Home' Technology Review : March 2005 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW march 2005
“On the one hand information
wants to be expensive, because it’s
so valuable. On the other hand,
information wants to be free.”
the consciousness of programmers beyond mere lines of code
and into the world of politics—speci�cally the politics of intellec -
tual property. He staged a hacker protest at the headquarters of
Lotus when that company tried to enforce copyright restrictions
on user interfaces. He wrote and spoke, rallying against copy -
right restrictions and software patents.
Like “the Party” in 1984 and real-live Communists in China,
Stallman promotes his ideology in part by rewriting everyday
speech. He went so far as to publish an o�cial list of “Confusing
or Loaded Words and Phrases that are Worth Avoiding”— words
like “commercial,” “consumer,” “content,” “creator,” “open,” and
“intellectual property.” For example, he writes, instead of using
the phrase “copyright protection,” one should instead use “copy -
right restrictions,” as in the sentence: “Congress recently ex -
tended the term of copyright restrictions by 20 years.”
These tactics turned o� supporters and were put to good use
as counterpropaganda by his detractors—such as a software exec -
utive who once accused Stallman of being a Communist because
of his collectivist software ideology. The emergence of the term
“open source” amounted to a slap in Stallman’s face: after all, it
was a direct attempt to separate the mechanism of Free Software
from Stallman’s barefoot politics of free love, his vehement at -
tacks on the beliefs and conduct of the Republican party, and his
vigorous defense of personal freedom.
Using Wark’s framework, this all makes a kind of sense. Stall -
man is not opposed to big business and capitalism: he is opposed
to big vector and the vectoralist agenda of creating a body of intel -
lectual property law that eliminates the possibility of alternatives.
Anyone committed to freedom must be opposed to the vectoral -
ist class, because it pro�ts through control.
From this Wark-Stallman view that intellectual property is re -
ally just a self-enriching tool evolves the conclusion that the world
of computers would be better o� without the majority of patents,
copyrights, trademarks, and other legal means for restricting in -
Lessig, meanwhile, takes these mechanisms of restriction in a
di�erent direction. In The Future of Ideas he argues that a combi -
nation of legal and technical restrictions are fencing o� our cul -
tural heritage. In the not-so-distant future, perhaps, the very
phrase “free expression” will become an oxymoron, as any self-
respecting expression will necessarily have to pay licensing fees
for numerous ideas, phrases, images, and even thoughts from
well-funded copyright holders.
Lessig failed in his attempt to �ght the Sonny Bono Copyright
Term Extension Act in the U.S. Supreme Court—the act that will
keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain for another 20
years. But despite this serious setback, Lessig has succeeded in
convincing thousands of professionals to put their signatures on
his so-called “Creative Commons” licenses, which allow col -
leagues and other professionals to freely cite from and reprint
one another’s work, and even make derivative works.
The problem here is that sharing may work for software, but it
doesn’t work for hardware. Moore’s Law has driven much of the
computer revolution, but it requires that companies like Intel
spend more and more money each year to create the next genera -
tion of superfast chips. Take away Intel’s copyright and patent
protection, and knock-o� companies would create clone Intel
processors for a fraction of the cost. These chips would be dra -
matically cheaper than Intel’s, and Intel would not have the
money to create the next generation of still-faster devices.
Moore’s Law depends upon vectoral control.
Wark’s opus doesn’t just ignore hardware—it ignores hard -
ware hacking, the tradition of modifying circuits and computers
to do things that the original designers never intended. Hardware
hackers are pros at both adding new features and removing arbi -
trary restrictions—like the region codes on DVD players that won’t
let European DVDs play in U.S. players. Yet increasingly, hard -
ware is where the action is. Books such as Hacking the Xbox: An
Introduction to Reverse Engineering are exposing secrets to the
masses that once were strictly the province of MIT and Caltech
midnight seminars. Hardware hackers are largely motivated by
exactly the same antivectoralist tendencies as the hackers creating
�le-sharing networks: the desire to get around restrictions that
have been arti�cially imposed upon their beloved technology.
Hackers are people who use technical means to break restrictive
rules and, as a result, create new possibilities. They are agents of
disruptive change, no matter whether they hack code, networks,
video-game consoles or copyright. By failing to address hardware
and its hackers, Wark’s work once again falls short of its title.
And what of information yearning to be free? The quotation
comes from Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog,
speaking at the �rst Hacker’s Conference back in 1984. Accord -
ing to a transcript of the conference printed in Brand’s May 1985
issue, the full quotation was: “On the one hand information
wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right infor -
mation in the right place just changes your life. On the other
hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it
out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two
�ghting against each other.”
If I might be so bold as to reëngineer Brand’s quotation while
looking through Wark’s glasses, it’s the hackers who want infor -
mation to be free, and it’s the vectoralists who want information
to be expensive. Having known and admired Stallman for more
than 20 years, I’ve long understood the concept of the hacker.
Wark’s contribution in his misnamed volume is the identi�ca -
tion of the hacker’s enemy, the vectoral class. It is a battle, I fear,
that we cannot win. But it is one that must be fought. ■
Simson Garﬁnkel is a researcher in the ﬁeld of computer security.
He is the author of Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the
21st Century (2000). He is currently a doctoral candidate at MIT’s
Computer Science and Artiﬁcial Intelligence Laboratory.
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