Free software movement

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The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedoms to run, study, modify, and share copies of software. [1] [2] Software which meets these requirements, The Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software, is termed free software.


Although drawing on traditions and philosophies among members of the 1970s hacker culture and academia, Richard Stallman formally founded the movement [3] in 1983 by launching the GNU Project. [4] Stallman later established the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to support the movement.


Richard Stallman circa 2002, founder of the GNU Project and the free software movement. Richard Matthew Stallman2.jpeg
Richard Stallman circa 2002, founder of the GNU Project and the free software movement.

The philosophy of the Free Software Movement is based on promoting collaboration between programmers and computer users. This process necessitates the rejection of proprietary software and the promotion of free software. [5] Stallman notes that this action would not hinder the progression of technology, as he states, "Wasteful duplication of system programming effort will be avoided. This effort can go instead into advancing the state of the art." [6]

Members of the Free Software Movement believe that all software users should have the freedoms listed in The Free Software Definition. Members hold the belief that it is immoral to prohibit or prevent people from exercising these freedoms, and that they are required in creating a community where software users can help each other and have control over their technology. [7] Regarding proprietary software, some believe that it is not strictly immoral, citing increased profitability in the business models available for proprietary software, along with technical features and convenience. [8]

The Free Software Foundation believes all software needs free documentation, as programmers should have the ability to update manuals to reflect modifications made to the software. [9] Within the movement, the FLOSS Manuals foundation specializes in providing such documentation.


GNU and Tux mascots around free software supporters at FISL 16 Encerramento do FISL 16.jpg
GNU and Tux mascots around free software supporters at FISL 16

Writing and spreading free software

The core work of the free software movement is focused on software development. The free software movement also rejects proprietary software, refusing to install software that does not give them the freedoms of free software. According to Stallman, "The only thing in the software field that is worse than an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program, is an authorised copy of the proprietary program because this does the same harm to its whole community of users, and in addition, usually the developer, the perpetrator of this evil, profits from it." [10]

Building awareness

Some supporters of the free software movement take up public speaking, or host a stall at software-related conferences to raise awareness of software freedom. This is seen as important since people who receive free software, but who are not aware that it is free software, will later accept a non-free replacement or will add software that is not free software. [11]




North America

South America



Legislation and government

A lot of lobbying work has been done against software patents and expansions of copyright law. Other lobbying focuses directly on the use of free software by government agencies and government-funded projects.



In June 1997, the Society for Study, Application, and Development of Free Software was established under the China Software Industry Association in Beijing. Through this organization, the website was developed, though the website is currently inaccessible on IP addresses located in the United States. The use of open-source software Linux in China has moved beyond government and educational institutions and has extended to other organizations such as financial institutions, telecommunications, and public security. Several Chinese researchers and scholars have claimed that the existence of FOSS in China has been important in challenging the presence of Microsoft, which Guangnan Ni, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering stated, "The monopoly of (Microsoft Windows) is even more powerful in China than other places in the world". [12] Yi Zhou, a professor of Mathematics at Fudan University, has also alleged that, "Government procurement of FLOSS for a number of years in China has compelled Microsoft to put its prices of Office software substantially" [12]


Government of India had issued Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India in 2015 to drive uptake within the government. With the vision to transform India as a Software Product Nation, National Policy on Software Products-2019 was approved by the Government. [13]


Free and Open Source Software (Foss) is crucial for countries such as Pakistan which is set up by Union of Information Technology. For the case of Pakistan, Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) aids in the creation and advocate of FOSS usage in various government departments in addition to curbing illegality of copying that is software piracy.Promotion of adoption of FOSS is essential however it comes with problems of proprietary anti competition software practices including indulging in bribing and corruption by government departments.Pakistan works on the introduction  of usage of open type  basis of source Solutions in the curricula  in schools and colleges. This is because of FOSS uniqueness in terms of political, democratic and social varieties of aspect regarding  information communication and technology. [14]

North America

United States

In the United States, there have been efforts to pass legislation at the state level encouraging the use of free software by state government agencies. [15]

