The Stallman Saga

Posted 20 Aug 2001 at 12:40 UTC by jono Share This

Richard Stallman (RMS) parades himself around the ether as a man of free software, free speach and ethics. With recent things such as the Slashdot story, is he really all he preaches?

OK...before I begin...this article is my opinion and no-one elses, and please take both sides of the argument into consideration.

When I first got into Linux, I was presented by a number of free software advocates and developers, enthusiastic for Linux and for free software. Since those days I have seen people such as Richard Stallman (RMS), Eric Raymond (ESR), Linux Torvalds and others getting involved and spreading the word and software. This is all very well, and I am a big fan of Linux and all it stands for, but I have a concern about Stallman.

Dirst off, I don't like extremists. I am not a fan of people who preach and preach and preach about their values and morals, and rant on about how other peoples ways of life is wrong. I am not saying stallman is someone who does this a lot, but there is a lot of truth in his free software preaching. Stallman preaches that free software and ethics is good, which 100% agree on, but some of the recent stories of his activity have not impressed me.

If you read the Slashdot story about glibc, you will see an example. This concerns me as a Linux fan and developer, and has made Stallman as a Linux public figure go down in my opinion. If this story is true, and I have no evidence of it's validity, then this makes Stallman a bit shady.

GNU is a fantastic organisation, and I am very happy for what they have done, but it is only merely a label for hundreds of people working on free software projects. Stallman cannot demand control of any free software project, let alone one that he is not a part of. I have run lots of free software teams, and I do not...but I NEVER make demands on people...this is their free time and their hobby...and demanding of these people is arrogant and selfish. Like I say, I am not stating that he did do this, but if he did conspire behind peoples backs like the story states, I think this is terrible...and immorale.

This whole issue brings up the whole debate over Linux being called GNU/Linux. I mean...come on...lets get a reality check here. Linux was built using GNU tools...fair enough...but do we need to specificy in the title of the OS everything that is used to make a usable OS, or every organisation that has contributed to it? I mean as an example GNU/KDE/GNOME/Apache/BSD/Python/Linux is just not cricket. You don't apply this logic to other things.

Stallman will no doubt say GNU tools have assisted in the creation of Linux and it's popularity...well the person who invented the wheel helped the creation of the car in an indirect way but they would not be credited.

I think Stallman needs to take a reality check. He is getting a pretty bad reputation at the moment and as a public figure for free software, this is not doing us well. It's funny how thousends of other free software fans have not taken this attitude.

The fact is that free software is good, but it is something done by many as a hobby, and many want to make money on it. I am all for freedom of speech and morality, and part of freedom of speech is the right to moan and complain like Stallman has, but he has no right to demand of others what he would do himself.

Once again, these are my own opinions...don't sue me. There is a whole load of great things about Stallman, but I am focusing on the negative items for the purpose of this opinion.

RMS is <i>whole</i>, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 13:29 UTC by mathieu » (Master)

Well, you might not agree with RMS and his opinions but, at least, he has not changed his opinions in the past 20 years or so and he always did what he thougt was in line with these publicly stated opinions.

I hate him for his extremism sometimes but I must say I do admire him for this same extremism :)

Agree, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 13:36 UTC by jono » (Master)

Don't get me wrong...I have a lot of respect for RMS and his beliefs. He is a well versed and travelled guy with some very intelligent opinions. Its often a case of not what he says but how he says it...although a lot of his options I do deem silly.

Where's the facts of the case?, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 14:11 UTC by AlanShutko » (Journeyer)

Right now, I haven't seen much hard detail on the glibc situation. Without detail, it's hard to say whether this is simply a matter of egos colliding, as both people involved are known to hold rather strong opinions and be resistant to changing their minds.

This is just dumb., posted 20 Aug 2001 at 14:37 UTC by mrorganic » (Journeyer)

This kind of swill always stirs everyone up, and it pisses me off that people are still beating this dead horse. Ulrich Drepper, like lots of other developers, has strong opinions about the hows and whys of software development. So does rms. Often, these opinions conflict. Anyone who knows Richard knows that he believes -- passionately and deeply -- in the cause of Free Software. He has held this ideal for nearly three decades, which has caused many in the industry to call him a crank.

I simply submit that the line between being a crank and a visionary is a very fine one indeed, and it is not for us to judge such people. History may very well vindicate Richard's ideals.

