Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing

There are a number of words and phrases that we recommend avoiding, or avoiding in certain contexts and usages. Some are ambiguous or misleading; others presuppose a viewpoint that we disagree with, and we hope you disagree with it too.

Ad-blocker” |Access” |Alternative” |Artificial Intelligence” |Assets” |BSD-style” |Closed” |Cloud Computing” |Commercial” |Compensation” |Consume” |Consumer” |Content” |Copyright Owner” |Creative Commons licensed” |Creator” |Digital Goods” |Digital Locks” |Digital Rights Management” |Ecosystem” |FLOSS” |For free” |FOSS” |Freely available” |Freemium” |Free-to-play” |Freeware” |Give away software” |Google” |Hacker” |Intellectual property” |Internet of Things” |LAMP system” |Linux system” |Market” |Modern” |Monetize” |MP3 player” |Open” |Opt out” |PC” |Photoshop” |Piracy” |Players (said of businesses)” |PowerPoint” |Product” |Protection” |RAND” |SaaS” |Sell software” |Sharing (personal data)” |Sharing economy” |Skype” |Smart speaker” |Software Industry” |Source model” | Theft” |Trusted Computing” |Vendor


When the purpose of some program is to block advertisements, “ad-blocker” is a good term for it. However, the GNU browser IceCat blocks advertisements that track the user as consequence of broader measures to prevent surveillance by web sites. This is not an “ad-blocker,” this is surveillance protection.


It is a common misunderstanding to think free software means that the public has “access” to a program. That is not what free software means.

The criterion for free software is not about who has “access” to the program; the four essential freedoms concern what a user that has a copy of the program is allowed to do with it. For instance, freedom 2 says that that user is free to make another copy and give or sell it to you. But no user is obligated to do that for you; you do not have a right to demand a copy of that program from any user.

In particular, if you write a program yourself and never offer a copy to anyone else, that program is free software albeit in a trivial way, because every user that has a copy has the four essential freedoms (since the only such user is you).

In practice, when many users have copies of a program, someone is sure to post it on the internet, giving everyone access to it. We think people ought to do that, if the program is useful. But that isn't a requirement of free software.

There is one specific point in which a question of having access is directly pertinent to free software: the GNU GPL permits giving a particular user access to download a program's source code as a substitute for physically giving that user a copy of the source. This applies to the special case in which the user already has a copy of the program in non-source form.

Instead of with free software, the public has access to the program, we say, with free software, the users have the essential freedoms and with free software, the users have control of what the program does for them.


We don't describe free software in general as an “alternative” to proprietary, because that word presumes all the “alternatives” are legitimate and each additional one makes users better off. In effect, it assumes that free software ought to coexist with software that does not respect users' freedom.

We believe that distribution as free software is the only ethical way to make software available for others to use. The other methods, nonfree software and Service as a Software Substitute subjugate their users. We do not think it is good to offer users those “alternatives” to free software.

Special circumstances can drive users toward running one particular program for a certain job. For instance, when a web page sends JavaScript client code to the user's browser, that drives users toward running that specific client program rather than any possible other. In such a case, there is a reason to describe any other code for that job as an alternative.

“Artificial Intelligence”

The moral panic over ChatGPT has led to confusion because people often speak of it as “artificial intelligence.” Is ChatGPT properly described as artificial intelligence? Should we call it that? Professor Sussman of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab argues convincingly that we should not.

Normally, “intelligence” means having knowledge and understanding, at least about some kinds of things. A true artificial intelligence should have some knowledge and understanding. General artificial intelligence would be able to know and understand about all sorts of things; that does not exist, but we do have systems of limited artificial intelligence which can know and understand in certain limited fields.

By contrast, ChatGPT knows nothing and understands nothing. Its output is merely smooth babbling. Anything it states or implies about reality is fabrication (unless “fabrication” implies more knowledge than that system really has). Seeing a correct answer to any real question in ChatGPT output is folly, as many have learned to their dismay.

Here is how we recommend using terminology for systems based on trained neural networks:

  • “Artificial intelligence” is a suitable term for systems that understand and reason within some domain, whether small or large.
  • “Bullshit generators” is a suitable term for systems like ChatGPT that generate smooth-sounding verbiage that appears to assert things about the world, without understanding that verbiage semantically.
  • “Generative systems” is a suitable term for systems that generate artistic works for which “truth” and “falsehood” are not applicable.
  • “Neural network systems” is a suitable term for systems that train and use a neural net. Some of these systems are artificial intelligence, while others are bullshit generators or generative systems.

