Open Source Justice Manifesto

The Open Source Justice Foundation is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt public charity dedicated to spreading access to justice globally through open-source protocols and technology. Learn more about OSJF's work at

Most people in the world are denied access to justice. An estimated four billion people live outside the protection of the law. Fifty-four percent of the world's population lives under some form of authoritarian rule. And even in relatively stable democracies, the justice gap between low- and high-income earners is well documented.

The state has failed to provide courts that offer equal justice to all.

This is not a secret. For decades, politicians, lawyers, and charities have publicly decried the lack of affordable and accessible legal services. But politicians' solution has been to simply funnel more taxpayer money into the failing court system. Lawyers continue to lobby for restrictive licensing requirements on the practice of law, jealously guarding their monopoly over justice. Legal aid charities do not exist to change this system, but to work within it. For these groups, "access to justice" means a wider door on the courthouse. They have no incentive to fundamentally alter the state-based justice system, a system that directly benefits them.

Those with the incentive to enact meaningful alternatives to this broken system are those that are excluded from it. These individuals and communities must take justice into their own hands. They should be empowered to resolve their own disputes peacefully and voluntarily without resort to the state, and guided by their own norms and standards of acceptable social conduct. Only once justice ceases to be the exclusive domain of the state can it spread freely to all.

Private, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) systems and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) technologies have the potential to drastically increase global access to justice. But the transformative power of conventional ADR and ODR tools are hindered by proprietary software licenses that shield source code from view. Without a way for users to verify the operation of these black-box solutions, they suffer from perceptions of unfairness or bias, which disincentivize use. And such closed-source licenses prevent communities from modifying the ODR tools to fit their specific needs.

By taking conventional ADR and ODR designs, however, and deploying them through free open-source software and protocols, communities and individuals can harness the full potential of these private dispute resolution systems. The result is Open Source Justice.

The tenets of the free and open-source software (FOSS) movement are aligned with the goal of advancing equal access to justice. FOSS is permissionless, inclusive, transparent, and anti-discriminatory.

Consider Richard Stallman's four essential freedoms for open source software:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.

  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others.

  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Freedom 0, the freedom to run a program for any purpose, embodies respect for the choices and sovereignty of others. Sovereign communities should be free to set their own norms and values, and decide for themselves how disputes should be resolved consistent with those norms and values.

Freedom 1, the freedom to access, study, and change source code, is essential to empowering sovereign individuals and communities to make those choices for themselves. This freedom further embodies the value of transparency, which is necessary for any dispute resolution system to gain legitimacy, trust, and perceptions of fairness.

Freedom 2, the freedom to redistribute copies to help others, will accelerate the spread of ODR and ADR tools to those jurisdictions where justice is lacking or diminished.

Freedom 3, allowing modification and redistribution of modified software, allows communities to adapt dispute resolution tools to fit their circumstances and values. It also allows communities that have created their own open-source dispute resolution systems to share their tools with other similarly situated or sympathetic communities -- again accelerating access to justice.

The FOSS movement places user freedom above all else. The user should be in control of the software, the software should not control the user.

Likewise, the Open Source Justice movement places the disputant's freedom above all else. While communities should be empowered to define their own concepts of justice and design their own procedures for provisioning that justice, individuals must be given the choice to opt in to their chosen justice system. Voluntaryness and non-coercion are hallmarks of Open Source Justice.

This is a call to all developers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders interested in real access to justice to devise, build, and support new ODR and ADR systems consistent with the values of the FOSS movement.

Join the Open Source Justice movement today.


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