Event: Richard Stallman on Copyright

Event: Richard Stallman on Copyright

Monday, February 16, 2009

tagged: yyc, copyleft, copyrightlaw, creativecommons, freesoftwarefoundation, licenses, opensource, richardstallman, universityofcalgary

series: Events (1 other post in this series)

Richard Stallman explains why it matters to you and your future that free software exists.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Priebe

Richard Stallman (of the Free Software Foundation & GNU fame) spoke at the University of Calgary this past week. It was great.

He gave an overview some of the history of copyright (including its original purpose) as well as outlining his position on copyright. My write-up here a roundup of some points that I found interesting (not much in the way of a synthesized point).

Free: when speaking about beer

First off, I'll start at the same place that he did: free as in speech vs. free as in beer. He's talking about free (as in speech) software.

Free as in speech, refers to the public's right to do something without being hindered to do so.

Free as in beer, simply refers to the price: as in, you give me beer without charge.

Despite this explanation, some people at the lecture, still managed to fuddle the two (as have I also done in my previous post on copyleft: Copyleft: Why GPL isn't Free). It's confusing when we are bound by the language that we speak. Stallman also noted the language problem, wishing we have 2 words for "free" as they do in latin1. One = "no cost" and the other = "freedom."

Copyright for the public good

One of his main arguments for copyright reform is that copyright was brought in to promote progress. That is, if you can be assured that you can own something you make (& then be the only seller) you are more likely to make something (I'm simplifying here).

But this suggestions was made in a day when copying was rather limited: you had to copy by hand. So the public wasn't really trading in much value - since they weren't going to go out and copy it themselves. In today's world, particularly with the advent of computers, copying is trivial. Because of this, the public is giving up value in not being allowed to copy something.

And his argument is that maybe we aren't promoting progress any more by having copyright.

Examples: Copy-free and working

The real-world examples of things that weren't copyrighted and still worked (both those specifically mentioned, and those that simply came to my mind) is interesting.

He mentioned Radiohead & Nine Inch Nails - both musical groups with recently albums that were released using non-standard distribution mechanisms that were more free2.

This issue is particularly interesting to me, as a good friend is a professional musician: Keith Kitchen. While bands with large followings have shown new methods of distribution to be commercially-viable, I wonder if it is possible for small and upcoming bands.

SaaS = bad

Stallman also took a shot at Software-as-a-Service (things like Basecamp & Salesforce.com): alleging it to be worse than non-free software. With SaaS, you don't even get the source code to run, never mind being able to share it. (Update: witness all the current uproar about Facebook ToS: http://scobleizer.com/2009/02/17/ownership_facebook/ - it isn't only Stallman that wants control over how software works to ensure they can use it in the future just as they do in the present.)

The fun preachy bits

As someone who is trying to persuade people, Stallman makes a point of using language to his advantage. His choice of words can be a bit slanted at times (but, of course, his opponents are also using loaded & slanted words).

  • DRM = Digital Restrictions Management
    As opposed to the more common "Digital Rights Management" - Stallman used the "restrictions" which, IMO, is a more accurate description of such technology.
  • "Defective by design"
    This is a reference to things that have DRM. They are "defective" by design. There is also a website: defectivebydesign.org. And fun stickers that he gave out freely (as in beer).
  • "Non-free users are 'subjugated users'."

Notes & Links

  1. He is referring to the distinction mentioned here: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Libre
    Unfortunately, my second language is Spanish which also only has 1 word for "free," so a second language in this case, doesn't help me.
  2. Nine Inch Nails release their work under a Creative Commons non-commercial, share alike license and also had a portion of it as a free digital download. There also HD videos available via Torrent download & multi-track downloads for easier remixing.
    Radiohead had a digital download that allowed fans to pay whatever price they saw fit: $0+
    Stallman also specifically mentioned Jane Sibbery. While previously known as Jane Siberry and now known as Issa, albums are available at a "pay what 'your gut' says" price via digital download: http://www.sheeba.ca/store/help.php#sdp
  3. For more on Richard Stallman's thoughts on copyleft: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/x.html
  4. Note: I wanted to change the license on the image to CC-PublicDomain (from my default CC-BY), alas, that option is not present in Flickr.

Monday, February 16, 2009, 12:00 AM

tagged: yyc, copyleft, copyrightlaw, creativecommons, freesoftwarefoundation, licenses, opensource, richardstallman, universityofcalgary

series: Events (1 other post in this series)