Pit Schultz on Fri, 26 Feb 1999 10:26:14 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Richard Stallman: Free Software and beyond

[nagging note on - how high can you go? once, free software
was only known by *real programmers* and other techfreaks, who
coded a big part of what later became LINUX, a monument for
the real existing new economy, still popular under the pure
GNU licence at http://www.debian.org or on CD for a small fee.
Today it's called 'open source' (which makes quite a difference
and is trademarked by Reverend Eric Raymond who actually is less
a coder then a libertarian missionary) and what sounds like a 
revelation is more like a media virus hunting software companies
all over the world, it may jump over into other digital supply
chains and severely infect the knowledge economy as it did
definetly with this list, counting the number of *stuff* pushed
through it under this topic. it seems almost that the hype is
there to neutralize the movement but there are profound questions
driving this issue. the following introduction was written by
St. Stallmann himself for the UNESCO forum on "info-ethics" which
tried to "identify" world problems from 10.000 miles above. 
(remember? inforich&infopoor) as you know - the US authorities don't
care very much about such international entities lately 
-- and also the non-elected european government decided to follow
the hardliner lobbyists by criminalizing temporary copies, proxy
servers etc. so, maybe uncle Soros cares, "open source for the
open society"? why wait for GNU windows or MS Linux as there is
a need for new kinds of well placed funding all over the third
sector. open *your* source, honey. i still prefer when things are
simply free, but, as the Americans say: there is no free lunch.
more about food and "intellectual property" if you follow the
ongoing Monsanto opera. - nagging note off]


Mr Richard Stallman Founder of GNU (which led to the free
software GNU/Linux operating system)

United States of America

The author speaks about the free software movement and its
implications for computing literature and scholarship in
the age of computer networks. The copyright system, though
beneficial and painless when carefully applied to printing
press technology, becomes obstructive and harsh when
applied to computers and computer networks such as we have
today. It is also inefficient, since it acts mainly to
enrich media business, and only incidentally to promote
art or science. The success of the free software movement
points towards alternative social systems for the use of
published works, ways of promoting publication that accord
with the nature of digital information technology and
allow the public full use of its benefits.



Mr Richard Stallman Founder of the GNU Project United
States of America

Digital information technology contributes to the world by
making it easier to copy and modify information. Computers
promise to make this easier for all of us.

Not everyone wants it to be easier. The system of
copyright gives software programs ``owners'', most of whom
aim to withhold software's potential benefit from the rest
of the public. They would like to be the only ones who can
copy and modify the software that we use.

The copyright system grew up with printing---a technology
for mass production copying. Copyright fit in well with
this technology because it restricted only the mass
producers of copies. It did not take freedom away from
readers of books. An ordinary reader, who did not own a
printing press, could copy books only with pen and ink,
and few readers were sued for that.

Digital technology is more flexible than the printing
press: when information has digital form, you can easily
copy it to share it with others. This very flexibility
makes a bad fit with a system like copyright. That's the
reason for the increasingly nasty and draconian measures
now used to enforce software copyright. Consider these
four practices of the Software Publishers Association

* Massive propaganda saying it is wrong to disobey the
owners to help your friend.

* Solicitation for stool pigeons to inform on their
coworkers and colleagues.

* Raids (with police help) on offices and schools, in
which people are told they must prove they are innocent of
illegal copying.

* Prosecution (by the US government, at the SPA's request)
of people such as MIT's David LaMacchia, not for copying
software (he is not accused of copying any), but merely
for leaving copying facilities unguarded and failing to
censor their use.

All four practices resemble those used in the former
Soviet Union, where every copying machine had a guard to
prevent forbidden copying, and where individuals had to
copy information secretly and pass it from hand to hand as
``samizdat''. There is of course a difference: the motive
for information control in the Soviet Union was political;
in the US the motive is profit. But it is the actions that
affect us, not the motive. Any attempt to block the
sharing of information, no matter why, leads to the same
methods and the same harshness.

Owners make several kinds of arguments for giving them the
power to control how we use information:

Name calling.

Owners use smear words such as ``piracy'' and ``theft'',
as well as expert terminology such as ``intellectual
property'' and ``damage'', to suggest a certain line of
thinking to the public---a simplistic analogy between
programs and physical objects.

Our ideas and intuitions about property for material
objects are about whether it is right to take an object
away from someone else. They don't directly apply to
making a copy of something. But the owners ask us to apply
them anyway.


Owners say that they suffer ``harm'' or ``economic loss''
when users copy programs themselves. But the copying has
no direct effect on the owner, and it harms no one. The
owner can lose only if the person who made the copy would
otherwise have paid for one from the owner.

A little thought shows that most such people would not
have bought copies. Yet the owners compute their
``losses'' as if each and every one would have bought a
copy. That is exaggeration---to put it kindly.

The law.

Owners often describe the current state of the law, and
the harsh penalties they can threaten us with. Implicit in
this approach is the suggestion that today's law reflects
an unquestionable view of morality---yet at the same time,
we are urged to regard these penalties as facts of nature
that can't be blamed on anyone.

This line of persuasion isn't designed to stand up to
critical thinking; it's intended to reinforce a habitual
mental pathway.

It's elementary that laws don't decide right and wrong.
Every American should know that, forty years ago, it was
against the law in many states for a black person to sit
in the front of a bus; but only racists would say sitting
there was wrong.

Natural rights.

