free media alliance newsletter
welcome to the very first issue of the free media alliance newsletter!
hopefully this will be brief, bring you up to speed on what this organisation is doing, why its doing it, and what it could be doing in the future– perhaps with your help.
a reminder that we do not take monetary donations, only those of freely licensed works and links to freely licensed works, and it is free to become a member.
===== membership and initial establishment
on that front, our organisation has thankfully grown since we were founded in july:
https://freemedia.neocities.org/charter02.html — read this if you think you might wish to join us.
we have a charter, we have a very conservative list of recommended licenses: https://freemedia.neocities.org/recommended-licenses.html as well as a growing library of works you can use, study, change and share freely: https://freemedia.neocities.org/library.html
the search for these works is not always as easy as you might think, and a lot of time so far was spent searching for works you might appreciate, with licenses that give you more freedom than average. a free-as-in-freedom library of works is one of the main reasons we are here, though it is definitely not the only reason.
===== identifying and exploring problems in the “freecosystem”
the alliance was started to explore and hopefully help solve a number of problems in the free/libre ecosystem, including free software, free culture and free hardware. these problems are talked about initially in our charter and further in our free media ebook: https://freemedia.neocities.org/free-media-ebook.html which also explores some of the things the alliance could do to address these issues.w
we arent here just to proclaim that there is room to grow; to be fair, a lot of the claims we make get bounced against the very people and organisations we discuss the accomplishments and sometimes shortcomings of, as a way of checking our work. here are some of the things we may have confirmed (at least to someone):
1. systemd is still a problem, and is still being worked around by many people. people once asked, “why doesnt devuan work with debian to solve the problems they have?” just that is now likely to happen as sysvinit is worked on to preserve it as a choice in debian itself– not because it is the best init, but because there isnt one. new distros that reject systemd are continuing to establish themselves, based on debian and devuan, as well as arch. since july, ibm has purchased red hat, and people are naturally curious what that means for the future of systemd.
either way, the position of the alliance was already that systemd will not be the last problem like it– it is an eee tactic, eee tactics have a long history, and there will be other eee tactics that fly under the radar of the fsf while individuals and smaller organisations are left to pick up after the problem whether the fsf speaks against it or not. we have spoken to rms about the issue, explained “redix” and even described it as an exploit of a vulnerability in free software itself.
this is not the first vulnerability or exploit in free software though– the fsf does recognise the exploit they dubbed “tivoisation,” which attacked a vulnerability found in version 2 of the gpl that was patched in gpl3.
2. the fsf is stifled by the fsdg, but not completely
we continue to explore and work around the ways in which free software is stifled by the free system distributions guidelines, which are not treated as guidelines but are applied as hard rules. this is at a time when the fsf has just released a new set of actual guidelines for communication within official gnu projects, which are likely a welcome step forward from the sort of code of conduct we have expressed reservations about in an essay entitled “it is your community”: https://freemedia.neocities.org/your-community.html
to be perfectly clear, these new fsf “kind” guidelines are a step forward from a code of conduct in theory, theyre very new, it will take time to find out how they play out. the foundations fsdg on the other hand, not to be confused with debians dfsg, has resulted in a decade-old bug in linux-libre that we continue to explore and look for solutions to. this isnt new work, the linux-libre team has spent years making calls for such an improvement– here is one more effort to call attention to it.
of greater concern is the amount of stifling there is of community itself. the fsf offers a members only discussion platform, which to make matters worse, now use the obsessive micro-managing, conversation-shaping platform known as “discourse,” which devuan used from early on but finally killed because perhaps it was almost universally hated. (is this an exaggeration? or does anybody actually miss it?) some fsf-related projects (or projects hoping to be fsf-related) are allowing discussion within the narrow fsdg guidelines, but the result is people talking around the actual issues when they want to discuss them, which is exactly how people would talk about things if they were being monitored and stifled in an old eastern european regime.
of course in theory, its reasonable to have guidelines for how to represent an organisation. the fsf extends this to distros that wish to receive endorsement. maybe thats going too far, maybe it isnt. the effect on discussion is notable either way.
it is worth pointing out however, that if you have heard complaints about this before, the reality isnt necessary as bad as your expectations.