    The systems of today that are often (rightly or wrongly) called “artificial intelligence” are neural network systems, but in the future they may be implemented in other ways.

  • “Machine learning systems” is basically equivalent to “neural network systems” under today's technology.

We can refer to ChatGPT and such like as generative neural network systems, because that's how they work. They train neural networks to recognize patterns, and then generate output by following them.

There are systems which use neural networks to learn to recognize specific important patterns in data. Their output can reflect real knowledge—for instance, whether an image of tissue shows a certain medical condition, or whether an insect is a bee-eating Asian hornet. Scientists validate the output by comparing the system's judgment against experimental tests. That justifies referring to these systems as “artificial intelligence.” Likewise the systems that antisocial media use to decide what to show or recommend to a user, since the companies validate that they actually “work” in the sense of increasing “user engagement,” even though that manipulation of users may be harmful to them and to society as a whole.

Businesses and governments use similar systems to evaluate how to deal with potential clients or people accused of various things. These evaluation results are often validated carelessly and the result can be systematic injustice. But since it purports to understand, it qualifies at least as attempted artificial intelligence.

As that example shows, artificial intelligence can be broken, or systematically biased, or work badly, just as natural intelligence can. Here we are concerned with whether that term fits specific instances, not with whether they do good or harm.

When bullshit generators output text that appears to make factual statements but describe nonexistent people, places, things or events, it is fashionable those statements “hallucinations.” That fashion is a confusing mistake because it presumes that the system has some sort of understanding of the meaning of its output. We know it has no such thing. To hallucinate requires consciousness, which these systems totally lack.


To refer to published works as “assets,” or “digital assets,” is even worse than calling them “content”—it dismisses their value to society aside from commercial value.


The expression “BSD-style license” leads to confusion because it lumps together licenses that have important differences. For instance, the original BSD license with the advertising clause is incompatible with the GNU General Public License, but the revised BSD license is compatible with the GPL.

To avoid confusion, it is best to name the specific license in question and avoid the vague term “BSD-style.”


Describing nonfree software as “closed” clearly refers to the term “open source.” In the free software movement, we do not want to be confused with the open source camp, so we are careful to avoid saying things that would encourage people to lump us in with them. For instance, we avoid describing nonfree software as “closed.” We call it “nonfree” or “proprietary”.

“Cloud Computing”

The term “cloud computing” (or just “cloud,” in the context of computing) is a marketing buzzword with no coherent meaning. It is used for a range of different activities whose only common characteristic is that they use the Internet for something beyond transmitting files. Thus, the term spreads confusion. If you base your thinking on it, your thinking will be confused (or, could we say, “cloudy”?).

When thinking about or responding to a statement someone else has made using this term, the first step is to clarify the topic. What scenario is the statement about? What is a good, clear term for that scenario? Once the topic is clearly formulated, coherent thought about it becomes possible.

One of the many meanings of “cloud computing” is storing your data in online services. In most scenarios, that is foolish because it exposes you to surveillance.

Another meaning (which overlaps that but is not the same thing) is Service as a Software Substitute, which denies you control over your computing. You should never use SaaSS.

Another meaning is renting a remote physical server, or virtual server. These practices are ok under certain circumstances.

Another meaning is accessing your own server from your own mobile device. That raises no particular ethical issues.

The NIST definition of “cloud computing” mentions three scenarios that raise different ethical issues: Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service. However, that definition does not match the common use of “cloud computing,” since it does not include storing data in online services. Software as a Service as defined by NIST overlaps considerably with Service as a Software Substitute, which mistreats the user, but the two concepts are not equivalent.

These different computing practices don't even belong in the same discussion. The best way to avoid the confusion the term “cloud computing” spreads is not to use the term “cloud” in connection with computing. Talk about the scenario you mean, and call it by a specific term.

Curiously, Larry Ellison, a proprietary software developer, also noted the vacuity of the term “cloud computing.” He decided to use the term anyway because, as a proprietary software developer, he isn't motivated by the same ideals as we are.


Please don't use “commercial” as a synonym for “nonfree.” That confuses two entirely different issues.

A program is commercial if it is developed as a business activity. A commercial program can be free or nonfree, depending on its manner of distribution. Likewise, a program developed by a school or an individual can be free or nonfree, depending on its manner of distribution. The two questions—what sort of entity developed the program and what freedom its users have—are independent.

