Code as Free Speech

I still haven’t drunk the Koolaid of code as free speech, thinking of it more as “work product” than prosody… and lucky me, I get to meet Wendy Seltzer at WTF2004 in a month or so. I think she’ll have opinions and maybe she’ll share some of them there. This is going to be a mind bending gathering for me since I have curmudgeonly opinions regarding stupid networks too.

I was musing about an earlier on-line discussion about Bernstein and his struggle with Dept. of Commerce regulations. This took place in ’95 and ’96 on some mail list. Some relevant background can be found here and here.

Eight or ten years ago a woman named Shari Steele had all kinds of things to say about this that I thought were pretty much smoke. But, as I age I’m learning that what passes for common sense at my house is often at odds with judicial opinions.

Anyway, my sense is that code is a work product and can be considered property, but it’s a far stretch to call it free speech. Code that intends to protect privacy is a lot like household protection… my right to lay a minefield in the front yard may be constrained by municipal regulations.

I remain interested in the “code as free speech” discussion and wonder where it stands today?

Posted in Tech Tools
2 comments on “Code as Free Speech
  1. jr says:

    Interesting. Source code by itself has little functionality other that to add some contrast to the medium displaying it. Internal to the source code may be an idea that when compiled will actually do some work (hence your work product). At the same time if the source code is exposed then the internal idea can be exploited or transformed into more source code that can then be used in another work product. The source code has no meaning other that to convey an idea. If you don’t own the idea or if the idea is not in the public domain…

  2. fp says:

    …been thinking about this and I disagree. Whether source or object code, it makes no never mind. Compiled code is just a way to imporve processing efficiency. Granted, the ideas behind source code are obvious for the world to see and borrow or steal from, but the same can be said of compiled code… just that reverse engineering is a little harder than copy typing.

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