As the Web becomes an integral part of our lives and culture, web applications are being used as online services at an unprecedented scale. Email, calendaring, social bookmarks, social news, photo sharing, video sharing, social networking, mapping are all applications that we use every day. Free and open source software is being used to build many of these new web services. But we find that most of these online applications are closed source and have turned waters murky in terms of ownership (especially when open source licensed software is used). Separation of usage and distribution of software has changed the relationships between software and users. Who owns what part of the software, who controls what part, what rights do users have and how do they protect them are just some of the questions that one has to deal with.
It’s great to see a new initiative “Autonomo.us” launched by a group of hackers and activists who are concerned about the effects by network services on user freedom. Some of contributors in this effort include Benjamin Mako Hill (MIT/FSF), Bradley Kuhn (SFLC and Software Freedom Conservancy), James Vasile (SFLC) and Luis Villa (GNOME Foundation, OSI Legal Advisory Board). The group is supported by the FSF and intends to serve as a forum to examine issues raised by network services and establish an “informed” position on software freedom and network services.