My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A carefully argued book written by a savvy anthropologist. The main thrust of the book is the assertion that free software hackers or programmers practice a unique form of liberal politics through their “free” labor in creating a common or public good in the form of free software (she focuses on the Debian operating system), and in stewarding the legal freedom that users and contributors enjoy by using such software. Biella argues that several aspects of this technical and philosophical or ethical work lead to its success and have changed the way people think of intellectual property and public goods in other fields.
Biella does a great job of taking the reader through a history of free software and into the lives of free software programmers/hackers through their IRC chats, code snippets, jokes, and personal histories. As far as ethnography goes, this is a very accessible read. There is still a lot of jargon, both social scientific jargon and technical jargon, but the writing is clear. Her choice to use in-line parenthetical citations also helps to flag jargon that is meant to speak to a specific academic audience, letting the lay reader off the hook a bit.
It’s definitely a must-read for students of intellectual property law, software history, digital culture, and media activism