freedoms, but they
aren't personal freedoms.  When I work for my employer, I do not have
the freedom to inspect many things.  I can't view my manager's
emails.  I can't inspect payroll data.  I can't eavesdrop on board
meetings, or any meetings I'm not invited to for that matter.  That
doesn't violate my personal freedom, because I'm not acting in a
personal capacity.

>> If you were to clock out and continue using those non-free programs for
>> your own personal work---rely on it for your _own_ computing---then you
>> have ceded control of your computing to others.  But if you log off,
>> walk away, and log onto your own free system for your computing, then
>> your personal computing has not been impacted.
> I am sorry, I cannot agree to that.
> Software freedom is not conditional upon personal or business work and
> it never was conditional that I know.

But the injustice isn't in whether a program is free or not.  It's
whether someone has been deprived of their freedoms in running it.  A
nonfree program that nobody uses isn't taking away any freedoms.

Similarly, the subject of those violations depends on the context in
which software is distributed.  If my mother asks me to help her fix
something on her Windows machine for her, I'm not sacrificing my
freedoms.  It's my mother that is suffering from the use of non-free
software.  I dislike it because I dislike non-free software, and I feel
for her, but I have not been wronged.

There's one or more essays from rms, maybe someone can find them, that
discuss this point---e.g. using terminals to purchase tickets for the
subway, or using a library computer.  I wish I had more time to do so
right now.

>> But it's also important to understand that there are many issues that
>> employees feel passionate about that employers do not accommodate, or
>> even agree with.  What if your coworker is vegan---should the company
>> disallow meat on the premises?  What if one of the employees is a
>> climate activist---should they work only at companies that have net zero
>> or negative carbon emissions?  Employers cannot meet the demands of all
>> employees.  Sometimes they're in direct conflict.
> In my opinion, employers & employees relations is just a continuance
> of masters and slaves relations. Most natural business relation
> between people are partnerships and not employee/employers
> relations. Let us not take "employee/employers" relations as granted
> and we can create partnerships in the world where more balanced
> exchange between people may take place. In partnerships, both sides
> can be responsible and can be profiting from business.
> It is not up to "employee" to abide by employers, it is up to person
> to decide if person wish to work in abusive environment where person
> is nothing else but in a new form of slavery with liberties taken away
> as granted. So each "employee" may decide for oneself.

You've raised a different issue.

It's an issue worthy of consideration, but it's not the one that I was
talking about.  I was talking about compromise, as a necessary social
behavior for coexisting in an environment where people hold different
opinions and ideals.

>> The other option, of course, is to restrict oneself to positions that
>> only make use of free software. But depending on far too many variables
>> to list here, and depending on your priorities, that may be very
>> difficult to do.
> Anything in life could be difficult to do, depending of person's attitude.
> I don't find it difficult. And I have not found it difficult to
> recommend, install free software to people running various businesses,
> my efforts were appreciated and demanded, and I have not found it
> difficult to use free software. Maybe by chance, I don't know why, I
> simply don't have that feeling it is difficult.

But not everybody is in the same situation as you.

I am happy for you that you do not have to make sacrifices that conflict
with your ideals.  But you saying "I don't find it difficult" does
nothing for those of us who do struggle with that, and have made and
continue to make the best efforts that we can given our situation and
the compromises we're willing to make.

Mike Gerwitz
Free Software Hacker+Activist | GNU Maintainer & Volunteer
GPG: D6E9 B930 028A 6C38 F43B  2388 FEF6 3574 5E6F 6D05

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