Authors often claim a special connection with programs
they have written, and go on to assert that, as a result,
their desires and interests concerning the program simply
outweigh those of anyone else---or even those of the whole
rest of the world. (Typically companies, not authors, hold
the copyrights on software, but we are expected to ignore
this discrepancy.)

To those who propose this as an ethical axiom---the author
is more important than you---I can only say that I, a
notable software author myself, call it bunk.

But people in general are only likely to feel any sympathy
with the natural rights claims for two reasons.

One reason is an overstretched analogy with material
objects. When I cook spaghetti, I do object if someone
else eats it, because then I cannot eat it. His action
hurts me exactly as much as it benefits him; only one of
us can eat the spaghetti, so the question is, which? The
smallest distinction between us is enough to tip the
ethical balance.

But whether you run or change a program I wrote affects
you directly and me only indirectly. Whether you give a
copy to your friend affects you and your friend much more
than it affects me. I shouldn't have the power to tell you
not to do these things. No one should.

The second reason is that people have been told that
natural rights for authors is the accepted and
unquestioned tradition of our society.

As a matter of history, the opposite is true. The idea of
natural rights of authors was proposed and decisively
rejected when the US Constitution was drawn up. That's why
the Constitution only permits a system of copyright and
does not require one; that's why it says that copyright
must be temporary. It also states that the purpose of
copyright is to promote progress---not to reward authors.
Copyright does reward authors somewhat, and publishers
more, but that is intended as a means of modifying their

The real established tradition of our society is that
copyright cuts into the natural rights of the public---and
that this can only be justified for the public's sake.


The final argument made for having owners of software is
that this leads to production of more software.

Unlike the others, this argument at least takes a
legitimate approach to the subject. It is based on a valid
goal---satisfying the users of software. And it is
empirically clear that people will produce more of
something if they are well paid for doing so.

But the economic argument has a flaw: it is based on the
assumption that the difference is only a matter of how
much money we have to pay. It assumes that ``production of
software'' is what we want, whether the software has
owners or not.

People readily accept this assumption because it accords
with our experiences with material objects. Consider a
sandwich, for instance. You might well be able to get an
equivalent sandwich either free or for a price. If so, the
amount you pay is the only difference. Whether or not you
have to buy it, the sandwich has the same taste, the same
nutritional value, and in either case you can only eat it
once. Whether you get the sandwich from an owner or not
cannot directly affect anything but the amount of money
you have afterwards.

This is true for any kind of material object---whether or
not it has an owner does not directly affect what it is,
or what you can do with it if you acquire it.

But if a program has an owner, this very much affects what
it is, and what you can do with a copy if you buy one. The
difference is not just a matter of money. The system of
owners of software encourages software owners to produce
something---but not what society really needs. And it
causes intangible ethical pollution that affects us all.

What does society need? It needs information that is truly
available to its citizens---for example, programs that
people can read, fix, adapt, and improve, not just
operate. But what software owners typically deliver is a
black box that we can't study or change.

Society also needs freedom. When a program has an owner,
the users lose freedom to control part of their own lives.

And above all society needs to encourage the spirit of
voluntary cooperation in its citizens. When software
owners tell us that helping our neighbors in a natural way
is ``piracy'', they pollute our society's civic spirit.

This is why we say that free software is a matter of
freedom, not price.

The economic argument for owners is erroneous, but the
economic issue is real. Some people write useful software
for the pleasure of writing it or for admiration and love;
but if we want more software than those people write, we
need to raise funds.

For ten years now, free software developers have tried
various methods of finding funds, with some success.
There's no need to make anyone rich; the median US family
income, around $35k, proves to be enough incentive for
many jobs that are less satisfying

than programming.

For years, until a fellowship made it unnecessary, I made
a living from custom enhancements of the free software I
had written.

Each enhancement was added to the standard released
version and thus eventually became available to the
general public. Clients paid me so that I would work on
the enhancements they wanted, rather than on the features
I would otherwise have considered highest priority.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), a tax-exempt charity
for free software development, raises funds by selling GNU
CD-ROMs, T-shirts, manuals, and deluxe distributions, (all
of which users are free to copy and change), as well as
from donations. It now has a staff of five programmers,
plus three employees who handle mail orders.

Some free software developers make money by selling
support services. Cygnus Support, with around 50 employees
[when this article was written], estimates that about 15
per cent of its staff activity is free software
development---a respectable percentage for a software

Companies including Intel, Motorola, Texas Instruments and
Analog Devices have combined to fund the continued
development of the free GNU compiler for the language C.
Meanwhile, the GNU compiler for the Ada language is being
funded by the US Air Force, which believes this is the
most cost-effective way to get a high quality compiler.
[Air Force funding ended some time ago; the GNU Ada
Compiler is now in service, and its maintenance is funded

All these examples are small; the free software movement
is still small, and still young. But the example of
listener-supported radio in this country [the US] shows
it's possible to support a large activity without forcing
each user to pay.

As a computer user today, you may find yourself using a
proprietary (18k characters) program. If your friend asks
to make a copy, it would be wrong to refuse. Cooperation
is more important than copyright. But underground, closet
cooperation does not make for a good society. A person
should aspire to live an upright life openly with pride,
and this means saying ``No'' to proprietary software.

You deserve to be able to cooperate openly and freely with
other people who use software. You deserve to be able to
learn how the software works, and to teach your students
with it. You deserve to be able to hire your favorite
programmer to fix it when it breaks.

You deserve free software.
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