Journalist Richard Poynder is publishing a series of quality interviews with key free/open culture people, including Richard Stallman (Free Software Foundation), Linus Torvalds (the Linux guy), Lawrence Lessig (Creative Commons), Michael Hart (Project Gutenberg) and others.
Go read his interview with Richard Stallman. Some issues are always repeated in all Stallman interviews, so some of you may want to skip the usual talk about MIT, Symbolics, GNU and Open Source Initiative, but what I found interesting and novel here are his views on non-functional works.
Stallman is known to demand freedom for all software use, commercial or non-commercial. With works of art, he seems to have a slightly different opinion:
However, for some works of authorship and art, the issues are different. Music, for instance, is generally not a functional work, it is in the category of artistic and entertainment works. As far as this category is concerned I believe people should always have the freedom to non-commercially redistribute exact copies of the entire work. That is the minimum freedom that everyone must have for those kinds of works. (Emphasis added.)
This seems like he’s adjusted some of his views. Does Stallman now think that authors and publishers do have a moral right to their music, and therefore commercial distribution can be restricted to rights’ holders?
Stallman as although seen programs and literary works as different, requiring different definition of freedom. This is reflected in the GNU Free Documentation License that allows non-modifiable parts in documentation. Stallman believes in a kind of authorship that doesn’t exist in computer programs but exists in works of art, essays and scientific texts:
However, when it comes to scientific papers I don’t think people should have the freedom to publish modified versions; modified versions of someone else’s scientific article are not a contribution to society.
There is a controversy in the Debian project over the definition of freedom in literary works. The GNU Free Documentation License is seen as non-free by many developers (see draft position statement). The issue was cleared a bit in the General Resolution of February 2006 that decided that “GFDL-licensed works without unmodifiable sections are free”. But there is still a disagreement about what freedom means for different kinds of works. Debian still does not accept any work that prohibits commercial distribution or modification.
I look forward to reading more interviews from Richard Poynder. Please note he is asking for donations. I haven’t made a Paypal donation before, but this time I felt like giving a few euros for such quality work.
Steven Levy’s book Hackers (summary, e-text) from 1984 is a great history of hacker culture until 1984. For what happens after 1984, you must read Stallman or Raymond. But they only cover the Unix/university world. From the early 80s on, really interesting things started happening on the home computer front.
According to Levy, one of the imperatives of the MIT hacker community was: You can create art and beauty on a computer. An early hack on the TX-0 computer at the MIT AI lab was a program that played music. I don’t know what happened during 60s and 70s, but since the late 70s, lots of games were written. Games have always been part of the hacker culture (some games at least, not any games).
In his essay Software That Lasts 200 Years, Dan Bricklin calls for an approach to software that takes into account long-term consequences. Bricklin compares software production to building projects - houses, bridges, roads - that are planned and built to last for a very long time. By contrast, “software has historically been built assuming that it will be replaced in the near future (remember the Y2K problem)”.