GNUisance: Pigdog Journal Interviews Richard Stallman
ES: What do you think of, of Tim O'Reilly's
uh, argument about, uh, "free documentation"?
RS: It's bullshit. He's just ignoring
the issue. Basically, he's starting from the assumption that the
world must be set up in such a way that O'Reilly and Associates can
make money by publishing documentation for Free Software.
This is an assumption that I don't share. I think that it would be
no tragedy if there were no O'Reilly and Associates.
And then he makes _another_ assumption that I think is probably
also wrong, based on my experience, which is that he couldn't make
money selling copylefted manuals. Well, I think he can. The Free
Software Foundation does.
So, uh, so, these two wrong assumptions are at the root of what
he's saying. Now, I, let me say what's he's probably going on. He
speculates, and he may well be right, that he would make less money
selling [copylefted] manuals, and he doesn't want to make less
money. He wants to make more money.
MB: But at the same time -- and this is
what I've argued actually about this very issue -- is that O'Reilly
makes a lot of money from Free Software. I mean, they make most of
their money from Free Software --
RS: Right. And they're not contributing
when they write their manuals. They're not contributions to our
community. That's why I encourage people not to buy them.
MB: They're some of the best... They
_are_ the best --
RS: I don't care if they're the best.
I don't care if a program is technically best. If it's not _free_,
I won't use it.
MB: Right... Now, computer software's
one thing. That's kind of a weirdo geek business, but when you start
talking about books, and music --
RS: Right. Those as I said are not
_exactly_ the same issue. They're partly similar and partly
For them, I think, because we don't have the need to be publishing
modified versions, I think that therefore a system that allowed
everyone to make occasional verbatim copies for their friends would be
MB: Have you thought about doing, say, a
GNU Content License? For people who want to develop so-called Free
RS: It's very simple. If you want to do
that, it's very simple. You just say "Verbatim copying of this
document is permitted in any medium provided this notice is
MB: That's easy.
RS: Plus a copyright notice. And you'll
notice that that's what we do for things that are not *technical
documentation*. The things that state philosophy. Things that state
our legal position. Things where we talk about our history, things
For anything other than manuals or documentation for software,
that's what we do. And very simple.
ES: What about, uh, documentation that's
written by multiple people, and maintained by multiple people. Would
that convert, for something like that?
RS: Well, for documentation, you know,
you can use a simple copyleft like the one we use on GNU manuals and
the one that I proposed for the quote "Linux Documentation Project"
NM: I've got a copy of the GCC manual here
[reaches over and grabs a book off one of the bookshelves].
RS: I'm thinking about putting in a
requirement about that -- adding a requirement about preserving the
NM: It says [NOTE: put that long license thing
in here. Or not.]
The Inimitable Nick Moffit
MB: [sotto voce, into tape recorder] Cut
and paste this from somewhere. You don't have to type this all out.
RS: What that is is an example of a
simple copyleft for a manual. The reason that I use that kind of
simple copyleft is that the issue about source code is not the same
for a manual as it is for a program.
If you've got a printed copy of a manual, you see all the words.
Whereas if you've got a binary of a program you don't see what the
source code says. It's true that it's convenient to have the source
code available, and we do make the source code available.
But if somebody did publish a modified version and didn't release
the source code in online form, at least you'd see what all the words
were in the modified version and you could type them in if you really
wanted to. Which is much easier -- it's some work -- but it's much
easier than figuring out the source code --
RS: Yeah, and figuring out what the
symbol names are and how everything should -- Y'know, there's nothing
hidden in a text to be read. So that's why I don't put in something
requiring people to release modified versions as machine-readable
RS: This is why I don't use the GPL for
manuals. I don't need something as complicated as the GPL for a
manual. We do need it for software. It deals with issues that only
apply to software.
Anyway, the reason why manuals should be treated differently from
just anything else that you might write is that manuals belong in
MB: They're a part of it.
RS: And when you change the program, if
you want to do a thorough job, you ought to modify the manual, too.
And therefore you better be free to publish the modified manual.