In the first decade of the free software movement, free software packages were almost always noncommercial; the components of the GNU/Linux operating system were developed by individuals or by nonprofit organizations such as the FSF and universities. Later, in the 1990s, free commercial software started to appear.

Free commercial software is a contribution to our community, so we should encourage it. But people who think that “commercial” means “nonfree” will tend to think that the “free commercial” combination is self-contradictory, and dismiss the possibility. Let's be careful not to use the word “commercial” in that way.


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. The first assumption is simply false, and the second is outrageous.

“Compensating the rights-holders” adds a further swindle: you're supposed to imagine that means paying the authors, and occasionally it does, but most of the time it means a subsidy for the same publishing companies that are pushing unjust laws on us.


“Consume” refers to what we do with food: we ingest it, after which the food as such no longer exists. By analogy, we employ the same word for other products whose use uses them up. Applying it to durable goods, such as clothing or appliances, is a stretch. Applying it to published works (programs, recordings on a disk or in a file, books on paper or in a file), whose nature is to last indefinitely and which can be run, played or read any number of times, is stretching the word so far that it snaps. Playing a recording, or running a program, does not consume it.

Those who use “consume” in this context will say they don't mean it literally. What, then, does it mean? It means to regard copies of software and other works from a narrow economistic point of view. “Consume” is associated with the economics of material commodities, such as the fuel or electricity that a car uses up. Gasoline is a commodity, and so is electricity. Commodities are fungible: there is nothing special about a drop of gasoline that your car burns today versus another drop that it burned last week.

What does it mean to think of works of authorship as a commodity, with the assumption that there is nothing special about any one story, article, program, or song? That is the twisted viewpoint of the owner or the accountant of a publishing company, someone who doesn't appreciate the published works as such. It is no surprise that proprietary software developers would like you to think of the use of software as a commodity. Their twisted viewpoint comes through clearly in this article, which also refers to publications as “content.”

The narrow thinking associated with the idea that we “consume content” paves the way for laws such as the DMCA that forbid users to break the Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) facilities in digital devices. If users think what they do with these devices is “consume,” they may see such restrictions as natural.

It also encourages the acceptance of “streaming” services, which use DRM to perversely limit listening to music, or watching video, to squeeze those activities into the assumptions of the word “consume.”

Why is this perverse usage spreading? Some may feel that the term sounds sophisticated, but rejecting it with cogent reasons can appear even more sophisticated. Some want to generalize about all kinds of media, but the usual English verbs (“read,” “listen to,” “watch”) don't do this. Others may be acting from business interests (their own, or their employers'). Their use of the term in prestigious forums gives the impression that it's the “correct” term.

To speak of “consuming” music, fiction, or any other artistic works is to treat them as commodities rather than as art. Do we want to think of published works that way? Do we want to encourage the public to do so?

Those who answer no, please join me in shunning the term “consume” for this.

What to use instead? You can use specific verbs such as “read,” “listen to,” “watch” or “look at,” since they help to restrain the tendency to overgeneralize.

If you insist on generalizing, you can use the expression “attend to,” which requires less of a stretch than “consume.” For a work meant for practical use, “use” is best.

See also the following entry.


The term “consumer,” when used to refer to the users of computing, is loaded with assumptions we should reject. Some come from the idea that using the program “consumes” the program (see the previous entry), which leads people to impose on copiable digital works the economic conclusions that were drawn about uncopiable material products.

In addition, describing the users of software as “consumers” refers to a framing in which people are limited to selecting between whatever “products” are available in the “market.” There is no room in this framing for the idea that users can directly exercise control over what a program does.

To describe people who are not limited to passive use of works, we suggest terms such as “individuals” and “citizens,” rather than “consumers.”

This problem with the word “consumer” has been noted before.


If you want to describe a feeling of comfort and satisfaction, by all means say you are “content,” but using the word as a noun to describe works and communications through which people have expressed themselves adopts an attitude you might rather avoid: it treats them as a commodity whose purpose is to fill a box and make money. In effect, it disparages all the works by focusing on the box that is full. To avoid taking that attitude, you can call them “works,” “publications,” “messages,” “communications,” as well as various other words that are more specific.

Those who use the term “content” are often the publishers that push for increased copyright power in the name of the authors (“creators,” as they say) of the works. The term “content” reveals their real attitude towards these works and their authors.

