Richard Stallman talk at UW


Richard Stallman talk

On July 6th, Richard Stallman gave a talk at the University of Waterloo regarding copyright and its evils. Although slow at the beginning (perhaps because Richard was still finishing his Pepsi and introducing the features of copyright), it turned out to be a powerful and enlightening educational experience.

I decided not to write a blog about it until I was able to view it again on video after my vacation and make specific notes. You can download the whole presentation from the University of Waterloo Computer Science Club @ in OGG format.

Although the talk was not on GNU/FSF, he did start by advocating the use of the phrase GNU-Linux when referring to Linux. This puts emphasis on the GNU movement (which really created most of Linux…..except the kernel, which was created by Linus Torvalds). By giving credit to the GNU movement, which advocates free software and distribution, the general public is more likely to see the merits of free software and the GNU movement as something of importance. Linus Torvalds himself doesn’t think all software should be free (Richard says that this is because Linus bases his opinions on the short term rather than the long term). Giving more credit than necessary to Linus’ development of the Linux (he developed the kernel) overshadows the GNU/FSF movement and their ideals. It wouldn’t be a problem if Linus shared the same ideals.

For those who are unfamiliar with the GNU/FSF, they advocate 4 Freedoms with software:

    1. The freedom to use the program.
    1. The freedom to change the source code.
    1. The freedom to copy the program.
    1. The freedom to copy modified versions of the program.

Following this, Richard gave an overview of copyright development, which started with the printing press about 500 years ago. Back then, copyright was used for censorship, but then progressed to restrict certain uses of text in order to encourage writing and prevent publishers from controlling writers. This later evolved into industrial regulation amongst publishers. As a result, it affected companies only - no one cared about individual/personal copying. However, the computer network revolution makes individuals very good copiers, and people today want to live in a world where information can be freely accessible.

Thus, a democratic government should change copyright laws to reflect the desires of its people (with perhaps a few restrictions). However, industry and the US government are doing the opposite today - they are trying to toughen copyright laws and regulate access to information. Export laws (a.k.a. free trade agreements) impose tough copyright restrictions. The Digital Rights Millennium Act (DMCA) indirectly expands copyright to include all uses of information (historically, copyright governed specific uses), and Digital Rights Management (DRM) restricts users to viewing only the material the publisher wants viewed.

Richard used several examples of information restriction:

  • The recent DRM decryption code that spread across the Internet so that users with a Linux program could copy the movies they legally bought. Richard encouraged people to boycott HD-DVD and Blueray (don’t buy them!) because they use DRM and encryption codes will be changed continuously to restrict people.
  • The Sony rootkit (software program loaded from Sony CDs that invade your computer and run a program to prevent copying the CD). Sony got lots of bad press, but no prosecution (I guess copyright law doesn’t apply to large companies anymore….). Richard was also quick to point out that Sony violated copyright law because their rootkit contained GNU source code (licensed under the GPL :-).
  • The fact that Vista can contact Microsoft at any time (built-in rootkit?) and doesn’t support I/O devices that are non-DRM-friendly. He also recounted the India arrest of Microsoft developers in an unsuccessful attempt to put a back door in Windows for the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization (memories of NSA?).
  • How DRM/DMCA caused the early failure of the eBook market, and how the publishing industry is still trying to push eBooks (with restricted eBook readers commonly referred to as “digital ink”).

Richard recommended that governments reduce the power of copyright. He specifically suggested reducing the copyright protection to 10 years before a work is made public domain (a panel of authors he spoke to recommended only 5 years in order to reduce the power publishers had over their work).

He also suggests that copyright should depend on the type and category of information. Before copyright is put in place, we should ask “How does this information contribute to society?” Research papers and catalogs should not be changed, so they could be protected under copyright law, but non-commercial copying of information, the sharing of books on the Internet, and the sharing of music (and other media) should be free of copyright.

To combat the question: “How will artists make money if they give their work away?”, Richard mentions that most artists rarely make money from the media (e.g. music CDs). The costs for advertising must be paid before a record label will hand out royalties. Instead, CDs are seen as a promotional benefit to artists who make money from concerts (and other venues). Thus, Richard suggests that distributing music on the Internet can replace the record label completely with little effect on the artist. Without going into detail, Richard discussed similar approaches to the movie and publishing industries.

The main theme of this presentation was: Don’t give up your freedom (even if it allows you to promote your work). The best quote that Richard gave to exemplify his views of freedom was during the Q&A period:

“You shouldn’t buy any DRM that you can’t crack.”