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Helping Hacker Culture Grow

If you enjoyed the Jargon File, please help the culture that created it grow and flourish. Here are several ways you can help:

• If you are a writer or journalist, don't say or write hacker when you mean cracker. If you work with writers or journalists, educate them on this issue and push them to do the right thing. If you catch a newspaper or magazine abusing the work `hacker', write them and straighten them out (this appendix includes a model letter).

• If you're a techie or computer hobbyist, get involved with one of the free Unixes. Toss out that lame Microsoft OS, or confine it to one disk partition and put Linux or FreeBSD or NetBSD on the other one. And the next time your friend or boss is thinking about some proprietary software `solution' that costs more than it's worth, be ready to blow the competition away with open-source software running over a Unix.

• Contribute to organizations like the Free Software Foundation that promote the production of high-quality free and open-source software. You can reach the Free Software Foundation at, by phone at +1-617-542-5942, or by snail-mail at 59 Temple Place, Suite 330, Boston, MA 02111-1307 USA.

• Support the League for Programming Freedom, which opposes over-broad software patents that constantly threaten to blow up in hackers' faces, preventing them from developing innovative software for tomorrow's needs. You can reach the League for Programming Freedom at by phone at +1 617 621 7084, or by snail-mail at 1 Kendall Square #143, P.O.Box 9171, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 USA.

• Join the continuing fight against Internet censorship, visit the Center for Democracy and Technology Home Page at

• If you do nothing else, please help fight government attempts to seize political control of Internet content and restrict strong cryptography. The so-called `Communications Decency Act' was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, but U.S. cryptography policy still infringes our First Amendment rights. Surf to the Center for Democracy and technology's home page at to see what you can do to help fight censorship of the net.

Here's the text of a letter RMS wrote to the Wall Street Journal to complain about their policy of using "hacker" only in a pejorative sense. We hear that most major newspapers have the same policy. If you'd like to help change this situation, send your favorite newspaper the same letter - or, better yet, write your own letter.

Dear Editor:

This letter is not meant for publication, although you can publish it if you wish. It is meant specifically for you, the editor, not the public.

I am a hacker. That is to say, I enjoy playing with computers -- working with, learning about, and writing clever computer programs. I am not a cracker; I don't make a practice of breaking computer security.

There's nothing shameful about the hacking I do. But when I tell people I am a hacker, people think I'm admitting something naughty -- because newspapers such as yours misuse the word "hacker", giving the impression that it means "security breaker" and nothing else. You are giving hackers a bad name.

The saddest thing is that this problem is perpetuated deliberately. Your reporters know the difference between "hacker" and "security breaker". They know how to make the distinction, but you don't let them! You insist on using "hacker" pejoratively. When reporters try to use another word, you change it. When reporters try to explain the other meanings, you cut it.

Of course, you have a reason. You say that readers have become used to your insulting usage of "hacker", so that you cannot change it now. Well, you can't undo past mistakes today; but that is no excuse to repeat them tomorrow.

If I were what you call a "hacker", at this point I would threaten to crack your computer and crash it. But I am a hacker, not a cracker. I don't do that kind of thing! I have enough computers to play with at home and at work; I don't need yours. Besides, it's not my way to respond to insults with violence. My response is this letter.

You owe hackers an apology; but more than that, you owe us ordinary respect.

Sincerely, etc.

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