What I'm saying is: this is a spat between Ulrich and Richard. It'll get resolved. We don't know the particulars of the situation, but I suspect that it'll simply boil down to two strong-willed people disagreeing about something.

Let it go and move on to more interesting stuff, folks.

My feelings on the issue, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 15:14 UTC by piman » (Journeyer)

(This is a repost of a comment I made on LinuxPorts, with some typos fixed.)

There are three complaints against RMS that Mr. Drepper has. First, his creation of the glibc steering committee to handle political issues. Given the fact that it's obvious RMS and Mr. Drepper have problems getting along, I would much rather hav a steering committee handle political issues, than create flame fests around such an integral piece of software. Granted, I don't know the whole issue surrounding the steering committee, but Mr. Drepper said they have no power, so I don't see the problem.

Second, Mr. Drepper seems livid about the fact that RMS wanted to use the LGPL v2.1 in the next release of glibc instead of the LGPL v2. Well, duh. Updates to licenses are the same as updates to software - they fix "bugs" in the licenses that would have made situations where the letter of the license was not the same as the intent of the license, or clarify them in some way. Would Mr. Drepper have us return to using copyleft licenses the way they were before the GNU GPL, where every program had a different license (c.f. the Emacs Public License, the Bison Public License, and the still-existing NetHack Public License). The GNU GPL and LPGL are "modular" licenses. If there's a problem with an old version, you simply stick in the new one, and you can use them with any program. I don't understand the disagreement here at all.

Third, Mr. Drepper seems upset that RMS called GNU/Linux a "GNU variant" (or possibly just because he called it GNU/Linux). Given that the GNU libc is at the core of every major Linux distribution, and had its roots not in Linux, but in the GNU project, I don't see why this accurate statement should offend anyone. Mr. Drepper (and anyone else disparaging the term GNU/Linux), I have a request for you. Set up a computer with Solaris, and try and use it. Quite different from Linux in many respects, no? Now install the GNU tools and be amazed at how familiar the environment is. Repeat with HP-UX. Repeat with Windows NT. See the same thing. Most people don't realize how much of a GNU/Linux distribution is the GNU part until they see the difference between an OS with the GNU utilities and an OS without them. No one every sees a system running Linux without them, so no one makes the comparison.

(And now for something that wasn't in that comment)

I'm seeing a lot of just plain lies about this incident on comments in places. For example, linuxprogramming has a comment about how glibc has nothing to do with the FSF, when in reality it's copyrighted by them, and it's a GNU project (hence, the GNU libc). Please, if you're going to post about something, check the facts first. And if you see someone who's wrong, correct them. The last thing this issue needs is a bunch of misinformation floating around.

This is not a new thing..., posted 20 Aug 2001 at 16:27 UTC by slef » (Master)

If this is what it looks like [insisting that the FSF/GNU have the copyright on the code], then RMS has taken this line consistently with core projects. It stems from legal advice given to the FSF over how it can be in the strongest possible position to defend itself. Yes, the "RMS goes mad/bad" scenario has been mentioned before, but his track record indicates it's rather unlikely. Definitely less likely than a certain company doing an about-face. Hopefully they will involve the new FSF regions in it to lessen any impact if (let's say) RMS somehow sold out to a corporation that shares some of his initials.

Anyway, we should be glad that these things take place in the open. In all probability, confrontations like this take place in closed projects too, but we never hear about them. I don't just advocate Free software development, but open development and management too, so that everyone can participate. There should be no smoky rooms here.

RMS is just one person. Because he's a person, there will sometimes be personality clashes with other developers. Don't worry about it. It should all be resolved one way or another by the people involved before long. Lots of bystanders fanning the flames aren't helpful. I would have thought the various schisms over time would have shown that.

Finally, can we persuade jono to correct the typos in the above? It's not a bad piece, even if I don't agree that situation is worth commenting on, but it's a little user-unfriendly at the moment.

Remember, RMS would outlaw anything but free software, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 16:28 UTC by sej » (Master)

ESR just proposed a question, whether the FSF would outlaw proprietary software given the choice (i.e. would they advocate the use of government power to ensure no one gets a binary without free source). ESR didn't know this question was already asked and answered at RMS's talk at NYU earlier this year. The answer was yes. I assume he will soon be back-pedalling from this ill-considered response. I can only hope that he will change some of his opinions at the same time.

