I am always keen to hear peoples views on various subjects, and something I have been thinking of doing for a while is to just throw out a discussion topic and ask everyone to fill in their thoughts. This could be on a range of subjects, most likely related to free software, free culture, music and politics. Suggestions for slabs should go to [slabs AT jonobacon DOT org](mailto:slabs AT jonobacon DOT org). So lets get on with our first one, this slab inspired by a discussion we had on LUGRadio and another discussion in the bar at the UDS…
Should we in the free software community discriminate against fields of endeavor? That is, should we say “this piece of free software cannot be used for this particular use, be it as extreme as terrorism or as innocent as a particular lifestyle choice? If so, how do we enforce this, and how do we define what are suitable fields that our software can be used in? Even then, is denying use of our software in less-than-savory and/or illegal fields really going to have an impact? Is a Mafia don going to care about a line in a license?
My take: my initial hunch is that we should in no way restrict our software in any field, but there is a theoretical temptation to explore the issue and to see if it is possible to stop our software being used for nefarious means. However, I suspect this is firstly impossible to enforce and secondly, there is no clear distinction about which fields you would want to restrict. Take for example a nationalist political party that enforces the view that only a specific race or nationality could reside in their country – on one hand this is abundant racism, but on the other hand there is an argument that they should have a right to lay out their manifesto and the voting public should be responsible for seeing that they never get into power. So we have a field that can divide opinion, and how would we definitively define where free software fits in? So, in conclusion I think discrimination against fields of endeavor is theoretically tempting to make the world that little bit better, but has too many loose ends and an inability to enforce that makes it nothing but a pipe dream.
So what do you think? Scribe your views in the comments.