The same word, “content,” has another usage which is different enough in meaning that it does not raise this issue. It appears in the expression, “technical content.” The usage of that expression generally relates to one specific document or publication, and refers to “the information in that one.” This usage doesn't embody any attitude towards publications and communications in general.

Likewise, the word “contents” does not raise this issue. It is a form of the word “content,” but it has a different meaning. Talking about the “contents” of a file or the “table of contents” of a book does not imply an attitude towards files in general or books in general.

We first condemned this usage of “content” in 2002. Since then, Tom Chatfield recognized the same point in The Guardian:

Content itself is beside the point—as the very use of words like content suggests. The moment you start labelling every single piece of writing in the world “content,” you have conceded its interchangeability: its primary purpose as mere grist to the metrical mill.

In other words, “content” reduces publications and writings to a sort of pap, fit to be metered and piped through the “tubes” of the internet.

Later, Peter Bradshaw noticed it too.

This is what happens when studios treat movies as pure, undifferentiated corporate “content,” a Gazprom pipeline of superhero mush which can be turned off when the accountants say that it makes sense to do so.

Martin Scorsese condemned the attitude of “content” in regard to films.

The attitude implied by “content” is illustrated pointedly in this critical description of the development path of platforms run by people who base their thinking on that concept.

The article uses this word over and over, along with “consume” and “creators.” Perhaps that is meant to illustrate the way those people like to think.

See also Courtney Love's open letter to Steve Case and search for “content provider” in that page. Alas, Ms. Love is unaware that the term “intellectual property” is also biased and confusing.

However, as long as other people use the term “content provider,” political dissidents can well call themselves “malcontent providers.”

The term “content management” takes the prize for vacuity. “Content” means “some sort of information,” and “management” in this context means “doing something with it.” So a “content management system” is a system for doing something to some sort of information. Nearly all programs fit that description.

In most cases, that term really refers to a system for updating pages on a web site. For that, we recommend the term “web site revision system” or “website revision system” (WRS).

“Copyright Owner”

Copyright is an artificial privilege, handed out by the state to achieve a public interest and lasting a period of time—not a natural right like owning a house or a shirt. Lawyers used to recognize this by referring to the recipient of that privilege as a “copyright holder.”

A few decades ago, copyright holders began trying to reduce awareness of this point. In addition to citing frequently the bogus concept of “intellectual property,” they also started calling themselves “copyright owners.” Please join us in resisting by using the traditional term “copyright holders” instead.

“Creative Commons licensed”

The most important licensing characteristic of a work is whether it is free. Creative Commons publishes seven licenses; three are free (CC BY, CC BY-SA and CC0) and the rest are nonfree. Thus, to describe a work as “Creative Commons licensed” fails to say whether it is free, and suggests that the question is not important. The statement may be accurate, but the omission is harmful.

To encourage people to pay attention to the most important distinction, always specify which Creative Commons license is used, as in “licensed under CC BY-SA.” If you don't know which license a certain work uses, find out and then make your statement.


The term “creator” as applied to authors implicitly compares them to a deity (“the creator”). The term is used by publishers to elevate authors' moral standing above that of ordinary people in order to justify giving them increased copyright power, which the publishers can then exercise in their name. We recommend saying “author” instead. However, in many cases “copyright holder” is what you really mean. These two terms are not equivalent: often the copyright holder is not the author.

“Digital Goods”

The term “digital goods,” as applied to copies of works of authorship, identifies them with physical goods—which cannot be copied, and which therefore have to be manufactured in quantity and sold. This metaphor encourages people to judge issues about software or other digital works based on their views and intuitions about physical goods. It also frames issues in terms of economics, whose shallow and limited values don't include freedom and community.

“Digital Locks”

“Digital locks” is used to refer to Digital Restrictions Management by some who criticize it. The problem with this term is that it fails to do justice to the badness of DRM. The people who adopted that term did not think it through.

Locks are not necessarily oppressive or bad. You probably own several locks, and their keys or codes as well; you may find them useful or troublesome, but they don't oppress you, because you can open and close them. Likewise, we find encryption invaluable for protecting our digital files. That too is a kind of digital lock that you have control over.

DRM is like a lock placed on you by someone else, who refuses to give you the key—in other words, like handcuffs. Therefore, the proper metaphor for DRM is “digital handcuffs,” not “digital locks.”