It is an accident of history that one of the greatest hackers of our time was also one of the most extreme philosophers with respect to software licensing (or not an accident, depending on your belief systems). For the most part I see this as a really good thing, in that singlehandedly he catalyzed a quantum leap in the availability of information to the general public. But it's like what if the historical instigator of public libaries was against anyone owning books as well (maybe this was the case, I don't know). As public libraries grew in popularity and success there would have been a dynamic like we see in free software today.

Re: Remember, RMS would outlaw anything but free software, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 18:22 UTC by nmw » (Journeyer)

Can you provide a link?

This would be the proof in the pudding.

*never* trust someone who would use force, in the name of freedom, unless his/her rationale is iron-clad.

The Founders of the U.S. fought in the name of freedom -- does RMS have something akin to the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto that crystallizes the view of the People and which can move and unite the People?

I think not.

RMS doesn't have a leg to stand on to argue for software to be free by law. Not a leg. Not even a toe. Nothing.

Re: Remember, RMS would outlaw anything but free software, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 18:50 UTC by Waldo » (Journeyer)

Can you provide a link?

This would be the proof in the pudding.

" Pigdog Interviews Richard Stallman," Pa ge 3:

RMS: 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.

Pigdog: Should, should all software be free?

RMS: Yes.

Basis for abandonment of copyright on software, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 18:57 UTC by AlanShutko » (Journeyer)

First, before anyone else posts from a lack of knowledge, read the GNU philosophy pages. It is explained there why RMS believes that software should not be subject to copyright.

As far as whether you should be allowed to put any restrictive license on your software you want (even if you can't copyright it), look at CPSR's info on UCITA, which is an attempt to broaden the restrictions that licensors can put on software they provide.

sej, the closest that you can come to an analogy would be if the historical instigator of public libraries were against the ability of public libraries to lend works that the publishers didn't want them to.

Intellectual property is not sacred. It exists as a compromise between allowing the creator to control all distribution and use of information, and allowing the public to make use of that information in any way they like. The compromise exists to try to maximize the public good. RMS is not the only person today who thinks that the current balance is leaning in favor of content creators and away from the public.

Drepper is the one who is wrong here, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 19:14 UTC by atai » (Journeyer)

This is a comment I posted earlier at slashdot. But I think it is useful to post here.

RMS may like control, but look at this case we can see Drepper is the one with a bigger ego than RMS. Let's look at the facts:

1. RMS is accused of trying to take over a GNU project. Not mentioning that RMS probably started the glibc project and contributed code in earlier years, how has RMS tried to control glibc? Does RMS decide, say, how glibc should be written? I don't see that. Drepper is in full technical control.

2. The only place where Drepper is unhappy in LGPL 2.1 seems to be the "GNU/Linux" mentioning. Otherwise LGPL 2.1 and 2.0 are about the same. The licenses give the same rights to users. Drepper makes a big deal out of a naming issue which is not even part of the actual license requirements. And glibc being a GNU Project, switching to LGPL 2.1 seems ony natural. Just a routine step.

3. Drepper is unhappy about the creation of a SC. He accuses the SC was an attempt to steal the project. From him. Now, who is the one wanting control here? The SC is a more democratic way to run a project than a single maintainer. At least the other contributors have more say than letting Drepper decide everything.

4. That Drepper likes control can be seen by his handling of the gcc 3 issue. Drepper disagreed with gcc developers (many of them) on certain technical issues over gcc 3. He once declared he would never accept patches to make glibc capable of being built with gcc 3. Despite other glibc contributors' attempts to find a solution, he just said, "NO, I won't accept any patches" (in glibc for working with gcc 3). This issue did not involve RMS at all, and Drepper just wentagainst many gcc developers, who are perhaps some of the smartest compiler people in the world. It is hard to say that Drepper was right and all these gcc people were wrong.

Despite RMS's shortcomings, in this story Drepper is more of a control freak and has a bigger ego.

Glibc is a GNU Project, which can be seen simply from its name. If anyone could be accused of hostile takeover, Drepper is the one taking it over. How can anyone say the reverse?

Can I modify Apache, distribute it, and if the ASF uses my patches, say the ASF wants to take my project from me?