3. the free software movement does need a big push, but it is still moving forward
when our organisation was founded, perhaps the worst thing that we considered was that the fsf was ignoring and even dismissing the problem of systemd (and the broader issue of redix.) there is now a 40-page open letter / “book” written to the free software movement in particular: https://ia601507.us.archive.org/18/items/figosdev_users_Fsf2/fsf_third_draft.pdf
the book covers future directions the organisation can move in, the (mostly negative) roll that trolls play online (though i would include some established authors in the tech press, which seems to always lean heavily towards the corporate shill factor) and an outline of what redix is. but for those familiar with the problems with systemd– redix is “everything like that.” while systemd is basically the redix flagship.
freedesktop.org, for example, is heavily influenced by red hat, which was just purchased by ibm. what should we expect in the future from them? for that matter, how heavily will ibm get into gnome?
the book calls, as we do, for everyone to learn how to code. this may not turn you into a career software engineer or kernel hacker, though the amount of coding we recommend to everyone is to at least understand variables, input, output, basic math in program routines, loops, conditionals and a rudimentary understanding of function definition and function calls. a working, if introductory understanding of these 7 or 8 concepts (lets lump the ones related to functions together) prepares people far better to understand the digital world we live in.
when we started teaching grade-school-level science, not to mention when we started mass-publishing the bible in english without permission, these were acts that disrupted a relative monopoly on reality enjoyed by the church. the church still has a very large amount of say in what some people think, but thanks to teaching science to everyday people (and not just future scientists,) a much larger swath of the public is informed enough to critically examine the claims of whatever church they belong to.
today, with people that only understand computers in terms of application use and purchase, a limitation which solely benefits tech companies at the expense of the general public, a company can come along and do all sorts of invasive things to consumers. until there are enough scandals, which will still contain enough technical information that someone has to present the story in a way that the public can be upset or understand some of whats going on– the tech companies can largely put any sort of process into a “device” and make its workings mysterious or foreign to the person using it– all except for whatever interface the company provides.
here we have the device as intermediary, the marketing department as the clergy, and the developers (developers! developers! developers! developers!) as the mysterious hands that can give the user power– and also take it away.
to repeat the progress created by offering science as an alternative view– with sympathy to religion insomuch as it should be allowed to exist, but unsympathetic to any misconstrued “right” for it to behave as a monopoly– the same is true of tech companies. but to disrupt such monopolistic holds on the public, we need to be teaching introductory computer science in schools. we do not need to produce a new army of c# developers, but teaching the basics of coding is arguably the shortest (and friendliest) effective way to help people understand how all their devices work.
education has tinkered with many other abstractions over computing, but coding is the one that is actually meaningful and useful. certainly at a college level, teaching the design of algorithms might help further– teaching “computational thinking” or logic could supplement a class that introduced basic computer science. but these are either enrichment that goes beyond the basics, or ways of teaching a subject while simultaneously avoiding it, due to a fear that something has to be complex.
coding is something with direct and more immediate relevance to the world we actually live in, and it can be taught and demonstrated in a way that it is perfectly clear these arent just theories and abstractions for their own sake.
when the fsf talks about free software in education, they are probably talking about getting free software into schools. in parts of the world where microsofts software is expensive and older computers are common, free software has an obvious advantage– it is better suited to such machines and to developing economies, which is probably why it is more common in some places.
why wait for that to happen? we could be setting up more classes and tutoring for students, whether they have good computer classes (or software at school that respects their freedom) or not. certainly there is an educational aspect to the free software movement, but it focuses so much on “you should use free software” and much less on “this is how computers work, this is how software works, this is how you can learn more about free software as a tool– not just a good thing to be part of.”
so one shift that our organisation pushes for is for free software to move further in that direction.
the book also talks about grey area gpl compliance, and hints at new strategies to deal with it. these would probably then move nicely into topics like distro-libre.
it also talks about free software moving past missed opportunities with free culture– a theme central to our organisations primary goals.
===== new horizons
since this second “book” was put together, there are new things to talk about and new avenues (at least not ones yet addressed by the alliance) to explore: hyperbola is a distro aiming to be fully free per fsf standards, but also takes a stand against systemd and things like software that compromises privacy. there are other organisations that free software could reach out to (and collaborate with) more, like the pirate party.
we probably need a free hardware foundation as soon as possible. certainly, when the free software foundation was started, there wasnt nearly enough free software. there is practically no free hardware, though we need an organisation that can focus on it more than the fsf gradually does.
not that there is necessarily any organisation doing a better job than the fsf about this– but there are so many developments in this area of progress, so many people working on this, and there is no organisation that is dedicated primarily to freedom (perhaps to open source, but we can do better) and primarily to hardware. it is just too important, as the lines between software and hardware (and the instances of problems they share) continue to draw closer together.