On January 11, 2022 two bills were shown on the New Hampshire legislating floor. The first bill called “HB 1273” was introduced by Democratic New Hampshire representative Eric Gallager, the bill prioritized “replacing proprietary software used by state agencies with free software.” Gallager stated that to an extent, the proposed legislation will help distinguish “free software" and “open-source software”, this will also put these two into state regulation. The second bill called “HB 1581” was proposed by Grafton Republican representative Lex Berezhny. The bill would’ve restored a requisite forcing “state agencies to use proprietary software” and as Lex put it, “when it is the most effective solution.” He also said that requisite was happening between 2012-2018. According to the Concord Monitor, the state of New Hampshire had an already “thriving open source software community” with a view of “live free or die” but they had difficulty getting that notion with the state. [16]

South America


Congressmen Edgar David Villanueva and Jacques Rodrich Ackerman have been instrumental in introducing free software in Peru, with bill 1609 on "Free Software in Public Administration". [17] The incident invited the attention of Microsoft, Peru, whose general manager wrote a letter to Villanueva. His response received worldwide attention and is seen as a classic piece of argumentation favouring use of free software in governments. [18]


Uruguay has a sanctioned law requiring that the state give priority to free software. It also requires that information be exchanged in open formats. [19]


The Government of Venezuela implemented a free software law in January 2006. Decree No. 3,390 mandated all government agencies to migrate to free software over a two-year period. [20]

Europe is a campaign launched demanding a legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence. If it is public money, it should be public code as well. [21]


The French Gendarmerie and the French National Assembly utilize the open source operating system Linux. [22]

United Kingdom keeps a list of "key components, tools and services that have gone into the construction of GOV.UK". [23] [title needed]


Free Software events happening all around the world connects people to increase visibility for Free software projects and foster collaborations.


The free software movement has been extensively analyzed using economic methodologies, including perspectives from heterodox economics. Of particular interest to economists[ who? ] is the willingness of programmers in the free software movement to work, often producing higher-quality than proprietary programmers, without financial compensation[ citation needed ].

In his 1998 article "The High-Tech Gift Economy", Richard Barbrook suggested that the then-nascent free software movement represented a return to the gift economy building on hobbyism and the absence of economic scarcity on the internet. [24]

Gabriella Coleman has emphasized the importance of accreditation, respect, and honour within the free software community as a form of compensation for contributions to projects, over and against financial motivations. [25]

The Swedish Marxian economist Johan Söderberg has argued that the free software movement represents a complete alternative to capitalism that may be expanded to create a post-work society. He argues that the combination of a manipulation of intellectual property law and private property to make goods available to the public and a thorough blend between labor and fun make the free software movement a communist economy. [26]

Subgroups and schisms

Since its inception, there is an ongoing contension between the many FLOSS organizations (FSF, OSI, Debian, Mozilla Foundation, Apache Foundation, etc.) within the free software movement, with the main conflicts centered around the organization's needs for compromise and pragmatism rather than adhering to founding values and philosophies. [27]

Open source

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded in February 1998 by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens to promote the term "open-source software" as an alternative term for free software. The OSI aimed to address the perceived shortcomings and ambiguity of the term "free software", as well as shifting the focus of free software from a social and ethical issue to instead emphasize open source as a superior model for software development. [28] [29] [30] [31] The latter became the view of Eric Raymond and Linus Torvalds, while Bruce Perens argued that open source was meant to popularize free software under a new brand and called for a return to basic ethical principles. [32]

Some free software advocates use the terms "Free and Open-Source Software" (FOSS) or "Free/Libre and Open-Source Software" (FLOSS) as a form of inclusive compromise, which brings free and open-source software advocates together to work on projects cohesively. Some users believe this is an ideal solution in order to promote both the user's freedom with the software and the pragmatic efficiency of an open-source development model. This view is reinforced by fact that majority of OSI-approved licenses and self-avowed open-source programs are also compatible with the free software formalisms and vice versa. [33]

