Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking
E. Gabriella Coleman
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Who are computer hackers? What is free software? And what does the emergence of a community dedicated to the production of free and open source software--and to hacking as a technical, aesthetic, and moral project--reveal about the values of contemporary liberalism? Exploring the rise and political significance of the free and open source software (F/OSS) movement in the United States and Europe, Coding Freedom details the ethics behind hackers' devotion to F/OSS, the social codes that guide its production, and the political struggles through which hackers question the scope and direction of copyright and patent law. In telling the story of the F/OSS movement, the book unfolds a broader narrative involving computing, the politics of access, and intellectual property.
E. Gabriella Coleman tracks the ways in which hackers collaborate and examines passionate manifestos, hacker humor, free software project governance, and festive hacker conferences. Looking at the ways that hackers sustain their productive freedom, Coleman shows that these activists, driven by a commitment to their work, reformulate key ideals including free speech, transparency, and meritocracy, and refuse restrictive intellectual protections. Coleman demonstrates how hacking, so often marginalized or misunderstood, sheds light on the continuing relevance of liberalism in online collaboration.
of ancillary knowledge archived in texts, books, manuals, and especially stories and conversations about Unix. Dissected in great detail, the endless storytelling (over Unix’s history, uses, legal battles, problems, and variations) is one important vehicle by which hackers extend themselves into objects, also linking past generations with current ones. These objects become a material token that allows hackers to intersubjectively connect with each other. Unix is but one of the many technical
of information, post slides, compile lists of where people are from, and find out where to do laundry, along with other coordination tasks. FIGURE 1.3. HackNY, New York Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0), https://secure.flickr.com/photos/hackny/5684846071/ (accessed October 23, 2011). Photo: Elena Olivo. During talks, IRC becomes the high-tech peanut gallery. Hackers unabashedly discuss the presentations as they unfold, giving those not there in person, but online, an
technology. Hackers place tremendous faith in the necessity and power of expressive activity that springs from deep within the individual self—an expression that acts as the motor for positive technical change. Progress depends on the constant expression and reworking of already-existing technology. Thought, expression, and innovation should never be stifled, so long as, many developers told me during interviews, “no one else is hurt”—a sentiment that is part and parcel of Millian free speech
Debian also has an explicit Constitution, which was drafted after a failed first election and in an effort to prevent the type of authoritarian leadership that some developers identified with Perens.8 The Debian Constitution outlines in great detail the group’s organizational structure, which includes nonelected and elected roles and responsibilities. Contained within this document is a representation of Debian’s overall system of governance—its combination of majoritarian democracy, meritocracy,
imperfect, continues to sustain a baseline level of trust and coherence, and helps to absorb and lessen the shocks of future crises. Yet punctuated periods of distrust or malaise invariably recur, and here I focus on one of the most memorable to have hit Debian in the last ten years. So as the opening of this section on ethical moments began with the story of an ending, the closing of this section will end with a beginning. There are a number of events that I could have chosen to illustrate the