Libertaria

Abstract: This article is based on interviews between Optionality's Eddy Tor and various Libertaria spokespersons. The article pictures the Libertaria movement and its philosophy, which comes down to a preference for freedom and for things that are free.


A. Libertaria on the Internet

Over the past few years, a number of sites have been developed on the Internet referring to Libertaria. One such site, at Geocities, proudly states that everything on this site has been provided for free, without financial transactions, and the site contains a separate credits page, listing such contributors.

There is a Libertaria presence at Communityware, involved in discussions about Libertaria. Libertaria spokespersons are active in various discussion groups, usually identifying themselves with free email addresses such as libertaria@hotmail.com and libertaria@poboxes.com. There is a Libertaria discussion board at InsideTheWeb, there is a Libertaria site at FireFly, there is a Libertaria WebRing, there is a Libertaria mailing list and there are Libertaria banners and logos popping up at other sites, either as tributes, through banner exchange schemes such as by GeoCities and LinkExchange, or through the PageTV-method, adopted as Libertaria Rings.

In short, there is a growing presence of sites dedicated to Libertaria on the Internet.

B. What is Libertaria?

It is hard to define what Libertaria is. According to spokespersons, anybody can have a go at defining what Libertaria is, but what counts is the links that are made on Libertaria pages to such definitions and descriptions. Descriptions that are clearly nonsense will simply not be linked to from Libertaria sites. The same principle is applied to the name Libertaria itself. Sites that deserve to be mentioned typically like to be included in the Libertaria WebRing. Corruption of the Libertaria principles will result in exclusion from such facilities. In other words, such things will sort themselves out in the Libertaria philosophy, there is no need to resort to official bodies to decide in matters like this.

Liberty and freedom are central to the Libertaria philosophy. As mentioned, those who contribute to the Libertaria presence on the Net, do so for free, without contractual arrangements or in return for money or favors. Commercial activities are not so much rejected, they are simply not seen as part of Libertaria.

Those who contribute to Libertaria sites do not automatically subscribe to the Libertaria philosophy. They may simply be commercial organizations that offer free services which happen to be used by Libertaria sites. Libertaria sites will simply prefer to use, say, graphics that are available for free, without implying that the providers of such graphics necessarily subscribe to the Libertaria philosophy. After all, the Libertaria philosophy is hard to define and there is no straight line indicating who does and who does not belong to Libertaria.

C. What comes free?

Clearly, there are differences in opinion as to what liberty is. What comes free? Doesn't everybody who offers something for free have a purpose with that? In the eyes of Libertaria supporters, many people are keen to offer their creations to the world, without expecting to get paid for that. There are thousands of sites full of poetry, computer images, etc, that people put on the Web just because they enjoy doing that and because they like it when others visit their sites, appreciating the graphics or enjoying the poetry.

The problem is - from the Libertaria perspective - that many people who create poetry or graphics and put them on the Web, will assert copyright. This implies that a contractual agreement is necessary for others to use such work. In the Libertaria philosophy, such commercial arrangements are rejected. Even if work is put in the public domain, the creator still enjoys moral rights, i.e. courts can grant such creators compensation to be paid by a user who is deemed to have inappropriately handled such work. In the Libertaria philosophy, laws and courts are rejected. This makes it hard to live up to the Libertaria ideal. Spokespersons are quick to add that they will avoid judgements such as: this is part of Libertaria and this is not. Instead, they rather make comparisons, such as: this comes closer to the Libertaria ideal than that.

Currently, the Netscape's Navigator browser comes close to the Libertaria philosophy. For years, Netscape has allowed people to use its Navigator client software for free. Recently, Netscape has also decided to release Navigator's source code for free on the Internet as freeware. This means that software developers will be able to modify the code without breaching licensing conditions. Netscape will hang on to the Navigator trademark, though, thus controlling which innovations will be released under the Navigator name in future. But its approach is clearly much more in line with the Libertaria philosophy than most of the other large software suppliers. Nevertheless, Netscape as a company remains a commercial enterprise, offering other software on a commercial licence basis. As such it cannot be part of Libertaria.

Another contentious issue is the use of advertising. Service providers such as GeoCities thrive on advertising. But again, this is an issue that sorts itself out, according to Libertaria spokespersons. A site at GeoCities can come pretty close to what is currently possible within the Libertaria philosophy. There may be sites that offer free pages without advertising, but they tend to promote all kinds of other things, often by stealth. In some cases, the only purpose of providing so-called free services, is to obtain personal details that are sold off to marketing companies. As time goes by, Libertaria spokespersons argue, more free facilities will emerge and Libertaria sites will simply link to those that come closest to the Libertaria ideals. Those who follow the Libertaria ideals, will tend to select free facilities that do not add advertising. As time goes by, Libertaria sites are expected to move ever closer to the Libertaria ideals, as well as redefining those ideals in the light of new opportunities and participants.

D. Linking Criteria

What are the criteria currently used by Libertaria sites to make links to other sites? Clearly, advertising is one criteria, but it does not weigh as heavily as the financial transactions and commercial operations that Libertaria rejects.

As an example, a service provider such as Xoom offers free pages and free graphics. For Xoom, this is one big PR exercise, a promotion to get people to buy graphics that Xoom offers commercially. Accordingly, a site at Xoom has to display the Xoom logo. Other Libertaria sites generally will not have problems linking to such a site, but Xoom itself, though, can obviously not be regarded as a Libertaria site.

Charitable organizations may offer all kinds of assistance to people in need. Such assistance is generally provided for free. Consequently, many charitable sites come close to the Libertaria philosophy in that respect. But their charitable deeds are often meant to promote religions that are out to restrict freedom in all kinds of ways. They will not want to be associated with a movement such as Libertaria that goes so much further regarding freedom. Most voluntary organizations are actively asking for donations. Such donations are tax-deductable and as such are part of the monetary and taxation systems controlled by the Government.

Libertaria accepts no financial donations, as all financial gifts and transactions are rejected as part of the coercive system of government. Libertaria will never ask for membership fees, or other forms of financial contributions. Libertaria rejects membership agreements in which one has to put a signature somewhere. Whether one belongs to Libertaria is decided in the hearts and minds of people, not on paper. If people want to make contributions, there is nobody stopping them. They can do so anytime they want. But as soon as money is involved, the contribution itself is compromized. If people have something to offer, they can do so for free, because they want to, not because they are paid to do it.

Similarly, many providers of free services insist that users say 'yes' to some kind of agreement, usually with the aim of indemnifying the supplier against litigation. Libertaria argues against such agreements, just like it rejects all contractual agreements. As one Libertaria spokesperson puts it, such an agreement does not protect the supplier against litigation at all. If the supplier is clearly negligant or malicious, users will demand compensation, whether or not such agreements have been signed. Moreover, there will be a huge PR backlash in case of negligance, e.g. if personal details leak out. So, there is really no need for such agreements. If the only purpose of such agreements is to make users aware of the limitations of specific services, suppliers should simply add a policy page in which such limitations are clarified.

Libertaria spokespersons are keen to discuss such issues on bulletin boards. Such discussions often make people take out links to certain sites, but on the other hand they also expose and perhaps promote the Libertaria philosophy. As long as the growth in sites and other Libertaria presence continues as it does, the balance must be positive for Libertaria.




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