RMS not extreme enough?, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 19:27 UTC by brlewis » (Journeyer)

RMS would be happy to see copyright law disappear, but does not think lobbying for such a change would be a pragmatic course of action. Apparently RMS' position is not radical enough for his critics. Some feel the need to put even more extreme words in his mouth, e.g. "outlaw" proprietary software. He favors removal of government intervention, not addition of it. This is crystal clear in his NYU talk (last question, near bottom), so I can only interpret the misconstruing of his words as deliberate, particularly when this talk is cited.

Re: RMS not extreme enough, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 19:40 UTC by slef » (Master)

Indeed. I was somewhat surprised to see the quote given how it had been described. I wish people wouldn't always over-interpret everything. Sometimes what is said is what is meant. RMS is quite, uh, forthright enough.

I guess someone just tried to embrace and extend RMS. Hey, is this a first? ;-)

from the NYU transcript, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 20:58 UTC by sej » (Master)

from previous link to NYU talk:

QUESTION: If there was a button that you could push and force all companies to free their software, would you press it?

STALLMAN: Well, I would only use this for published software. You know, I think that people have the right to write a program privately and use it. And that includes companies. This is privacy issue. And it's true, there can be times when it is wrong to do that, like if it is tremendously helpful to humanity, and you are withholding it from humanity. That is a wrong but that's a different kind of wrong. It's a different issue, although it's in the same area.

But yes, I think all published software should be free software. And remember, when it's not free software, that's because of government intervention. The government is intervening to make it nonfree. The government is creating special legal powers to hand out to the owners of the programs, so that they can have the police stop us from using the programs in certain ways. So I would certainly like to end that.

Apologies if "outlaw" seems like putting words in his mouth. But how else do you accomplish this?

I would partially agree with RMS if "published software" meant "software published with source". But I assumed he was referring to the case where binaries are sold without source code. I do think it is a form of entrapment to let out the source but say one can't do anything with it.

By the way, I think the same issues have to be addressed for all forms of digital content and tools, and we have to balance the needs of producers and consumers. Copyright is a good start for protecting the producers rights, fair use is a good start for protecting the consumers rights. Software programming tools are a special case, and as a group we've made a lot of headway in resetting the foundation of our profession to be comparable to the medical or legal profession (and RMS led the way). But I've never met a physician or lawyer who felt compelled to enforce their own pro-bono ethics on others.

Wow. So property rights are gov't intervention to RMS, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 21:40 UTC by nmw » (Journeyer)

Yes, reliably protecting property without resort to vigilante/mob justice requires government "intervention."


Ok, so RMS didn't say "outlaw," but it's the same thing!

Imagine that -- saying that the Courts and laws are "intervention;" well, yes, they are, but not in the sense that us capitalists decry!

Change a few words in the above RMS quote and you might as well be reading an interview with Marx/Lenin/Stalin or even Jacobin.

That way horror lies.

IMHO, software should be copyrightable. Of course. The main issue in software IP rights today is patents and trade secrets vis-a-vis rights to reverse engineer.

The current trend towards allowing the patenting of scientific discoveries (e.g., patenting genes or the stem cell) is very worrisome and counter-productive (Newton might not be allowed to stand on any giant's shoulders to discover the rules of classical mechanics in this environment). But this is different from copyright issues.

You need copyright law. The DMCA is another matter, for a different thread.

GNU/Linux and other things, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 22:37 UTC by jschauma » (Observer)

Dislaimer: A collection of some of my thoughts on some of the issues touched in this article and the comments shall appear below. In this comment, whenever I say "linux", I refer to the kernel. I have not read the /. article in question.

Re your article:

Naming or GNU/Linux
I believe it is a fair thing for RMS to ask people to call it "GNU/Linux". Your anaology is inherently flawed, as RMS does not demand it to be called "GNU/Linux" on the basis that GNU tools were used to develop Linux, but rather on the basis that a kernel by itself is rather useless and all distributions of the GNU/Linux system that exist consist to a large proportion of the GNU Operating System (ie its tools) and the Linux kernel. If Linus had not come along, the FSF would have developed their own kernel in order to create the GNU operating system. They saw linux, they realized its potential and since the licensing was appropriate, it could be integrated.

