Programming source code is speech

Title : Programming source code is speech, and should be protected by the First Amendment.
Date : 30-Mar-2002
By : Hack Hawk

Shortly before the arrest of Dmitry Sklyarov, I read statements from several different people declaring that programming source code should be considered speech. It should therefore be protected as such by the First Amendment.

For a very short time, about 1 month, I did not make a decision as to whether or not I agreed with this statement. After much thought and research, I've come to the solid conclusion that computer source code should without a doubt be protected by the first amendment as free speech. I felt it important to explain my reasons for arriving at this conclusion.

It's actually quite simple to explain why source code is speech. The source code of a computer program is basically a bunch of characters arranged in such a way, that they describe how a computer program should function.

Just as humans have many different languages in which we can use to communicate with each other, computer programmers can choose from a variety of different programming languages in which to describe the behavior of a given program.

Many of these programming languages take the form of human readable instructions. Some of these languages resemble our human languages so much, that I've written programming source code to communicate with my friends in a way that is even MORE understandable and direct than the English language alone.

In essence, the U.S. Government is currently attempting to legislate what types of programming sentences and paragraphs programmers can incorporate into their computer programs. The reason for these new legislative proposals are to address the problem of certain computer programs being used for the wrong purposes.

Imagine if somebody wrote an article on how to build a gun. A gun has many valuable purposes including self defense and subsistence. Sometimes guns are used in a manner that was not intended by those who design and manufacture the guns. If a gun owner decides to use his or her gun to murder someone, should the government punish the gun designers and manufacturers? The obvious conclusion is NO.

This is exactly what is happening to programmers right now. Programmers that design and develop computer programs are being punished when the programs they write are used in ways that they were not intended to be used.

The U.S. Government should NOT be legislating what can and can not be written in the form of programming source code. They should focus their energy on prosecuting those that abuse computer programs.

From the First Amendment - "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..."

The following hypothetical programming statement could be considered illegal if these proposed laws are allowed to take effect.

       COPY $FinancialDocument TO $CentralServer
A computer user could easily substitute $FinancialDocument with $CopyProtectedMusic, and thereby break the law. Just as gun designers and manufacturers should NOT become the policing force against murderers, computer programmers should NOT become the policing force that watches over copy protected documents or works.

The task of determining what programming sentences and paragraphs are legal, and what programming sentences and paragraphs are in violation of ANY proposed legislation is a task that is completely impossible to undertake.

Enforcing any such legislation will make criminals out of many harmless computer programmers with nothing more than a passion for developing programs to make our lives and jobs more efficient.

- Hack Hawk