A number of opposition campaigns have chosen the unwise term “digital locks”; to get things back on the right track, we must firmly insist on correcting this mistake. The FSF can support a campaign that opposes “digital locks” if we agree on the substance; however, when we state our support, we conspicuously replace the term with “digital handcuffs” and say why.

“Digital Rights Management”

“Digital Rights Management” (abbreviated “DRM”) refers to technical mechanisms designed to impose restrictions on computer users. The use of the word “rights” in this term is propaganda, designed to lead you unawares into seeing the issue from the viewpoint of the few that impose the restrictions, and ignoring that of the general public on whom these restrictions are imposed.

Good alternatives include “Digital Restrictions Management,” and “digital handcuffs.”

Please sign up to support our campaign to abolish DRM.


It is inadvisable to describe the free software community, or any human community, as an “ecosystem,” because that word implies the absence of ethical judgment.

The term “ecosystem” implicitly suggests an attitude of nonjudgmental observation: don't ask how what should happen, just study and understand what does happen. In an ecosystem, some organisms consume other organisms. In ecology, we do not ask whether it is right for an owl to eat a mouse or for a mouse to eat a seed, we only observe that they do so. Species' populations grow or shrink according to the conditions; this is neither right nor wrong, merely an ecological phenomenon, even if it goes so far as the extinction of a species.

By contrast, beings that adopt an ethical stance towards their surroundings can decide to preserve things that, without their intervention, might vanish—such as civil society, democracy, human rights, peace, public health, a stable climate, clean air and water, endangered species, traditional arts…and computer users' freedom.


The term “FLOSS,” meaning “Free/Libre and Open Source Software,” was coined as a way to be neutral between free software and open source. If neutrality is your goal, “FLOSS” is the best way to be neutral. But if you want to show you stand for freedom, don't use a neutral term.

“For free”

If you want to say that a program is free software, please don't say that it is available “for free.” That term specifically means “for zero price.” Free software is a matter of freedom, not price.

Free software copies are often available for free—for example, by downloading via FTP. But free software copies are also available for a price on CD-ROMs; meanwhile, proprietary software copies are occasionally available for free in promotions, and some proprietary packages are normally available at no charge to certain users.

To avoid confusion, you can say that the program is available “as free software.”


The term “FOSS,” meaning “Free and Open Source Software,” was coined as a way to be neutral between free software and open source, but it doesn't really do that. If neutrality is your goal, “FLOSS” is better. But if you want to show you stand for freedom, don't use a neutral term.

Instead of FOSS, we say, free software or free (libre) software.

“Freely available”

Don't use “freely available software” as a synonym for “free software.” The terms are not equivalent. Software is “freely available” if anyone can easily get a copy. “Free software” is defined in terms of the freedom of users that have a copy of it. These are answers to different questions.


The confusing term “freemium” is used in marketing to describe nonfree software whose standard version is gratis, with paid nonfree add-ons available.

Using this term works against the free software movement, because it leads people to think of “free” as meaning “zero price.”


The confusing term “free-to-play” (acronym “F2P”) is used in marketing to describe nonfree games which don't require a payment before a user starts to play. In many of these games, doing well in the game requires paying later, so the term “gratis-to-start” is a more accurate description.

Using this term works against the free software movement, because it leads people to think of “free” as meaning “zero price.”


Please don't use the term “freeware” as a synonym for “free software.” The term “freeware” was used often in the 1980s for programs released only as executables, with source code not available. Today it has no particular agreed-on definition.

When using languages other than English, please avoid borrowing English terms such as “free software” or “freeware.” It is better to translate the term “free software” into your language.

By using a word in your own language, you show that you are really referring to freedom and not just parroting some mysterious foreign marketing concept. The reference to freedom may at first seem strange or disturbing to your compatriots, but once they see that it means exactly what it says, they will really understand what the issue is.

“Give away software”

It's misleading to use the term “give away” to mean “distribute a program as free software.” This locution has the same problem as “for free”: it implies the issue is price, not freedom. One way to avoid the confusion is to say “release as free software.”


Please avoid using the term “google” as a verb, meaning to search for something on the internet. “Google” is just the name of one particular search engine among others. We suggest to use the term “search the web” or (in some contexts) just “search.” Try to use a search engine that respects your privacy; for instance, DuckDuckGo claims not to track its users. (There is no way for outsiders to verify claims of that kind.)


