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Journal ArticleDOI

Coding Free Software, Coding Free States: Free Software Legislation and the Politics of Code in Peru

03 Sep 2004-Anthropological Quarterly (Institute for Ethnographic Research)-Vol. 77, Iss: 3, pp 531-545

Abstract: In December 2001, a legislative proposal was introduced to the Peruvian Congress that would have mandated the use of free software on government computers. The introduction of the bill, dubbed the Law for the Use of Free Software in Government Agencies, or Proposition 1609,1 added Peru to a growing list of countries pursuing legal measures for the adoption of free software by government. Similar measures had begun in Brazil, Argentina, France, and Mexico-and within a year, they would be joined by dozens of other national-and local-level efforts in Germany, Spain, Italy, and Vietnam-all seeking to establish official alternatives to the use of closed, proprietary software by government. But it was Peru alone that uniquely managed to capture international public attention in the work surrounding its legislative efforts. Much of the publicity was spurred through the online circulation of a letter-mediated exchange between Microsoft's General Manager in Peru-who attacked the bill as a "danger" to the nation's security and to corporate intellectual property rights-and the congressional sponsor of the bill, Congressman Edgar Villanueva, who staunchly defended its support. The letters later became the focus of a wave of international media coverage around the South American nation and its legal proposal. Unlike any other nation considering similar legislation, Peru's proposal and its Congressional author were suddenly transformed into prominently visible players in the global movement for free software. Or as one reporter from the online news publication Linux Today prophetically narrated: "In the course of everyday business and politics, once in a while something truly significant happens. At such a time, letters become road maps for change and a politician from a small mountain town in Peru can become a hero to those who believe in a cause: both amongst his countrymen, and around the rest of the world... Congressman Villanueva's reply [to Microsoft]... raised him practically to folk hero status over night" (LeBlanc 2002). Envisioning Free Software Despite the unusual media attention captured by the Peruvian legislative efforts, and the rapidly expanding adoption of similar initiatives by national and local governments worldwide, the dominant reaction of free software proponents to the bill in the months following its proposal was to treat it as simply further evidence of free software's continued global spread. Minimizing the local specificity of actors and contexts surrounding the emergence of legal proposals like Peru's, the prevailing reading of such developments in the developed North was as one extraordinary achievement within free software's history of other, similarly extraordinary achievements. For many free software practitioners, it was the seemingly uncontainable momentum of their movement and the sheer technical strength of free software itself-more than any particular local actions or activities-that were to credit for its global successes. Yet a closer examination of the practices that surround the emergence of free software legislation in Peru reveals a distinctly different account. Far from presuming free software's steady advancement, the proponents of Peru's free software legislation undertook various forms of local and non-local work, advocacy, and activism to propel the visibility of their movement. Further, their practices departed from the language of technical and economic rationality that had been repeatedly invoked to explain free software's adoption. They insisted instead on a new framing of free software as necessarily engaged and invested in processes of governance and political reform. And while prominent factions of free software had previously read social linkages to formal political bodies as unnecessary or even counterproductive, Peru's free software advocates actively sought to build relations with bodies of governance, demonstrating a willingness to engage with traditional political channels. …
Topics: Legislation (54%), Politics (52%), Intellectual property (51%)

Content maybe subject to copyright    Report

531
CULTURE’S OPEN SOURCES
Coding Free Software, Coding
Free States:
Free Software Legislation
and the Politics of Code in Peru
Anita Chan
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
I
n December 2001, a legislative proposal was introduced to the Peruvian
Congress that would have mandated the use of free software on government
computers. The introduction of the bill, dubbed the Law for the Use of Free
Software in Government Agencies, or Proposition 1609,
1
added Peru to a grow-
ing list of countries pursuing legal measures for the adoption of free software
by government. Similar measures had begun in Brazil, Argentina, France, and
Mexico—and within a year, they would be joined by dozens of other national-
and local-level efforts in Germany, Spain, Italy, and Vietnam—all seeking to
establish official alternatives to the use of closed, proprietary software by gov-
ernment. But it was Peru alone that uniquely managed to capture internation-
al public attention in the work surrounding its legislative efforts.
Much of the publicity was spurred through the online circulation of a letter-
mediated exchange between Microsoft’s General Manager in Peru—who
attacked the bill as a “danger” to the nation’s security and to corporate intellec-
tual property rights—and the congressional sponsor of the bill, Congressman
Edgar Villanueva, who staunchly defended its support. The letters later became
the focus of a wave of international media coverage around the South American
nation and its legal proposal. Unlike any other nation considering similar legis-

