statue of freedom "freedom"
by Thomas Crawford
Frequently Asked Questions

questions and answers prepared by:
Kostantinos Tsakaloglou and Tony Stanco

draft as at February 6, 2022

`Building a Democratic Company'

What is FreeDevelopers?
Why is it called FreeDevelopers?
What is your goal?
Are proprietary developers the enemy?
Who is the enemy?
When and how did the idea start?
How many people are currently involved?
What is the proposed structure of FreeDevelopers?
Will one have to join FreeDevelopers in order to vote/participate?
Will anyone be able to join?
Will the group be soliciting contributions from software vendors
Where will revenues come from to fund the salaries to the developers?
What is FreeDevelopers's position with respect to other free/open software companies that are not democratic?
Why do you believe that this model is preferable, or even viable, in this environment?
Is software more like law or more like literature?
What are the main ways in which technology could `enslave the world'?
Briefly, why do you go so far as to dub proprietary software companies as being `evil' and `the enemy'?
What do you envisage being the biggest problems FreeDevelopers will face in the future?
What are the more difficult decisions you are debating?
Please could you give me a bit more information about the developers who have joined.
Is everyone who wants to join allowed to?
Do you all tend to have similar political views?
Would it be fair to describe the free software movement as a `resistance movement'?
What are the similarities and differences between FreeDevelopers and Trade Unionism?
Would you say that FreeDevelopers has anything in common with the anti-capitalist (Seattle, WTO, etc.) movement?
Please could you expand a little on the ways you see companies selling and distributing Open Source software as becoming `exploitative'? Is this a commonly held view among developers?
Why do you think you can successfully build a democratic company when it's such a difficult thing to do efficiently?
How convinced are you that it will work?
Would you say that some of the principles of free software could be applied to research and development in any other fields?

What is FreeDevelopers?

FreeDevelopers is an international, democratic company of free software developers, whose goal is to replace all proprietary software with free/open software, worldwide. The company will be owned by the free developers of the world, and it will pay its free software developers the same world wage regardless of where the developer is geographically located, thereby treating all developers equally.

See our site at for more information and to join.

Why is it called FreeDevelopers?

It is FreeDevelopers as in Free Software Developers, but also as FreeDevelopers as a free people, not enslaved by proprietary software companies.

What is your goal?

Our goal is to defeat proprietary. Our goal is replacing all proprietary software with free software. Not just making trivial software like the print drivers free software, but all software, especially the latest and most innovative technology.

In short, we are here to change the software development paradigm for the world from a proprietary software development model to a free software development model.

This is philosophical war against proprietary software. And it is a war that we must win for the safety and freedom of the world going forward.

Are proprietary developers the enemy?

No. Proprietary developers are not our enemy. They are misguided friends fighting on the wrong side of this war. They just don't understand how their actions hurt themselves and all other software developers, as RMS has been explaining for all these years. They may be mercenary fighters that currently fight against us, but they are not our enemy. With education and a way to pay them as much as they get now, they will eventually voluntarily join us and fight on our side against their old masters.

Who is the enemy?

Our enemy is the proprietary software companies and the managers at the top of those companies. These are the people that disproportionately benefit from perpetuating the system of proprietary developer servitude, which results from hiding the code. As Richard Stallman has said, hiding the code divides and disenfranchises the developers, thereby empowering the proprietary software companies as it weakens the developers. This cabal will fight us furiously and to the end.

When and how did the idea start?

Tony Stanco founded FreeDevelopers after consulting with Richard Stallman for 8 months. Richard Stallman is the philosopher and chief spokesman of Free Software, who in 1984 started the Free Software Foundation and GNU project project to replace proprietary software with openly inspectable software. For 16 years, the world did not understand him as he warned of the problems and immorality of proprietary software.

Tony Stanco, who was a senior securities attorney in the Internet and software group at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington DC, realized in 1998 that proprietary software was becoming a threat to world freedom (as evidenced by the fears encapsulated in the Y2K bug and the Microsoft trial). He realized that secret, proprietary software had to be replaced soon, before technology enslaved the world. It became apparent to him that proprietary software was putting the fate of the world in the hands of a few powerful, unelected businessmen (mostly from America). As Harvard Professor Lessig had stated, software is law, and Tony feared that machines in the very near future would be a non-human police force enforcing those laws and answerable only to those self-appointed few.