===== new directions for us
since establishing our charter, we have also explored some new ideas of our own: being remixable at the organisational level is one of them. the free media alliance is inspired largely by forks and respins and derivatives, and while allowing such things to happen at an organisational level seems like a good way to end up with a bad, rival organisation– the truth is, we could have that either way. offering free input into such a rival organisation is more than a seed for the competition– it is a foot in the door, an opportunity to say “of course theyre doing this part of what theyre doing right– they got that from us!”
but more than that, it is a more friction-less way to collaborate. we try to have some influence into what free software is doing, it is natural for other organisations to want to try to have some influence with us, or the fsf, or whomever they collaborate with.
we have removed some of the barriers and pretty much created an invitation with an essay simple called “remix us”: https://freemedia.neocities.org/remix-us.html
above all, even if someone builds your new organisation for you out of a kit– that doesnt necessarily make it any easier to run or maintain. perhaps there is a way you can work on some of the same problems on your own time and incentive and direction, which is why we recommend starting off with your own freedom lab:
as it explains:
“one advantage of a freedom lab over an organisation, is you can do pretty much whatever you want. you dont need to do everything by committee. you become more like an organisation (not always a bad thing) when you start to represent a larger number of voices directly– you can achieve similar by collaborating with other labs or individuals with similar or related interests and goals.”
a freedom lab takes what you do as an individual, and puts it into a framework that can become associated with other labs or organisations. the most important aspects according to the essay are:
1. something you want to promote or help fix
2. writing some things down
3. trying out ideas (probably including some of your own)
and if youre doing stuff under any or our recommended licenses, we would really like to hear about it!
the “distro-libre” concept, which the alliance has touched on as something hypothetical and demonstrated in smaller part with single-distro remixes that are fairly easy to modify, has grown into a real application called “mkdlibre” which combines some existing automated remaster efforts with a couple of new additions. this now includes the ability to change the default init in the live isos for trisquel 8 and debian 9.5.
while predecessors of this tool avoided chroot for simplicity (a fine goal when the result is sufficient) mkdlibre does use chroot to modify a live distribution when it is necessary. to remove non-free firmware from devuan live, a change that triggers a repackaging of the initrd, mkdlibre goes so far as to copy the new initrd into the new distro staging folder, before including it in the output iso.
another effort that may help a lot with distro-libre, is ckyf, a rewrite-in-progress of vrms. unlike vrms, ckyf is intended to be multi-distro, utilise more than one blacklist, and even serve as an aid to people creating new fully free distros. we are aware of the reasons vrms was blacklisted by the fsf, and ckyf tries to address all of those reasons. it is a slow process, but whether any other organisation finds a purpose for it, we have one or two of our own uses.
===== a message about our goals
at the core of what we do, is a need to take multiple efforts towards greater digital freedom (as well as copyright reform and a very sceptical take on monopoly in general) and push these things closer together. it might be a very good thing that there is separation and autonomy between free software and free culture, but there also needs to be more advocacy for software freedom in the free culture movement– as well as straightening out any misleading practices that free software has projected onto free culture (there arent many.)
the goal isnt for everyone to get along, pretend to agree, or avoid differences. it is for people to be able to better recognise when others are working on things that strengthen our goals– and vice-versa, and to make certain those opportunities for an ideal collaboration are not missed or squandered.
hyperbola almost gets free culture, even if it bends to the arbitrary exclusions by the fsf on things that (like software) were free-as-in-freedom for most of history– until 1976, when they were drawn into ridiculous monopolies by default– and it is up to the copyright regime to prove the merit of its restriction (literally, per article 1 section 8 of the constitution) but the fsf defaults to verbatim copying (the closest thing to worthless a license can be and still grant you some freedom!) because it obviously sort-of-likes the absurd amount of restriction around it.
perhaps those maximalists and monopolists got something right 40-something years ago, or the fsf wouldnt be endorsing such restrictions on every page of their website– as long as its nothing to do with software!
if youre a member of the pirate party– hi. it would be great to hear your take on that.
we are constantly looking for more voices, more efforts towards freedom, more ideas. we encourage open collaboration and open discussion, whenever possible and remotely reasonable.
make us your own, and we will try to help represent your freedom. but if you dont talk to us– just talk. keep the message of freedom alive.
wishing you a fun and increasingly free 2019–
the free media alliance
“free software, free culture, free hardware”
- license: creative commons cc0 1.0 (public domain)