Calling the system by its name is jsut a question of respect -- another point that RMS continually makes. By dropping the "GNU/", the GNU folks are deprived of the recognition they deserve. Now while KDE, GNOME, Apache and whatnot are all very important projects that all contribute to the usability of GNU/Linux, you have to face the fact that without the "GNU", the Operating System that's refered to commonly as "Linux" would not exist in the same way we know it.

The "reality-check" argument, ie "Face it, it's too late", is inacceptable as well. Just b/c the majority of people does something certainly doesn't make it right. You certainly wouldn't argue that people should simply call the Inuit[1] "Eskimos" just b/c most people don't know any better.

Yes, RMS is extreme. Very extreme. Very annoying he can be, too. I'm not even sure he's a nice person. But it's people like him that are in the position to promote a cause. If the cause is a noble one, then in fact one needs an extremist. It would only harm the cause if the spokesperson would compromise on ideological issues.[2] At least, RMS is an extremist with integrity, and that goes a long way, I'd say.

sej and others:
RMS' talk at NYU
I attended the talk, and during the 2 hours that he talked, he did in no way mention anything that would allow the assumption that he would like to outlaw proprietary software. His statement that he thinks that a piece of software developed in-house which would solve all of man-kinds problems if not released to the public would, in his opinion, be inherently wrong[3], or that he does in fact think that all software should be Free does not change this.

Hmm, I guess that's it for the moment. Again, I am annoyed by RMS quite frequently as well, I don't think he's right all the time, but, as I said before, even though he's an extremist, he's on the "right" side, and his integrity is something that should be admired.


[1] To the best of my knowledge, "Inuit" is a proper term, though I seem to remember that there is another word they like to be called?
[2] I'd quote from the other /. interview, but apparently their "older stuff" section in temporarily unavailable.
[3] That's a moral judgement.

Who Said Anything about Property?, posted 20 Aug 2001 at 22:52 UTC by chromatic » (Master)

(Apologies to readers outside the United States. Americans have a tendency to mean "the United States Federal Government" when they write "government".)

According to this history, the Statute of Anne is the basis for Constitutional copyright thought. The purpose of the Statute, again according to the page, was to secure rights. Oddly enough, these were not for creators of copyrighted works. Instead, the Statute protected people who purchased and enjoyed copyrighted works.

That seems to fit the wording of the US Constitution, "to promote the progress of science and useful arts."

I can agree that limited control over the initial distribution of copyrighted material makes sense, especially in that context. However, for a copyright holder to say, "If you purchase this, you do not have the right to resell it" violates that principle. It is worse when the copyright holder has the force of the government to back up this idea. I understand RMS to mean something similar when he discusses "usage" and, in fact, "freedom".

Equating copyrighted material (in all of its transient glory) with physical property is, in my opinion, a great deal of the problem. Then again, I've never been to a store that said, "If you buy this toilet paper, you cannot decorate a house with it."

RMS on proprietary software, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 03:23 UTC by phr » (Journeyer)

I've never heard RMS advocate "outlawing" proprietary software, in the sense of making it a punishible offense. Quite the opposite. I heard someone ask him what he would do about confidentiality agreements if there was no copyright on software. He said it would be wrong and tyrannical to force anyone to disclose something that they wanted to keep secret. However, he suggested treating proprietary software agreements as legally unenforcable, similar to gambling debts. So if I sold you software and made you sign an NDA, but then you gave someone a copy anyway, I wouldn't be able to do anything about it.

Your semantics may vary, but I wouldn't call that "outlawing" proprietary software. It's a principled proposal whether or not it's a desirable one.

I also thought ESR's parable was stupid. He confuses contracts and copyright. See, contracts are only binding on the people who sign them, but copyright controls the actions of everybody. I don't have a problem with being bound by an NDA that I signed, but ESR seems to think I should be bound by NDA's that other people signed regardless of whether I signed them.

FWIW, I've known RMS for a long time. He can be a pain to deal with sometimes, but he is completely devoted to free software. I hope this glibc thing blows over soon.

The difference between outlawing and no copyrights, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 04:42 UTC by piman » (Journeyer)

Some comments are saying that RMS's statement that he would like to remove government intervention in software (i.e., copyrights and patents on software) is the same as saying he would force all software to be free. This is not the case.

