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You are here: Home Blogs From the FSF's Executive Director A small update to our "User Liberation" video

A small update to our "User Liberation" video

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Jan 02, 2015 05:57 PM
This is the first post in a new blog area here on, featuring posts from the executive director. It will focus primarily on the meta-details of FSF's work, and may be of greatest interest to those who crave more nonprofit administration geekery. It will also have posts like this one, offering some background thoughts around our theories of social change and messaging.

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There are a few small "easter eggs," both intentional and unintentional, in the "User Liberation" video we just released. One that drew some comments is the desktop screenshot flashing by near the video's end.

Is that...a Skype icon? Is that...Flash? Is that...nVidia? IN AN FSF VIDEO?

After this was brought to my attention, I first thought it was fine to include the icons, because of the overall framing. The narrator in that section of the video says, "We've still got work to do." None of the context promotes or recommends use of those programs, and since the icons flashed by in a second, I didn't think we were increasing their recognizability or notoriety. Everything about the video problematizes proprietary software and advocates user freedom. The only application the character is directly using is free software. The other icons seemed merely part of a realistic scenery, and as we all know, the scenery of our digital lives contains much ugliness.

I can imagine many other circumstances in which we would show proprietary software in a video. For example, we might have a video tutorial showing how to install and use GNU Emacs on Windows, or how to encrypt your email on OS X. It'd be hard to have such videos without showing those proprietary operating systems, and they would in fact be much more prominent than what we are talking about here.

We would show them because doing so would help us help others to regain some of their freedom as computer users. We would make sure to emphasize that such steps wouldn't get them all the way -- for that, they'd need to install a fully free GNU/Linux system -- but they would be steps in the right direction, and steps that wouldn't require any counterproductive compromise.

We do, as "User Liberation" says, have a lot more work to do, to enable everyone to install fully free operating systems and do everything they want to do with any computer they own using only free software, without compromise. Free software replacements for exactly the three displayed icons: Skype, Flash, and 3D-accelerated graphics drivers, are on our High Priority Projects List, which is currently looking for your feedback.

All that being said, the advantage of digital media (and Blender, the free software used to make the video) is that we could go back and change things like this pretty easily. Should we?

Our goal here was to make a video that can be shown to people who had never heard of free software before, to spark their interest and hopefully inspire further involvement. After listening to some feedback and thinking on it, we decided that leaving the icons could potentially cause some confusion with people who don't yet know, for example, that Skype is only "free as in beer" and not "free as in freedom." I don't think the risk here was very high -- you couldn't even see the individual icons during normal watching of the video -- but that also meant they didn't have any affirmative reason to be there.

So we've now chucked this particular easter egg, and written this post to document the decision. Doing this reminded me of the relative impermanence of all digital media. DRM-pushing companies like Amazon and Apple who distribute videos and ebooks have the same capability, to go back and edit works after they are published. In many cases, they can even do it remotely, replacing works that you think of as living on a device in your home. Will they tell you about it when they do?

Thank you to Urchin for making the edits and for their amazing work on the project! It really demonstrates the power of free software and free formats, and debunks the myth that professional designers and animators must use proprietary software to be top notch.

I'm excited about the partnership with them, and about the potential to make more such educational and advocacy materials in the future. I hope you can make a donation, or even better, join as a member, to both cast a vote for us doing more of this work and to provide the resources we need to do it.

The old video can still be found (for now) at

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