Coding Free Software, Coding Free States: Free Software Legislation and the Politics of Code in Peru
532
lation, Peru’s proposal and its Congressional author were suddenly transformed
into prominently visible players in the global movement for free software. Or as
one reporter from the online news publication Linux Today prophetically nar-
rated: “In the course of everyday business and politics, once in a while some-
thing truly significant happens. At such a time, letters become road maps for
change and a politician from a small mountain town in Peru can become a hero
to those who believe in a cause: both amongst his countrymen, and around the
rest of the world… Congressman Villanueva’s reply [to Microsoft]… raised him
practically to folk hero status over night” (LeBlanc 2002).
Envisioning Free Software
Despite the unusual media attention captured by the Peruvian legislative
efforts, and the rapidly expanding adoption of similar initiatives by national
and local governments worldwide, the dominant reaction of free software pro-
ponents to the bill in the months following its proposal was to treat it as simply
further evidence of free software’s continued global spread. Minimizing the
local specificity of actors and contexts surrounding the emergence of legal pro-
posals like Peru’s, the prevailing reading of such developments in the developed
North was as one extraordinary achievement within free software’s history of
other, similarly extraordinary achievements. For many free software practition-
ers, it was the seemingly uncontainable momentum of their movement and the
sheer technical strength of free software itself—more than any particular local
actions or activities—that were to credit for its global successes.
Yet a closer examination of the practices that surround the emergence of
free software legislation in Peru reveals a distinctly different account. Far from
presuming free software’s steady advancement, the proponents of Peru’s free
software legislation undertook various forms of local and non-local work, advo-
cacy, and activism to propel the visibility of their movement. Further, their prac-
tices departed from the language of technical and economic rationality that had
been repeatedly invoked to explain free software’s adoption. They insisted
instead on a new framing of free software as necessarily engaged and invested
in processes of governance and political reform. And while prominent factions
of free software had previously read social linkages to formal political bodies as
unnecessary or even counterproductive, Peru’s free software advocates actively
sought to build relations with bodies of governance, demonstrating a willing-
ness to engage with traditional political channels. If free software had frequent-
ly expressed a confidence that it would and should spread without govern-

533
ANITA CHAN
ments intervention, Peru’s legislative developments signaled a departure from
such free market logics and signaled that something other than free software’s
technological spread were of most concern to its advocates.
Indeed, for participants who had witnessed free software advance from its
modest origins as an isolated practice of Northern hackers to a phenomenon
with global visibility and the support of some of the largest technology corpo-
rations, the emergence of legislative demands for free software appeared
unnecessary. Free software’s rapid transition from the margins to the main-
stream of society, after all, had occurred without the aid of governments and
with largely only the support of a network of active, individual coders. Both
the computing industry and free software communities, further, came to posi-
tion free software as a species of “disruptive technology” (Christensen 2000)
that would inevitably displace outdated technologies. To the commercial soft-
ware industry, such a reading signaled the need for dramatic self-transforma-
tion and adaptation to new technological environments. For free software
participants, it served instead as a confident reassurance in their current prac-
tices, and a sign that all could proceed stably without change. Both framings,
however, operated on a degree of technological inevitability, presuming that
it would only be a matter of time before everyone came to see the objective,
self-evident rationale for free software’s use. Not unlike discourses around the
progression of scientific facts, free software predicted the stable progression
of what it saw as its inherent truths and technical merit (Kelty 2001).
Media coverage on free software legislation similarly advanced its own logic
of inevitability. News articles repeatedly emphasized economic rationales for
the state use of free software, presenting it as a drastically cheaper alternative
to closed, proprietary software and stressing that national poverty coupled
with the potential for financial savings drove government interest in free soft-
ware (Dorn 2003, Festa 2001, Stocking 2003, Wired.com 2003). As Paul Festa
described the legislative trend in Cnet.com: “This legal movement… is finding
ready converts as governments struggle to close sometimes vast digital divides
with limited information-technology budgets… Governments—especially
those of poorer nations with less money to spend on information technology—
are eager to reap the cost savings of using free software” (Festa 2001).
Unsurprisingly, the emergence of movements like Peru’s to legislate state use
of free software, and free software’s deepened ties to conventional politics, were
developments that many free software advocates—particularly in the devel-
oped North—viewed with deep skepticism and suspicion.
2
To actively seek the
building of such ties between state governance and free software advocacy,