After researching the subject, Tony quickly discovered Richard Stallman's work and realized that he was absolutely right and that free software was the solution for keeping the world free. That free software just HAD to replace proprietary software for the good of the world, as Richard had said for all those years.

Tony, however, also realized that free software needed a better business model to pay its developers, so that free software could more readily defeat proprietary with its legions of well-paid developers.

It was on this business plan that Tony heavily consulted Richard for 8 months in early 2000. While it became quickly clear that a successful business plan for free software was feasible (because of its superior development methodologies), the fear arose that this software company would become even more powerful than any other in the world and that it would, thereby, simply replace one software king with another. And that was unacceptable because that would create more problems for the world, rather than solve any.

The issue was that traditional corporate theory organized the corporation as a feudal kingdom with a king at the top, and with everyone else's energies used to support that king. While this system works fine in competitive industries, where competition acts as a strong check on the appetites of any particular king, it would not work with software, because software, by nature, monopolizes. A new system had to be developed for software. But what?

This is where fate stepped in. While at the SEC, every day Tony walked from one side of the Capitol to work on the other. One day while struggling with this problem, he looked up at the Capitol dome, home of modern American democracy, and asked himself why could not the company be democratic? Nations are. Why couldn't companies be, too? Democracy, after all, was the traditional check on tyrants.

Up until now, the supposed reason why companies could not be truly democratic was that democracy was perceived as a fair but an inefficient management organization. That following Plato's precepts, the most efficient organization was to place experts at the top. Democracy had always been seen as paying for freedom with efficiency. And while people were willing to make that trade-off in political governance, they were not for corporate governance. But the history of the last hundred years (if not for more) has refuted that proposition. With the fall of Communism at the end of century, democracy has shown itself to be not only fairer, but more efficient, too. So, why couldn't democracy work in business? Why not, indeed?

This was a radical thought, but rationally based. Still, would it work? No one knows for sure, but FreeDevelopers was set up to test that proposition, while it protects the world from proprietary software for all the reasons of Richard Stallman's free software philosophy.

How many people are currently involved?

More than 450 in less than 2 months from most countries, like Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States and others. But that was only by word of mouth. We have accelerating growth now and welcome all freedom loving people from every country.

What is the proposed structure of FreeDevelopers?

The ideas are only tentative until we discuss them with a representative democratic, quorum, but we talking about a sober Senate of CS professors and project leaders, and a younger, more adventurous House of CS students and developers.

That way the projects become extended classrooms worldwide, where the project leaders and CS professors mentor the coming generation as real work is done on the projects.

Most of the decision making will go very deep because the Internet allows more people to be involved in decision making. So, the President/CEO will not be the main focal point and will be rotating and elected every year or 2 or 3 from the whole group of developers worldwide.

How much decision making can be pushed down depends on the efficiency of the system. We plan to go as deep as possible, without an undue adverse impact on efficiency.

Also, some dispute resolution system will have to evolve to deal with the inevitable conflicts and misunderstandings that will surely arise.

Will one have to join FreeDevelopers in order to vote/participate?

Yes, because developer cohesion will be the only way to defeat proprietary.

FreeDevelopers is different from what came before. We are not trying to replace one software king with another. Nor are we trying to make insider billionaires off of the unpaid work of disenfranchised developers. However, the success of FreeDevelopers ultimately depends on the cohesion of our developers to fight for our cause. Much like with political democracy, cohesion is much harder to achieve than factional division, especially when the tyrannies have the money to seed faithless dissent within our ranks. Still, democracy won against such odds before because of its ideals of fundamental fairness, equality and freedom, and we think it will do so, again.

Will anyone be able to join?

At this time we are only looking for people who are pure of heart. We are too young and too few to fight the arrayed forces of proprietary while at the same time trying to convince people within our ranks why FreeDevelopers is the right way to go. Right now we just have to go with the people that Richard Stallman has already convinced. He has

been trying for 16 years and if he hasn't done it by now, adding our words will not change any minds. So for now, we are just trying to gather up those whose hearts have already been touched by Richard Stallman for the cause of Free Software. We are not looking for new converts, nor do we seek to engage in any new evangelizing.

After 16 years, the non-believers will only be persuaded by deeds, not more words, anyway, and so we need to perform the deeds to have any reasonable expectation of their future support. As such, bringing in non-believers at this point will only slow us down in our mission to defeat proprietary by bogging us down in endless arguing over old, well-worn issues.tion of their future support. As such, bringing in non-believers at this point will only slow us down in our mission to defeat proprietary by bogging us down in endless arguing over old, well-worn issues.

