Words to avoid when talking about free software (II – Legal)

In other post I talked about the list that the Free Software Foundation maintains with words to avoid or use with care when talking about free software.

I will continue to summarize this list, now with the words about legal aspects of software.

Here you can find comments about these words: compensation (for authors), creator, digital rights management, intellectual property, piracy, and protection.


(This I copy directly from the FSF web, I cannot find better words to explain it): To speak of “compensation for authors” in connection with copyright carries the assumptions that (1) copyright exists for the sake of authors and (2) whenever we read something, we take on a debt to the author which we must then repay.


They recommend saying “author” instead. In addition to this, in many cases “copyright holder” is the most correct word.

My comments: specially in case of software, many companies hold the rights of the software developed, not the particular authors.

Digital Rights Management

That word refers to technical schemes designed to impose restrictions on computer users. The word “rights” sees the issue from the viewpoint of the few that impose the restrictions,  ignoring that of the general public. The FSF proposes Digital Restrictions Management as an alternative.

My comments: I like very much the “alternative meanings” for the same acronym. It’s funny, clever and makes people think about the topic.

Intellectual property

This term is confusing because may refer to copyright, patents, trademarks, and other. These laws have little in common. It is best to talk specifically about “copyright,” or about “patents,” or about “trademarks.”

My comments: It is worth to have a look at this slides explaining the main concepts related to intellectual property. They are part of the documentation provided in the Legal Aspects course of the master about free software that I am attending.


This is like saying that making unauthorized copies is equivalent to attacking ships on the high seas, kidnapping and murdering the people on them. As alternative we can use and recommend neutral terms such as “unauthorized copying” (or “prohibited copying” for the situation where it is illegal).

My comments: I never liked the word “piracy” in these contexts, it always sounded anachronistic to me. Later the authentic piracy became again on top of the news because of the resourgement of attacks to commercial ships in Indic Ocean. So when you heard or read about “the problem of piracy” you could not know if they were talking about ship kidnapping or software copying, and this equivalence became not just strange but outrageous to me.


FSF argues that this word carries the implication of preventing destruction or suffering; therefore, it encourages people to identify with the owner and publisher who benefit from copyright, rather than with the users who are restricted by it. They prefer to use neutral terms, or for example, instead of “copyright protection”, just say “copyright”.

About larjona

My name is Laura Arjona Reina, I am a libre software user and fan of the free culture. If you want to contact me you can write an email to larjona [at] larjona [dot] net I am @larjona at identi.ca in the Pump.io social network. --- Me llamo Laura Arjona Reina, soy usuaria de software libre y fan de la cultura libre. Si quieres contactar conmigo puedes escribir a larjona [en] larjona [punto] net Soy @larjona en el servidor identi.ca, de la red social Pump.io.
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