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What have you done for us lately? Face it Chachi, you're a one ladder wonder and you're as stale as a two week old cod fish.
-- Johnnie Royale


GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman

ES: OK, so, here's kind of an evil question.

RS: "I'd like to ask a devil's advocate question..."

ES: It's not a devil's advocate question.

RS: Please don't.

Stallman's toothbrush.

ES: It's not a devil's advocate. It's just, I've heard, some people come out and say, "You know, that Richard Stallman guy, he's a Communist!", and "That's his religion!".

RS: Well, they're wrong.

ES: Are you a Communist?

RS: No. [testifying] I am not now, nor have I ever been... [Laughter]

ES: OK, all right.

RS: But I won't name names of anyone else who might be, because that's against my principles.

ES: So it's not un-American computing.

RS: No this American computing. This is about freedom. That's why we use so many quotes from the founders of our country.

MB: But how would you respond to someone who say, "That's a, that's a very socialist viewpoint, that we all have this software, that we share it together..."

RS: No, it's not.

MB: "We give it to each other, to each according to his needs..."

RS: Yes, but it's not socialist or Communist because those have to do with centralized ownership of things. We're not talking about centralized anything. It's about individual freedom.

We have a paradoxical situation where one particular area of business, it's not business in general, it's one line of business, uses a particular business practice that's based on subjugating the public, based on dividing and conquering. Well, when there's a business practice that conflicts with an important value like freedom and community, prohibit it.

MB: [surprised] "Prohibit" is a strong word.

RS: Absolutely. When people made paper by dumping poison in the river, what did, that was, hurting the community.

MB: Ah. *That's* prohibited.

RS: So we prohibited it. Now, it's not that there's anything wrong with making paper, or we didn't prohibit business, we didn't prohibit making paper, we prohibited dumping poison in the river.

Now, I'm concerned with the poisoning of a resource that is not physical, but is even more important than most of the physical resources we care about. And that is the goodwill of the community. The will to help your neighbor.

When people were told, "If you share with your neighbor, you're a pirate," that is attacking this resource directly. You shouldn't tolerate that.

Now, as it happens, for the most part, people doing this base it on the support of the government. There's explicit government intervention to help them subjugate and divide people. It's very easy to stop it. Society and it's government should stop helping software owners to divide the users.

ES: Should, should all software be free?

RS: Yes.

ES: Is that because software's so important?

RS: No, it just that, well, if software were totally insignificant there'd be no point in making any fuss about it. But, no: if you're using software, you should be free to, to do, to treat other people right while you're using it.

Some of the same things apply to _anything_ you can have on your computer. Anything published. Anything published that you can have on your computer, you should have the right to mail a copy to your friend.

MB: Like a novel, a painting?

RS: A novel, a song...

MB: An MP3?

RS: Well, whatever.

ES: So are you against copyright?

RS: Not necessarily totally. For works that are _functional_, like software and documentation, people should have the freedom to even publish and sell improved versions. So, all such things should be free.

The things that are not functional, that are cultural, in a sense, that you look at rather than run, those raise, those raise part of the same issues but not all of them. Because people don't have a practical need to modify them in the same way we have a practical need to modify and improve and adapt functional things.

For non-functional things, the need to modify them, well, that REASON for modification doesn't exist.

ES: How does that apply to free documentation for free software?

RS: [petulant] OK, well, don't ask another question before I'm finished answering one, or I'll never get anything answered and we'll be clear.

ES: Uh, OK.

MB: Yeah, cut it out, Zach.

RS: The point is, for cultural things I propose a compromise system where people can privately redistribute copies occasionally, but public commercial distribution would still be covered by copyright. Now that, that compromise system might be OK for cultural things, but it would not be OK for functional things, because for functional things like software and documentation, we need to be free to make a modified version and publish that.

NM: The interesting thing is, I had... The explanation that I always gave people when I was handing out CDs at user groups, you know, and so on and so forth, they'd usually ask me, you know, well, "How many licenses do I get with this software distribution?" And the explanation that I would give is that I would say, "Your computer is your private personal property. I have no right telling you what you can or cannot do with it." That's usually the extent of the way I explained it.

[I have no IDEA of what Nick's talking about there. But, whatever. Keep on trucking, brother.]

NM: Do you think that -- ?

RS: That's not the whole story, but I think that's a pretty good way of saying it. There are certain situations where I might disagree with that, but they don't relate to copying of software. They relate to other things.

LE: Does your viewpoint include microcode? [???]

RS: Well, it depends. If you can load up your microcode by typing on your machine, then, yes. But if you can't, then, uh, it's a moot point. You know, I'm not concerned with the computer inside my microwave oven. Yes, I know that there's a computer in there, but there's no facility for loading programs onto it, so the issue doesn't arise in practical life.

Now, I'm not wanting to send somebody a copy of this program and be scared to because of the Information Police.

MB: Now, you _might_ want to modify the program, though.

RS: Yeah, but it would be _terribly_ hard.

MB: It would not be the easiest thing in the world.

RS: Yeah.

LE: Um, I was thinking specifically of say, video cards...

RS: We do, now that there are computers with the BIOS that you can load...

NM: Flashable, yeah.

LE: That's what I was specifically...

RS: I think that we _should_ have a free BIOS. Let's now -- that's on our task list, a free BIOS. That you can use to launch Linux so it can --

MB: [smugly] GNU/Linux.

RS: Well, no, it's --

MB: Oh! The GNU/Linux _system_! I got it.

RS: You have to launch Linux, which then runs the rest of the GNU/Linux system. Cause Linux is the kernel, and the BIOS starts the kernel.

MB: I thought that I had you there.

LE: Now think that there is already a free BIOS project, that...

RS: There's a _project_, yeah. I spoke to people a few months ago briefly, how, whether they're making progress I don't know, but I...

LE: I know, but it's an important job.

RS: I told them that they were, maybe, they were making a kind of mistake because they were imagining all the features that it might be nice to have in a BIOS. Instead of getting started writing a minimal one that could be useable.

LE: I was thinking of MR-BIOS...

NM: Mister BIOS!

ES: Mister BIOS!

LE: Yes, is that not a free BIOS?

ES: No, I don't think it is.

LE: Well it's copyrighted, it's just distributed freely?

ES: Yeah... It's commercial.

RS: Well, the alternatives are "free" or "proprietary". "Commercial" is not the alternative of "free". There is commercial free software, not all that much of it but its amounts are increasing, AND there is plenty of non-commercial, non-free software.

ES: Where would Mozilla be?

RS: Mozilla is in some sense commercial free software. But a better example would be GNU Ada [except nobody's heard of it] which is, it's supported by a company. That's it's only business. Supporting GNU Ada.

Now I guess ABI Suite is another commercial free program. Which I believe is now being re-released under the GPL. Or was recently. Or will be soon.

RM: If I may, just to cast light on the earlier question: Micro Research BIOS was never free in the Free Software Guidelines sense. It is now even less, it is even further from being free than it used to be. It has now gone -- you can't even get the binaries the way you used to be able --

LE: Oh no? Well, it's been a long time since I played with it.

More Stallman


Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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