Will the group be soliciting/accepting contributions from software vendors? If so, even those who produce proprietary software?

The companies are not the right focal point for us. Our focal point is the developer, not the company. Companies don't produce software, people do, or more specifically software developers do. As RMS said with Free Software, traditional software companies are antithetical to a properly functioning software industry, because they divide developers against each other, making them constantly have to re-invent the wheel, since the companies hold the source code hostage. This is not done for the benefit of the developers (or users). This is only for the benefit of the companies and their insiders.

Where will revenues come from to fund the salaries to the developers?

We expect to divert 1% of government IT budgets to free software. Because free software is such a better software development model, we expect to do more with that 1than proprietary can do with the other 99%, which is obviously a much better value proposition.

We view software as a public good, like infrastructure and roads, so the government is the correct entity to fund most of it. That does not mean that government should develop software itself, but it should pay for it. Just like it does for road projects, where private road crews actually go out and do the work, while government pays for it. So instead of paying for proprietary software as government does now, we expect them to pay for free software. In fact, there are a lot of government initiatives all over the world (e.g., the U.S., France, China, Brazil, Japan, Germany, etc.) that are looking to do just that.

But we are not suggesting a software tax or anything like that. We just want 1% of what governments are paying now for proprietary software. Other users like businesses and people can free-ride on that. This is just the way most road are done. Each business does not construct its own roads for their own exclusive use. That would be ludicrous and a waste of scarce resources. We are just taking the Information Superhighway metaphor to its natural conclusion.

What is FreeDevelopers's position with respect to other free/open software companies that are not democratic?

We are trying to divert software money from going to proprietary software. That^1s where the money is and they are the ones that harm the industry by dividing the developers and having them constantly re-invent the wheel.

The current free/open software companies are all doing a great thing. We are really not competing with them, because as long as the software is free, it really does not matter how it gets there. We are just trying to defeat the proprietary software companies.

We are experimenting with a democratic organizational structure, which is different from other free software companies, just so developers have a choice.

The right solution will eventually emerge. Maybe it's us, maybe it's someone else. It really doesn't matter as long as the software is GPL, so everyone can share it, and the developers are treated fairly.

The most successful free software projects to date have not been democratic processes - most authority has been held either by a single individual (Linus Torvalds for Linux, RMS for Emacs, etc.) or at very most by small, self-selected groups (samba, apache, the BSDs). Given that no major project that I know of has evolved from a truly democratic, why do you believe that this model is preferable, or even viable, in this environment?

Before the storming of the Bastille and the Boston Tea Party, there was a false consciousness about the viability of democracy, too. Paradigms change.

Free software is about the eternal human quest for freedom and a fairer world for all. That struggle used to be fought in the sphere of political governance (or in other words, who got to write the laws that control our lives), but that story, for the most part, is over with the arrival of democracy worldwide. The struggle now is over who gets to write the code that controls our lives.

Professor Lessig is right that software is really law. And, therefore, Richard Stallman is right that free software is really about freedom, not about a more efficient software development model, as Open Source claims.

If you understand that the fight is about who gets to control whom, you will see that free software has an ancient lineage that goes back to the beginnings of time. You will also understand that the sons, and the sons of sons, and their sons after that, ad infinitum will continue to hack the mountain until the world is free and fair for everyone; by distributing the power to control others to the sovereignty in the people themselves, including for now in our time the fight for free software.

Is software more like law (as Professor Lessig claims) and therefore should be a public good, or more like literature and therefore should be owned by the creators?

This goes to the very heart of the question as to why software is different and should not be owned by proprietary companies, though it may seem the same as other intellectual property. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to explain.

What is the difference between literature and law? Both are words on paper. Why does society allow literature to be owned by its creators, while law makers don't get to own their creative product (as a group or individually)? While this may seem like a trivial question, it is an important and fundamental one without an easy answer.

No one says that law should be proprietary and that people who create it should own it. To even put it in those terms seems absurd. But why? Because law controls people and they have a inalienable right to be involved in what controls them (i.e., Rousseau's idea of a `social contract'). Establishing that right has been the ancient and noble struggle for democracy over the centuries.