Coding Free Software, Coding Free States: Free Software Legislation and the Politics of Code in Peru
534
after all, was to risk diluting the rational and technically-based justifications for
free software. And it further threatened to undermine what the movement had
embraced as its essential belief in individual users’ freedom of choice. Tony
Stanco, a senior policy analyst at The George Washington University’s
Cyberspace Policy Institute, thus reacted to the growth of free software legisla-
tion in Latin America by warning against the imposition of politics over ration-
al markets. Writing in Linux Today, Stanco asserted, “It is much better for gov-
ernments to set up a real level playing field in procurement policy and then let
the market decide on merit. If a product can’t make it in the market without
government mandates, then history has shown that it won’t make it with gov-
ernment mandates either” (Stanco 2003). Stanco was echoed by other free soft-
ware supporters, who, in a Brookings Institute publication aimed at government
policy makers themselves (Hahn, 2002), collectively urged governments to
maintain a stance of neutrality in software acquisition policy. Some insisted that
free software would advance without the need for government involvement
(Bessen 2002), while others argued that free software preferences would com-
promise consumer freedom of choice (Evans 2002). To such Northern free soft-
ware advocates, politicized arguments for free software not only seemed to be
a weak rationalization for a technology’s use, but threatened to pollute more
“legitimate” technologically-based justifications for free software’s adoption.
Biella Coleman insightfully characterizes such an explicit disavowal of for-
mal politics as free software’s own “political agnosticism” (Coleman 2003).
Practitioners’ emphatic insistence on their non-politicization, she argues,
advances free software’s circulation by constructing a permissive terrain that
allows its wide adoption by a multiplicity of parties. Such a political disavow-
al, she observes however, is also rooted in the lived experience of working
with and through the culture of free software. Where programming and com-
puting become vehicles through which the unrestricted expression of individ-
ual creativity and imagination are brought to life, “politics are seen by pro-
grammers as buggy, mediated, and tainted action clouded by ideology that is
not productive of much anything while it insidiously works against true forms
of free thought” (Coleman 2003:5).
The persistent boundary work that seeks to maintain a separation between
free software and formal politics, critically, simultaneously displays a certain
confidence in the rational workings of a free market. If government and polit-
ical operations were regarded as flawed, non-rational, conservatively rigid,
and tainted by ideological motives, free markets could be read as rational,
pragmatic, flexibly adaptive, and ideologically neutral. And where politics was

