Crackers and Crackdowns
Fortunately, GNU/Linux saved us from this horrible fate. However, the battle has hardly even begun. Web sites have started monitoring users, even RealNetworks was covertly collecting data on its users, and pretty soon DoubleClick will compile enormous consumer databases. Bryan Pfaffenberger warned about this only a couple months ago, and it seemed like a problem we'd face a few years from now, but already it's here. (You can find Bryan's columns, under Currents, at our index here.) Emulation has been under assault for a long time, with many companies hoping to make it completely illegal, without any regard for the technological implications or what it means for basic civil liberties in the information age. Cryptography was under assault for a long time, but the NSA is easing up and patents are expiring so we can hope for better things soon in this area at least, which may be an important tool in protecting our privacy from corporate control.
However, the technological world is increasingly held hostage to corporate whim, whether through software patents, or just lobbying groups who want to outlaw this and outlaw that, arbitrarily molding the law and distorting the markets for their own benefit. The boycott of Amazon.com hasn't put an end to the one-click patent, but if the movement grows large enough we may be able to put an end to all software patents. Right now the government is ignorant of technology, and susceptible to anyone who would seek to use it as a tool with coercive power for business, hence the explosion of patents. This demonstrates corporate America's eagerness to jump in and abuse government the moment it becomes possible, so we would best be advised to make it impossible for this to happen, and one good start would be the abolition of software patents.
GNU/Linux was the movement that saved computing, and it's clear what to do to contribute to that. However, the battleground is much larger now, and it's less clear what we can do. The flip side, of course, is that there are many more ways to contribute to intellectual and technological freedom than were available before Linux (where basically you can code or evangelize). There are things we can decide not to do (whom to boycott), this sort of action is easy, and there are things we can actively do. What this will mean will become clearer as time goes on and the battle plans materialize. Right now, the assault on DeCSS and mp3 is pretty vague, but when we find out exactly what they're up to, we'll for sure have an active plan of our own, and the brainpower to back it up. 2600's got a plan already, so if you wanted to get started right away, go to their website and check it out. Linuxguiden, a Norwegian Linux site, has an electronic petition with nearly 8000 signatures, you probably want to sign as well. As certain swordwielding Frenchmen were wont to say, all for one and one for all.
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- December 2014 Issue of Linux Journal: Readers' Choice