EFF Wants You

by Richard Vernon

With the very real possibility of some version of the SSSCA being introduced to US legislators, threatening to make software that is either open source or source-available illegal, you may be asking yourself what a single individual can do that will have much effect, short of turning full-time activist.

Technical Editor Don Marti, recently made a comparison between the now burgeoning fight for the protection of digital rights and the 1960s fight for environmental protection that culminated in the formation of the EPA by President Nixon, pointing out that in our current fight we have opponents who are highly organized and that if we ourselves are not, we cannot hope to win. Those who wanted to protect the environment started as simply a bunch of individuals and small groups and became a powerful lobbying body and eventually even got a government agency assigned to protect their interests. Those individuals had at least two factors that worked to their victory—fierce opposition and popular support. The former we have, the latter we lack (at least it's nowhere near the level it needs to be to win the fight).

Rachel Carson's Silent Spring was, to a great extent, responsible for the degree of popular support that the early environmentalists enjoyed. Lawrence Lessig's Code could play the role of our Silent Spring, but obviously not nearly enough people are reading it.

One reader wrote in (jokingly) advocating a “Boston CD Party” where free software supporters would dump CDs, DVDs and eBook readers into the Boston harbor to call public attention to the plight of free software. He correctly points out that most of the general public doesn't use nor understand free software, so when presented with exaggerated claims by copyright-holding entertainment companies and the resultant economic “damage”, many will be inclined to believe them and see defenders of free software as would-be thieves. The illogical fear of “hackers” instilled into the public consciousness by the popular media doesn't help either.

Fortunately the SSSCA has had its predecessors, and these previous (though less menacing) threats have led to the establishment of an organization for the protection of rights digitally expressed and for the education of the public on the dangers posed by the SSSCA and similar legislation—the Electronic Frontier Foundation. This organization has the potential to be a very powerful lobbying force, but it is up to those whose interests it strives to protect to support it by becoming members and/or supporting it with donations. If you want to learn more about the EFF, subscribe to their e-mail newsletter, EFFector (www.eff.org. Joining the EFF is an easy and effective way to participate in the defense of open-source software.

Richard Vernon is editor in chief of Linux Journal.

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