So the question is ``is software more like literature or more like law?'' Professor Lessig say that software is law in cyberspace, not just like it, because software controls how people interact in cyberspace just like law controls how people interact in physical space.

If software is law, then the ancient struggle for democracy should also apply to software, and is the reason FreeDevelopers is democratic; otherwise you would have the powerful, capricious software tyrants the world has recently seen.

What are the main ways in which technology could `enslave the world' (from an earlier question) if their model wins over free software?

Software is the law that machines obey, and machines will define more and more how people interact with each other in cyberspace and real space. Without being careful about how those machines are implemented and where, and who gets to write the software those machines will obey, the world can quite literally be enslaved by cyber-chains.

We are about to enter an age that would have thrilled all the dictators of the past. An age where machines can be a totally obedient, non-human, police force allowing absolute control over the movement and interaction of every individual.

Just today I was reading an article in the latest edition of MIT's Technology that talked about `hybrid brain-machine interfaces'. Now granted it referred to how some are trying to develop interfaces that allow the brain to directly control machines. But how far are we from hybrid machine-brain interfaces where the causation goes the other way?

Since proprietary software is, by definition, unseen code not subject to scrutiny by the public, it gives too much power to a few, unelected businessmen - mostly from the U.S. Looking back on human history, nightmarish scenarios are not hard to imagine.

Briefly, why do you go so far as to dub proprietary software companies as being `evil' and `the enemy'?

They are potentially evil for the reasons above. They are our enemy because our mission as free developers is to stop that world from becoming a reality. The goal of proprietary companies is to make that goal a reality, wittingly or unwittingly.

Also, I see free software as a continuation of the ancient struggle for equality, democracy and freedom that goes back to the first moment of human group consciousness. Those ideals have won out in the political sphere after 6000 years, and now the struggle continues in the commercial and economic spheres. Since software is a new form of law, the analogy is all the stronger.

What do you envisage being the biggest problems FreeDevelopers will face in the future?

When hits the radar screens of proprietary they will come at us with full force. They know that only one software development paradigm can exist: either it is a closed-code one or a free-software one, because at their core these are antithetical. Since their current power over the developers comes from dividing developers and keeping the code secret, they know they have to discredit us, else lose all their power. Since there are hundreds of billions of dollars at stake, plus immense personal empires, we are expecting an incredible campaign against us.

What are the more difficult decisions you are debating between yourselves at the moment -- I've read about the debate over when to release the first version of the democracy software?

Who really is a free software developer? Some, who claim to be, but don't understand the animating spirit of free software. So some think they can be a free software developer and can still keep some of their code secret. Open source has added to this confusion, because they allow proprietary layers to be shipped with free software. Thus more people want to join us than really should, and we really don't have a ready way to look into someone's heart to see what they really think as soon as they join. This has created some lively debates. Also, it is becoming apparent that there is a generation gap. People who have worked during the proprietary age, find it hard to conceptualize how free software can work and cling to old metaphors. Students coming out of computer science classes, however, have only been working on free software and understand it implicitly.

Please could you give me a bit more information about the 450 (or is it more now?) developers who have joined. They're from all over the world, but what sort of people are they?

At the last count they were 25 countries.

Are they highly experienced developers with a long-term commitment to free software?
Most are computer science and/or computer engineering students. Some have been working on free software for years. Others are working at proprietary companies and work with us at night when they get home.

Any specific age band?
Mostly in their twenties, is my guess.

Have most of them worked for proprietary companies in the past -- and if so, how do most of them make their living at the moment?
The ones who are not students are mostly working at proprietary companies, because there aren't many alternatives available for paying jobs in free software.

Is everyone who wants to join allowed to, or have you turned anyone down at this early stage?

We allow everyone in, but if they show that they don't understand free software methodologies and are unwilling to learn, we ask them to leave.

Do you all tend to have similar political views, or is there a broad mixture? How have they heard about the company?

We are technologists from all religions and political views. The unifying theme is a belief in free software and the harm of proprietary.

Would it be fair to describe the free software movement as a `resistance movement'?

In that proprietary software is the oppressive current regime that we are trying to overthrow, yes. But we are non-violent. Our war is a philosophical war over the hearts and minds of developers, showing them that by joining together there is a better way. A way that gives them more power and allows them to protect the world from cyber-chains.

What are the similarities and differences between FreeDevelopers and Trade Unionism?