While free and open source software are often linked together, they offer two separate ideas and values. Richard Stallman has referred to open source as "a non-movement", as it "does not campaign for anything". [34]

"Open source" addresses software being open as a practical question rather than an ethical dilemma – non-free software is not the best solution but nonetheless a solution. The free software movement views free software as a moral imperative: that proprietary software should be rejected, and that only free software should be developed and taught in order to make computing technology beneficial to the general public. [35]

Although the movements have differing values and goals, collaborations between the Free Software Movement and Open Source Initiative have taken place when it comes to practical projects. [36] By 2005, Richard Glass considered the differences to be a "serious fracture" but "vitally important to those on both sides of the fracture" and "of little importance to anyone else studying the movement from a software engineering perspective" since they have had "little effect on the field". [37]

Criticism and controversy

Principle compromises

Eric Raymond criticises the speed at which the free software movement is progressing, suggesting that temporary compromises should be made for long-term gains. Raymond argues that this could raise awareness of the software and thus increase the free software movement's influence on relevant standards and legislation. [38]

Richard Stallman, on the other hand, sees the current level of compromise as a greater cause for worry. [27] [39] [40]

Programmer income

Stallman said that this is where people get the misconception of "free": there is no wrong in programmers' requesting payment for a proposed project, or charging for copies of free software. [41] Restricting and controlling the user's decisions on use is the actual violation of freedom. Stallman defends that in some cases, monetary incentive is not necessary for motivation since the pleasure in expressing creativity is a reward in itself. [6] Conversely, Stallman admits that it is not easy to raise money for free software projects. [42]

"Viral" copyleft licensing

The free software movement champions copyleft licensing schema (often pejoratively called "viral licenses"). In its strongest form, copyleft mandates that any works derived from copyleft-licensed software must also carry a copyleft license, so the license spreads from work to work like a computer virus might spread from machine to machine. Stallman has previously stated his opposition to describing the GNU GPL as "viral". These licensing terms can only be enforced through asserting copyrights. [43]

Critics of copyleft licensing challenge the idea that restricting modifications is in line with the free software movement's emphasis on various "freedoms", especially when alternatives like MIT, BSD, and Apache licenses are more permissive. [44] [45] Proponents enjoy the assurance that copylefted work cannot usually be incorporated into non-free software projects. [46] They emphasize that copyleft licenses may not attach for all uses and that in any case, developers can simply choose not to use copyleft-licensed software. [47] [48]

License proliferation and compatibility

FLOSS license proliferation is a serious concern in the FLOSS domain due to increased complexity of license compatibility considerations which limits and complicates source code reuse between FLOSS projects. [49] The OSI and the FSF maintain their own lists of dozens of existing and acceptable FLOSS licenses. [50] There is an agreement among most that the creation of new licenses should be minimized and those created should be made compatible with the major existing FLOSS licenses. Therefore, there was a strong controversy around the update of the GNU GPLv2 to the GNU GPLv3 in 2007, [51] [52] as the updated license is not compatible with the previous version. [53] [54] [55] Several projects (mostly of the open source faction [52] like the Linux kernel [56] [57] ) decided to not adopt the GPLv3 while almost all of the GNU project's packages adopted it.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free software</span> Software licensed to preserve user freedoms

Free software or libre software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price; all users are legally free to do what they want with their copies of a free software regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed "free" if they give end-users ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU Lesser General Public License</span> Free-software license

The GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL) is a free-software license published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The license allows developers and companies to use and integrate a software component released under the LGPL into their own software without being required by the terms of a strong copyleft license to release the source code of their own components. However, any developer who modifies an LGPL-covered component is required to make their modified version available under the same LGPL license. For proprietary software, code under the LGPL is usually used in the form of a shared library, so that there is a clear separation between the proprietary and LGPL components. The LGPL is primarily used for software libraries, although it is also used by some stand-alone applications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open-source license</span> Software license allowing source code to be used, modified, and shared