A hacker is someone who enjoys playful cleverness—not necessarily with computers. The programmers in the old MIT free software community of the 60s and 70s referred to themselves as hackers. Around 1980, journalists who discovered the hacker community mistakenly took the term to mean “security breaker.”

Please don't spread this mistake. People who break security are “crackers.”

“Intellectual property”

Publishers and lawyers like to describe copyright as “intellectual property”—a term also applied to patents, trademarks, and other more obscure areas of law. These laws have so little in common, and differ so much, that it is ill-advised to generalize about them. It is best to talk specifically about “copyright,” or about “patents,” or about “trademarks.”

The term “intellectual property” carries a hidden assumption—that the way to think about all these disparate issues is based on an analogy with physical objects, and our conception of them as physical property.

When it comes to copying, this analogy disregards the crucial difference between material objects and information: information can be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can't be.

To avoid spreading unnecessary bias and confusion, it is best to adopt a firm policy not to speak or even think in terms of “intellectual property”.

The hypocrisy of calling these powers “rights” is starting to make the World “Intellectual Property” Organization embarrassed.

“Internet of Things”

When companies decided to make computerized appliances that would connect over the internet to the manufacturer's server, and therefore could easily snoop on their users, they realized that this would not sound very nice. So they came up with a cute, appealing name: the “Internet of Things.”

Experience shows that these products often do spy on their users. They are also tailor-made for giving people biased advice. In addition, the manufacturer can sabotage the product by turning off the server it depends on.

We call them the “Internet of Stings.”

“LAMP system”

“LAMP” stands for “Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP”—a common combination of software to use on a web server, except that “Linux” in this context really refers to the GNU/Linux system. So instead of “LAMP” it should be “GLAMP”: “GNU, Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP.”

“Linux system”

Linux is the name of the kernel that Linus Torvalds developed starting in 1991. The operating system in which Linux is used is basically GNU with Linux added. To call the whole system “Linux” is both unfair and confusing. Please call the complete system GNU/Linux, both to give the GNU Project credit and to distinguish the whole system from the kernel alone.


It is misleading to describe the users of free software, or the software users in general, as a “market.”

This is not to say there is no room for markets in the free software community. If you have a free software support business, then you have clients, and you trade with them in a market. As long as you respect their freedom, we wish you success in your market.

But the free software movement is a social movement, not a business, and the success it aims for is not a market success. We are trying to serve the public by giving it freedom—not competing to draw business away from a rival. To equate this campaign for freedom to a business's efforts for mere success is to deny the importance of freedom and legitimize proprietary software.


The term “modern” makes sense from a descriptive perspective—for instance, solely to distinguish newer periods and ways from older ones.

It becomes a problem when it carries the presumption that older ways are “old-fashioned”; that is, presumed to be worse. In technological fields where businesses make the choices and impose them on users, the reverse is often true.


The proper definition of “monetize” is “to use something as currency.” For instance, human societies have monetized gold, silver, copper, printed paper, special kinds of seashells, and large rocks. However, we now see a tendency to use the word in another way, meaning “to use something as a basis for profit.”

That usage casts the profit as primary, and the thing used to get the profit as secondary. That attitude applied to a software project is objectionable because it would lead the developers to make the program proprietary, if they conclude that making it free/libre isn't sufficiently profitable.

A productive and ethical business can make money, but if it subordinates all else to profit, it is not likely to remain ethical.

“MP3 Player”

In the late 1990s it became feasible to make portable, solid-state digital audio players. Most players supported the patented MP3 codec, and that is still the case. Some players also supported the patent-free audio codecs Ogg Vorbis and FLAC, and a few couldn't play MP3-encoded files at all because their developers needed to protect themselves from the patents on MP3 format.

Using the term “MP3 players” for audio players in general has the effect of promoting the MP3 format and discouraging the other formats (some of which are technically superior as well). Even though the MP3 patents have expired, it is still undesirable to do that.

We suggest the term “digital audio player,” or simply “audio player” when that's clear enough, instead of “MP3 player.”


Please avoid using the term “open” or “open source” as a substitute for “free software.” Those terms refer to a different set of views based on different values. The free software movement campaigns for your freedom in your computing, as a matter of justice. The open source non-movement does not campaign for anything in this way.

When referring to the open source views, it's correct to use that name, but please do not use that term when talking about us, our software, or our views—that leads people to suppose our views are similar to theirs.

Instead of open source, we say, free software or free (libre) software.