This is a great question, because it goes to the heart of the matter. We are unlike a trade union because unlike traditional industrial companies, software companies have no physical assets. In traditional industrial companies, the power flows from the fact that the companies own the assets that workers have to use to do their jobs. So employees have to unite to have an equal power base to negotiate with the power base inherent in the owners of the assets.

But now think of software companies. Where are the assets giving the companies the power over the developers? There aren't any. If the developers unite, they have the power and there is no countervailing power base on the other side.

So do you see what I mean? In traditional companies, workers unite to have a countervailing power. But if software developers unite, they are the only ones with the power. It is a fundamental difference. That is the reason, by the way, that I think that it doesn't matter how much money and effort proprietary software arrays against us. If we can persuade the developers to unite, we win.

Would you say that FreeDevelopers has anything in common with the anti-capitalist (Seattle, WTO, etc.) movement?

No, we are not anti-capitalism. Free markets is just another freedom of a free people, in our view. Capitalism has historically been the greatest leveler, because it produces more for everyone to consume. The question has only really been one of equitable distribution of the production. And capitalism has been working itself pure on that front, too. In its quest to be ever more efficient, capitalism has targeted the middle-class for the production, which obviously gets a lot of production to the greatest number of people.

But an interesting thing has started to happen in the last couple of decades. The ownership of the means of production has also been becoming much more egalitarian, because the middle class has been buying stock in the companies that are producing the goods in record numbers.

There are some problems of corporate concentration by ever growing mergers, but appropriate government regulation can keep the size of corporations under control, if the political will materializes.

Please could you expand a little on the ways you see companies selling and distributing Open Source software as becoming `exploitative'? Is this a commonly held view among developers?

We view open source companies as allies. They also want to change the software development paradigm to a free software one. We don't want to make too much of the differences because we are on the same side of this philosophical war.

But the biggest difference between us and them is over who gets to share in the wealth. They have a more traditional model where those at the top of those organizations reap most of the rewards, and rely on the unpaid work of thousands of free software developers who volunteer their effort for the sake of their free software ideals.

Why do you think you can successfully build a democratic company when it's such a difficult thing to do efficiently?

Democracy is not necessarily about efficiency. It is about safeguards from abuse of the powerful. How you get to democracy usually, and in this case in particular, is that you back into it, after you have tried everything else and nothing else works. I think that explains political history for the last 6000 years very nicely. My prognosis for software democracy works on a similar logic of elimination.

Traditionally, companies were allowed to be monarchical, because market competition acts as the control mechanism on the appetites of any one CEO. But in monopoly situations, say electricity or local phone service, market controls break down, so that another control system was needed to control potential abuse. Historically that was government regulation. In fact, the Microsoft anti-trust trial tried to use that same control mechanism recently.

But high tech is unlikely to be controlled by government regulation, because it is a moving target. It is the exact dilemma that the Microsoft court was struggling with: how do you control the abuse while not stifling innovation in such a fast moving field run by technical experts?

Direct government regulation is not going to work in this case, because unlike traditional monopolies there aren't the physical assets to regulate. There are only the experts, and government officials are ill-equipped to regulate them because of their superior specialized knowledge.

Regulation of technical experts is usually conducted by self-regulatory organizations (SRO's). Examples of these are the state bar associations, medical associations, or stock broker associations, and they work generally pretty well in those areas. But they have generally failed in software. The reason is that in those other organizations the members can compete against each other, whereas software monopolizes.

So after surveying all the traditions mechanisms of control and realizing they fall short, you are left with democracy.

How convinced are you that it will work?

It has to, because the alternative is unthinkable.

Would you say that some of the principles of free software could be applied to research and development in any other fields; AIDS research springs to mind? What is it that makes software so different that this whole movement has developed?

I haven't looked into it in other areas. My sense is that other areas are functioning pretty well with the existing structures. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't take a second look at our old infrastructures every 50 or so years to see if we they haven't fallen into disrepair and we are just perpetuating them because they are comfortable habits.

I would still venture to say, however, that the Internet is going to allow more democracy overall in R&D and elsewhere, because it allows for communications efficiencies not previously available. But in those other areas, change will probably be evolutionary, not revolutionary with accompanying paradigm changes.

Software in an interconnected world is like law, so there must be a new infrastructure in place to protect the world from the cyber-chains. It is probably a special situation.

(from India)
(from USA)

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by Ross Moore, 2022-02-06 for FD-PublicRelations