Open-source licenses facilitate free and open-source software (FOSS) development. Intellectual property (IP) laws restrict the modification and sharing of creative works. Free and open-source software licenses use these existing legal structures for the inverse purpose of granting freedoms that promote sharing and collaboration. They grant the recipient the rights to use the software, examine the source code, modify it, and distribute the modifications. These licenses target computer software where source code can be necessary to create modifications. They also cover situations where there is no difference between the source code and the executable program distributed to end users. Open-source licenses can cover hardware, infrastructure, drinks, books, and music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU Project</span> Free software project

The GNU Project is a free software, mass collaboration project announced by Richard Stallman on September 27, 1983. Its goal is to give computer users freedom and control in their use of their computers and computing devices by collaboratively developing and publishing software that gives everyone the rights to freely run the software, copy and distribute it, study it, and modify it. GNU software grants these rights in its license.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open-source software</span> Software licensed to ensure source code usage rights

Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative, public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration, meaning any capable user is able to participate online in development, making the number of possible contributors indefinite. The ability to examine the code facilitates public trust in the software.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free and open-source software</span> Software whose source code is available and which is permissively licensed

Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a term used to refer to groups of software consisting of both free software and open-source software where anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under restrictive copyright licensing and the source code is usually hidden from the users.

A permissive software license, sometimes also called BSD-like or BSD-style license, is a free-software license which instead of copyleft protections, carries only minimal restrictions on how the software can be used, modified, and redistributed, usually including a warranty disclaimer. Examples include the GNU All-permissive License, MIT License, BSD licenses, Apple Public Source License and Apache license. As of 2016, the most popular free-software license is the permissive MIT license.

Alternative terms for free software, such as open source, FOSS, and FLOSS, have been a controversial issue among free and open-source software users from the late 1990s onwards. These terms share almost identical licence criteria and development practices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Stallman</span> American free software activist and GNU Project founder (born 1953)

Richard Matthew Stallman, also known by his initials, rms, is an American free software movement activist and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in such a manner that its users have the freedom to use, study, distribute, and modify that software. Software that ensures these freedoms is termed free software. Stallman launched the GNU Project, founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in October 1985, developed the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Emacs, and wrote the GNU General Public License.

Tivoization is the practice of designing hardware that incorporates software under the terms of a copyleft software license like the GNU General Public License, but uses hardware restrictions or digital rights management (DRM) to prevent users from running modified versions of the software on that hardware. Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) coined the term in reference to TiVo's use of GNU GPL licensed software on the TiVo brand digital video recorders (DVR), which actively block modified software by design. Stallman believes this practice denies users some of the freedom that the GNU GPL was designed to protect. The FSF refers to tivoized hardware as "proprietary tyrants".

This comparison only covers software licenses which have a linked Wikipedia article for details and which are approved by at least one of the following expert groups: the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, the Debian Project and the Fedora Project. For a list of licenses not specifically intended for software, see List of free-content licences.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of free and open-source software</span> Aspect of history

In the 1950s and 1960s, computer operating software and compilers were delivered as a part of hardware purchases without separate fees. At the time, source code, the human-readable form of software, was generally distributed with the software providing the ability to fix bugs or add new functions. Universities were early adopters of computing technology. Many of the modifications developed by universities were openly shared, in keeping with the academic principles of sharing knowledge, and organizations sprung up to facilitate sharing. As large-scale operating systems matured, fewer organizations allowed modifications to the operating software, and eventually such operating systems were closed to modification. However, utilities and other added-function applications are still shared and new organizations have been formed to promote the sharing of software.

License proliferation is the phenomenon of an abundance of already existing and the continued creation of new software licenses for software and software packages in the FOSS ecosystem. License proliferation affects the whole FOSS ecosystem negatively by the burden of increasingly complex license selection, license interaction, and license compatibility considerations.