“Opt out”

When applied to any form of computational mistreatment, “opt out” implies the choice is a minor matter of convenience. We recommend “reject,” “shun” or “escape from.”


It's OK to use the abbreviation “PC” to refer to a certain kind of computer hardware, but please don't use it with the implication that the computer is running Microsoft Windows. If you install GNU/Linux on the same computer, it is still a PC.

The term “WC” has been suggested for a computer running Windows.


Please avoid using the term “photoshop” as a verb, meaning any kind of photo manipulation or image editing in general. Photoshop is just the name of one particular image editing program, which should be avoided since it is proprietary. There are plenty of free programs for editing images, such as the GIMP.

“Players” (said of businesses)

To describe businesses as “players” presumes that they are motivated purely and simply by “winning” what they treat as a poker-like game—in effect, subordinating all else to profit. Often businesses (and their executives) do act that way, but not always, and we often pressure them to respect other values as well.

The moral cynicism of “players” resonates with a general condemnation of business, which to some extent business in general deserves; at the same time, it tends to dissuade the attempt to judge any business's acts or practices in moral terms. Even to raise the question of whether a certain business treats people unjustly is dissuaded by the “players” metaphor's murmuring, in the background, “Why bother asking?” let's avoid that metaphor.


Publishers often refer to copying they don't approve of as “piracy.” In this way, they imply that it is ethically equivalent to attacking ships on the high seas, kidnapping and murdering the people on them. Based on such propaganda, they have procured laws in most of the world to forbid copying in most (or sometimes all) circumstances. (They are still pressuring to make these prohibitions more complete.)

If you don't believe that copying not approved by the publisher is just like kidnapping and murder, you might prefer not to use the word “piracy” to describe it. Neutral terms such as “unauthorized copying” (or “prohibited copying” for the situation where it is illegal) are available for use instead. Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term such as “sharing information with your neighbor.”

A US judge, presiding over a trial for copyright infringement, recognized that “piracy” and “theft” are smear words.


Please avoid using the term “PowerPoint” to mean any kind of slide presentation. “PowerPoint” is just the name of one particular proprietary program to make presentations. For your freedom's sake, you should use only free software to make your presentations—which means, not PowerPoint. Recommended options include LaTeX's beamer class and LibreOffice Impress.


If you're talking about a product, by all means call it that. However, when referring to a service, please do not call it a “product.” If a service provider calls the service a “product,” please firmly insist on calling it a “service.” If a service provider calls a package deal a “product,” please firmly insist on calling it a “deal.”


Publishers' lawyers love to use the term “protection” to describe copyright. 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.

It is easy to avoid “protection” and use neutral terms instead. For example, instead of saying, “Copyright protection lasts a very long time,” you can say, “Copyright lasts a very long time.”

Likewise, instead of saying, “protected by copyright,” you can say, “covered by copyright” or just “copyrighted.”

If you want to criticize copyright rather than be neutral, you can use the term “copyright restrictions.” Thus, you can say, “Copyright restrictions last a very long time.”

The term “protection” is also used to describe malicious features. For instance, “copy protection” is a feature that interferes with copying. From the user's point of view, this is obstruction. So we could call that malicious feature “copy obstruction.” More often it is called Digital Restrictions Management (DRM)—see the Defective by Design campaign.

“RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory)”

Standards bodies that promulgate patent-restricted standards that prohibit free software typically have a policy of obtaining patent licenses that require a fixed fee per copy of a conforming program. They often refer to such licenses by the term “RAND,” which stands for “reasonable and non-discriminatory.”

That term whitewashes a class of patent licenses that are normally neither reasonable nor nondiscriminatory. It is true that these licenses do not discriminate against any specific person, but they do discriminate against the free software community, and that makes them unreasonable. Thus, half of the term “RAND” is deceptive and the other half is prejudiced.

Standards bodies should recognize that these licenses are discriminatory, and drop the use of the term “reasonable and non-discriminatory” or “RAND” to describe them. Until they do so, writers who do not wish to join in the whitewashing would do well to reject that term. To accept and use it merely because patent-wielding companies have made it widespread is to let those companies dictate the views you express.

We suggest the term “uniform fee only,” or “UFO” for short, as a replacement. It is accurate because the only condition in these licenses is a uniform royalty fee.