535
ANITA CHAN
positioned as an entity from which the purity of free software should be pro-
tected, free markets were understood as entities that could be relied upon to
legitimately recognize the technical merit of free software applications and
secure its steady advancement.
And yet, despite such deep suspicions around the realm of politics, sus-
tained movements around the Peruvian legislation emerged. For Peru’s local
communities of free software practitioners, formal political channels existed
not as an entity to explicitly avoid, but appeared instead as something that had
to be actively, arguably unavoidably, engaged with. And just as Peru’s free soft-
ware proponents framed free software technologies as anything but pure, self-
enclosed objects that could remain separate from politics, so too did they
frame formal political channels as something other than static foils to free soft-
ware’s project. Rather, for Peru’s free software communities, political channels
came to serve as instruments that, like technologies themselves, were dynam-
ic, reprogrammable, and recodeable in Diane Nelson’s formulation of the
terms (Nelson 1999). Much, then, as technologies under free software’s fram-
ing, were interpreted as unfinished artifacts that could exist in permanent
cycles of reprogramming to fit specified needs, so too were politics read as
imperfect entities that could and should be recoded for local civic contexts.
Its arguably the recodability of political and civic bodies—rather than the
recodability of technology and free software itself—that’s most at stake in
movements for free software legislation in Peru. For these free software advo-
cates, technology was deployed as an instrument to reform state and nation-
al “bugs” that encompassed everything from the relentless, unflinching dom-
inance of transnational corporations to a publicly unaccountable and
non-transparent state. Where dominant framings of free software suggested
that it was the progress of free software that was considered as most impor-
tant, Peruvian free software participants’ strategic utilizations of technology
to engage with national politics suggested that it was the social context sur-
rounding technologies, and not merely technologies themselves, what was
seen as most critical. Peru’s free software advocates thus combined a vision of
the Peruvian state as needing independence from transnational corporate
control with a distinct vision of the state as an institution whose own author-
ity had to be restricted and checked by an active public. Such dual engage-
ments exhibited not only Peruvian free software practitioners’ understanding
of the state and politics as variably recodable entities, but expressed their
hope as well that it would be an engaged Peruvian public who would be
entrusted with government’s reprogramming.

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TL;DR: Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig shows how code can make a domain, site, or network free or restrictive; how technological architectures influence people's behavior and the values they adopt; and how changes in code can have damaging consequences for individual freedoms.
Abstract: From the Publisher: Should cyberspace be regulated? How can it be done? It's a cherished belief of techies and net denizens everywhere that cyberspace is fundamentally impossible to regulate. Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig warns that, if we're not careful we'll wake up one day to discover that the character of cyberspace has changed from under us. Cyberspace will no longer be a world of relative freedom; instead it will be a world of perfect control where our identities, actions, and desires are monitored, tracked, and analyzed for the latest market research report. Commercial forces will dictate the change, and architecture—the very structure of cyberspace itself—will dictate the form our interactions can and cannot take. Code And Other Laws of Cyberspace is an exciting examination of how the core values of cyberspace as we know it—intellectual property, free speech, and privacy-—are being threatened and what we can do to protect them. Lessig shows how code—the architecture and law of cyberspace—can make a domain, site, or network free or restrictive; how technological architectures influence people's behavior and the values they adopt; and how changes in code can have damaging consequences for individual freedoms. Code is not just for lawyers and policymakers; it is a must-read for everyone concerned with survival of democratic values in the Information Age.

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"Coding Free Software, Coding Free S..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Much, then, as technologies under free software’s framing, were interpreted as unfinished artifacts that could exist in permanent cycles of reprogramming to fit specified needs, so too were politics read as imperfect entities that could and should be recoded for local civic contexts....

    [...]


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Abstract: A Wall Street Journal and Businessweek bestseller. Named by Fast Company as one of the most influential leadership books in its Leadership Hall of Fame. An innovation classic. From Steve Jobs to Jeff Bezos, Clay Christensens work continues to underpin todays most innovative leaders and organizations. The bestselling classic on disruptive innovation, by renowned author Clayton M. Christensen. His work is cited by the worlds best-known thought leaders, from Steve Jobs to Malcolm Gladwell. In this classic bestsellerone of the most influential business books of all timeinnovation expert Clayton Christensen shows how even the most outstanding companies can do everything rightyet still lose market leadership. Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices. Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovators Dilemma gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation. Sharp, cogent, and provocativeand consistently noted as one of the most valuable business ideas of all time The Innovators Dilemma is the book no manager, leader, or entrepreneur should be without.

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Book
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"Coding Free Software, Coding Free S..." refers background in this paper

  • ...Much, then, as technologies under free software’s framing, were interpreted as unfinished artifacts that could exist in permanent cycles of reprogramming to fit specified needs, so too were politics read as imperfect entities that could and should be recoded for local civic contexts....

    [...]

  • ...Unlike any other nation considering similar legis-...

    [...]