License compatibility is a legal framework that allows for pieces of software with different software licenses to be distributed together. The need for such a framework arises because the different licenses can contain contradictory requirements, rendering it impossible to legally combine source code from separately-licensed software in order to create and publish a new program. Proprietary licenses are generally program-specific and incompatible; authors must negotiate to combine code. Copyleft licenses are commonly deliberately incompatible with proprietary licenses, in order to prevent copyleft software from being re-licensed under a proprietary license, turning it into proprietary software. Many copyleft licenses explicitly allow relicensing under some other copyleft licenses. Permissive licenses are compatible with everything, including proprietary licenses; there is thus no guarantee that all derived works will remain under a permissive license.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Free-software license</span> License allowing software modification and redistribution

A free-software license is a notice that grants the recipient of a piece of software extensive rights to modify and redistribute that software. These actions are usually prohibited by copyright law, but the rights-holder of a piece of software can remove these restrictions by accompanying the software with a software license which grants the recipient these rights. Software using such a license is free software as conferred by the copyright holder. Free-software licenses are applied to software in source code and also binary object-code form, as the copyright law recognizes both forms.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Copyleft</span> Practice of mandating free use in all derivatives of a work

Copyleft is the legal technique of granting certain freedoms over copies of copyrighted works with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works. In this sense, freedoms refers to the use of the work for any purpose, and the ability to modify, copy, share, and redistribute the work, with or without a fee. Licenses which implement copyleft can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU General Public License</span> Series of free software licenses

The GNU General Public License is a series of widely used free software licenses that guarantee end users the four freedoms to run, study, share, and modify the software. The license was the first copyleft for general use and was originally written by the founder of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Richard Stallman, for the GNU Project. The license grants the recipients of a computer program the rights of the Free Software Definition. These GPL series are all copyleft licenses, which means that any derivative work must be distributed under the same or equivalent license terms. It is more restrictive than the Lesser General Public License and even further distinct from the more widely used permissive software licenses BSD, MIT, and Apache.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by Richard Stallman on October 4, 1985, to support the free software movement, with the organization's preference for software being distributed under copyleft terms, such as with its own GNU General Public License. The FSF was incorporated in Boston, Massachusetts, US, where it is also based.

<i>Free Software, Free Society</i> Selected essays of Richard Stallman

Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman is a collection of writings by Richard Stallman. It introduces the subject of history and development of the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, explains authors philosophical position on Free Software movement, deals with the topics of software ethics, copyright and patent laws, as well as business practices in application to computer software. The author proposes Free software licenses as a solution to social issues created by proprietary software and described in essays.

Software relicensing is applied in open-source software development when software licenses of software modules are incompatible and are required to be compatible for a greater combined work. Licenses applied to software as copyrightable works, in source code as binary form, can contain contradictory clauses. These requirements can make it impossible to combine source code or content of several software works to create a new combined one.


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  54. Larabel, Michael (24 January 2013). "FSF Wastes Away Another "High Priority" Project". Phoronix. Archived from the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 22 August 2013. Both LibreCAD and FreeCAD both want to use LibreDWG and have patches available for supporting the DWG file format library, but can't integrate them. The programs have dependencies on the popular GPLv2 license while the Free Software Foundation will only let LibreDWG be licensed for GPLv3 use, not GPLv2.
  55. Chisnall, David (2009-08-31). The Failure of the GPL. . Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  56. Kerner, Sean Michael (2008-01-08). "Torvalds Still Keen On GPLv2". Retrieved 2015-02-12. "In some ways, Linux was the project that really made the split clear between what the FSF is pushing which is very different from what open source and Linux has always been about, which is more of a technical superiority instead of a -- this religious belief in freedom," Torvalds told Zemlin. So, the GPL Version 3 reflects the FSF's goals and the GPL Version 2 pretty closely matches what I think a license should do and so right now, Version 2 is where the kernel is."
  57. corbet (2006-10-01). "Busy busy busybox". Retrieved 2015-11-21. Since BusyBox can be found in so many embedded systems, it finds itself at the core of the GPLv3 anti-DRM debate. [...]The real outcomes, however, are this: BusyBox will be GPLv2 only starting with the next release. It is generally accepted that stripping out the "or any later version" is legally defensible, and that the merging of other GPLv2-only code will force that issue in any case

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