“SaaS” or “Software as a Service”

We used to say that SaaS (short for “Software as a Service”) is an injustice, but then we found that there was a lot of variation in people's understanding of which activities count as SaaS. So we switched to a new term, “Service as a Software Substitute” or “SaaSS.” This term has two advantages: it wasn't used before, so our definition is the only one, and it explains what the injustice consists of.

See Who Does That Server Really Serve? for discussion of this issue.

In Spanish we continue to use the term “software como servicio” because the joke of “software como ser vicio” (“software, as being pernicious”) is too good to give up.

“Sell software”

The term “sell software” is ambiguous. Strictly speaking, exchanging a copy of a free program for a sum of money is selling the program, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. However, people usually associate the term “selling software” with proprietary restrictions on the subsequent use of the software. You can be clear, and prevent confusion, by saying either “distributing copies of a program for a fee” or “imposing proprietary restrictions on the use of a program.”

See Selling Free Software for further discussion of this issue.

“Sharing (personal data)”

When companies manipulate or lure people into revealing personal data and thus ceding their privacy, please don't refer to this as “sharing.” We use the term “sharing” to refer to noncommercial cooperation, including noncommercial redistribution of exact copies of published works, and we say this is good. Please don't apply that word to a practice which is harmful and dangerous.

When one company redistributes collected personal data to another company, that is even less deserving of the term “sharing.”

“Sharing economy”

The term “sharing economy” is not a good way to refer to services such as Uber and Airbnb that arrange business transactions between people. We use the term “sharing” to refer to noncommercial cooperation, including noncommercial redistribution of exact copies of published works. Stretching the word “sharing” to include these transactions undermines its meaning, so we don't use it in this context.

A more suitable term for businesses like Uber is the “piecework service economy” or “gig economy.”


Please avoid using the term “skype” as a verb, meaning any kind of video communication or telephony over the Internet in general. “Skype” is just the name of one particular proprietary program, one that spies on its users. If you want to make video and voice calls over the Internet in a way that respects both your freedom and your privacy, try one of the numerous free Skype replacements.

“Smart speaker”

This term is totally absurd. It refers to products that listen and understand voice commands; they also have a speaker for speaking output from those commands. Their primary function is to listen to commands. Let's call them “voice command listeners.”

“Software Industry”

The term “software industry” encourages people to imagine that software is always developed by a sort of factory and then delivered to “consumers.” The free software community shows this is not the case. Software businesses exist, and various businesses develop free and/or nonfree software, but those that develop free software are not run like factories.

The term “industry” is being used as propaganda by advocates of software patents. They call software development “industry” and then try to argue that this means it should be subject to patent monopolies. The European Parliament, rejecting software patents in 2003, voted to define “industry” as “automated production of material goods.”

“Source model”

Wikipedia uses the term “source model” in a confused and ambiguous way. Ostensibly it refers to how a program's source is distributed, but the text confuses this with the development methodology. It distinguishes “open source” and ”shared source” as answers, but they overlap—Microsoft uses the latter as a marketing term to cover a range of practices, some of which are “open source.” Thus, this term really conveys no coherent information, but it provides an opportunity to say “open source” in pages describing free software programs.


The supporters of a too-strict, repressive form of copyright often use words like “stolen” and “theft” to refer to copyright infringement. This is spin, but they would like you to take it for objective truth.

Under the US legal system, copyright infringement is not theft. Laws about theft are not applicable to copyright infringement. The supporters of repressive copyright are making an appeal to authority—and misrepresenting what authority says.

To refute them, you can point to this real case which shows what can properly be described as “copyright theft.”

Unauthorized copying is forbidden by copyright law in many circumstances (not all!), but being forbidden doesn't make it wrong. In general, laws don't define right and wrong. Laws, at their best, attempt to implement justice. If the laws (the implementation) don't fit our ideas of right and wrong (the spec), the laws are what should change.

A US judge, presiding over a trial for copyright infringement, recognized that “piracy” and “theft” are smear-words.

“Trusted Computing”

“Trusted computing” is the proponents' name for a scheme to redesign computers so that application developers can trust your computer to obey them instead of you. From their point of view, it is “trusted”; from your point of view, it is “treacherous.”


Please don't use the term “vendor” to refer generally to anyone that develops or packages software. Many programs are developed in order to sell copies, and their developers are therefore their vendors; this even includes some free software packages. However, many programs are developed by volunteers or organizations which do not intend to sell copies. These developers are not vendors. Likewise, only some of the packagers of GNU/Linux distributions are vendors. We recommend the general term “supplier” instead.