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.
I just spent two days struggling with a server hardware problem. At times, the Internet society is so fragile.
Digital systems are fundamental architectural components of the information society. Therefore it is silly that we need such a strong legalistic approach. Folks on the debian-legal mailing list have spent hours and hours making interpretations on different software licenses. The interpretations are very precise and good but I hope there wasn’t such need. But we’re forced to have such conversations.
Assistant professor Lucie Guibault said that programmers should more carefully mark their copyrights in GPL programs. Otherwise the court might be confused on who is the copyright holder: the FSF, who wrote the license, or somebody else?
The article received strong criticism such as
This “lawyer” is a blithering idiot. The GPL FAQ (http://www.fsf.org/licensing/licenses/gpl-howto.html) explicitly tells you to put your own copyright notice on any GPL’d source.
Maybe the commentor is right, but how many programmers really add their copyright notices? And how many of us who modify a GPL’d program follow this requirement (2 a):
a) You must cause the modified files to carry prominent notices stating that you changed the files and the date of any change.
If Linux kernel contributors actually followed this rule, each of the 15 000 files in the kernel source would have a long changelog at the beginning of the file.
With other infrastructure, we don’t need to negotiate on whether I’m allowed to walk on a public road or what I may use may the electricity for. Free software is a wonderful thing but the forced legalism is a curse.
P.S. A nice paper on trivial software patents.