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Source Code is Free Speech (YAY!)

By nascent in News
Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 09:16:49 AM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

The United States Court of Appeals has ruled that source code is a Constitutionally protected form of free speech. Normally this stuff is terribly dry reading, but this is an incredibly lucid, enjoyable text. In a nutshell, it asserts that just because something has a functional end, that does not preclude its expression value. The entire text (it'll take you 10 minutes, tops, to read it) can be found at this URL. Some key exerpts appear below.

"The Supreme Court has expressed the versatile scope of the First Amendment by labeling as "unquestionably shielded" the artwork of Jackson Pollack, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, or the Jabberwocky verse of Lewis Carroll. Hurly v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group, 515 U.S. 557, 569 (1995). Though unquestionably expressive, these things identified by the Court are not traditional speech. Particularly, a musical score cannot be read by the majority of the public but can be used as a means of communication among musicians. Likewise, computer source code, though unintelligible to many, is the preferred method of communication among computer programers.

Because computer source code is an expressive means for the exchange of information and ideas about computer programming, we hold that it is protected by the First Amendment."

Not to ruin the fun, but another particularly blunt outtake...

"the Supreme Court noted that although an asserted governmental interest may be important, when the government defends restrictions on speech "it must do more than simply 'posit the existence of the disease sought to be cured.'""

Enjoy. =)


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Source Code is Free Speech (YAY!) | 8 comments (8 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
I was gonna write some free speech ... (3.00 / 1) (#1)
by rusty on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 03:53:31 AM EST

rusty voted 1 on this story.

I was gonna write some free speech here, but I'm too damn tired. :-)

Not the real rusty

This fits "tech&cult"! :) ... (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by rongen on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 05:44:44 AM EST

rongen voted 1 on this story.

This fits "tech&cult"! :)

Anyone who doubts that code is "speech" should spend some time reading comments written by tired people maintaining code they hate:

"### I don't know WTF this function does..."

read/write http://www.prosebush.com
not sure about the music analogy... (none / 0) (#3)
by Fish on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 07:26:47 AM EST

Fish voted 0 on this story.

not sure about the music analogy

Analogy (none / 0) (#8)
by nascent on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 01:44:08 PM EST

I can't think of a non-sarcastic-sounding way to say this, so take it as a friendly question...

What part of the analogy is fuzzy?
[ Parent ]

... (none / 0) (#4)
by henrik on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 08:30:51 AM EST

henrik voted 0 on this story.

Akademiska Intresseklubben antecknar!

Curious. This means, in essence, c... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by eann on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 09:00:04 AM EST

eann voted 1 on this story.

Curious. This means, in essence, companies are now patenting speech (well, expression). I'm sure that sounds not right.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men. —MLK

$email =~ s/0/o/; # The K5 cabal is out to get you.

Re: Source Code is Free Speech (YAY!) (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by jonas on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 09:36:12 AM EST

For some reason, this reminded me of this quote :-)

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evilminded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal and wellmeaning but without understanding." -- Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Re: Source Code is Free Speech (YAY!) (4.00 / 2) (#7)
by ImpintheBox on Wed Apr 05, 2000 at 10:23:13 AM EST

If this ruling stands it could have major implications for the Free Software
movement. Before celebrating, however, consider we have a Supreme Court which
ruled that $$, in the form of campaign contributions, is also a form of free
speech. Since there are some organizations which have large amounts of free
speech($$) who may view free speech(code) as a threat, I think the fun has just

Source Code is Free Speech (YAY!) | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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