Stallman in Oslo – Free as in “Fanatic”?

stallman_osloThe legendary founder of Free Software Foundation (FSF), and initiator of GNU (Gnu is Not Unix), GPL and more, visited Oslo today. I attended his speech about Copyright at the University of Oslo, where a few hundred people were gathered to hear (and see) this strange looking and strange speaking man.

This is indeed one piece of a strange person. When being told that “the floor is yours”, he knelt down on the floor repeating “the floor is mine!”, and later in the show he dressed in black, comparing the Emacs text editor to a religion.

At the end of the lecture, that was indeed the impression I got, that for mr. Stallman, this is indeed all about “religion” and ideology, more than anything else. He is living in his own little ideal, ideological bubble, hoping that all big coroporations will go away and that everyone will be able to copy everything to everyone, and that nobody should be allowed to make money on software licenses.

Stallman’s problem is not that he advocates free software and the benefits of the whole movement, but that he is so completely ignorant of the real world around him – not willing to see that there are other goals in this world than fulfilling his own four degrees of (complete) freedom of use and redistribution when it comes to software (and other works).

Now a few words about the topic of his speech – Copyright. Stallman has designed his own copyright laws which he’d like the world to adopt. Basically what he suggests is a division of copyright into three: A) All software should be free (as in free speech), as should all school textbooks and all encyclopedias and other fact books. B) Works that express someone’s thought or in other ways must be kept as is, should be covered by a limited copyright, say 10 years, and C) works of art should be protected in a limited way – it should be always be allowed to share them with others (copy), and even use fragments of other’s art in your own works.

All this is good – international copyright laws could need a makeover, and limited period of protection. Where I no longer follow is when mr. Stallman talks about copying or “sharing” of e.g. music or movies – he completely lacks respect for legal agreements or law, in encouraging the breaking of such agreements in order to “be kind” and share with your friends. A normal grown-up intellectual human being would not face hundreds of students encouraging such crime, and at the same time demanding to be taken seriously by the record labels, commercial software houses, lawyers and others. Which is unfortunate, because he would be sooo much a better advocat for free and open software if he would not live in his bubble pretending the world was all as he wished. It is ok to encourage people to choose, use and even write free software. But to encourage people to break the law by infringing copyright and license laws, is not the way to go.

Free and Open Source software is a super way to make software. And it can meet the competition fine without turning to legal disobedience, hatred against others etc. Let people choose FREEly what software to use, and spend your time writing excellent Free software which is better than the alternatives, and create an ecosystem of open and closed source which works together to create better and cheaper software for tomorrow!

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