There is a major difference, and it has to do with reverse engineering. Companies, without copyrighted software, could still produce software in binary form only - they'd just also have no legal recourse if someone copied it, reverse engineered it, or broke some sort of encryption scheme. All protocols could be documented without fear of legalintervention, and all APIs could be cloned. In fact, such a situation meets the FSF's freedom 0 to 3 (although with a large degree of competency and difficulty getting to the source in binary-only cases). This is real licensing freedom, the freedom to do whatever you want with any software.

Realize that it also works the other way around - the GPL would not have the kind of protective power it does now. But I feel the benefits of a lack of copyright on software would outweigh the disadvantages, and based on what I've read from his speeches and writings, I believe this was the point RMS was trying to make.

The US founders, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 05:36 UTC by Iain » (Master)

The Founders of the U.S. fought in the name of freedom -- does RMS have something akin to the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto that crystallizes the view of the People and which can move and unite the People?

The US founders fought so that they didn't have to pay British taxes. Rather, they wanted the US citizens to pay the taxes to them instead. Rather than freedom, they fought so that they could be in charge.

The US founders, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 05:36 UTC by Iain » (Master)

The Founders of the U.S. fought in the name of freedom -- does RMS have something akin to the Declaration of Independence, a manifesto that crystallizes the view of the People and which can move and unite the People?

The US founders fought so that they didn't have to pay British taxes. Rather, they wanted the US citizens to pay the taxes to them instead. Rather than freedom, they fought so that they could be in charge.

buttons vs laws, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 12:54 UTC by brlewis » (Journeyer)

It's no secret that RMS thinks all software should be free, and that he sees the GNU project, particularly the GPL, as a means to that end. So it's not surprising that he would answer the "if you had a button" question affirmatively.

Suppose someone asked me, "If you had a button that would force everybody to be nice to each other, would you press it?" My first inclination would be to answer, "yes". I do think people should be nice to each other, and the button idea has a magical, imaginary quality that makes the messy details disappear. Maybe with further thought I would ask, "How do you mean, `force'? How would it work?" More likely I wouldn't think about the details.

More succinctly, the "button" idea makes it sound like a moral/philosophical question rather than a public policy question. RMS knows the difference, and he's perfectly straightforward on his public policy views. I'm not in 100% agreement with his ideas about copyright, but the GPL approach is 100% in line with my ideas as well as his.

Does RMS really want to abolish copyright?, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 14:57 UTC by gerv » (Master)

After an (admittedly quick) glance through the GNU philosophy pages, I can't see anywhere where he says that there should be no copyright on _software_. After all, without copyright law, the GPL falls apart.

He has said he doesn't want proprietary licenses to be legally enforceable. As others have pointed out, this is not the same thing at all. He also says that the length of time something is copyrighted for is too long. This is also true.

If someone could provide a specific link and quote, that would be great.


There is a Spectrum in the world., posted 21 Aug 2001 at 15:02 UTC by cmacd » (Journeyer)

RMS is on one end, Bruce Perens is probaly on the other. ESR probaly falls in the middle.

RMS probably does frighten off some folks who we would like to have a friends. Fortunatly we also have a number of other spokepersons, like maddog, linus, IBM...

RMS has set himself up as his life's work to create a world where all the software is available for inspection and improvment. That effort resulted in the GPL, which is primarly intended to prevent software from becomming closed source. As such it is frightening to those who figure on profiting from closing up some nifty little program and selling it at a vast profit.

If I were to select someone to speak about the benefit of using open source, or "Free" software, RMS is probaly the last choice I would make. I do admire his tenacity. Now if we could Clone maddog... (I may look like him, but could never fake the accent) we may achive world domination faster. (a few more Ted Ts'os would also help!) But even with RMS blocking acceptance by the folks that a strong presonality tends to make nervous, we should still manage progress, as long as we are aware of the twists and turns that a certain large non-open software firm may try to place in our way

from the GNU Manifesto, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 16:14 UTC by sej » (Master)

What the facts show is that people will program for reasons other than riches; but if given a chance to make a lot of money as well, they will come to expect and demand it. Low-paying organizations do poorly in competition with high-paying ones, but they do not have to do badly if the high-paying ones are banned.

no copyrights == outlawing copyrights, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 16:44 UTC by nmw » (Journeyer)

piman: wrong, with copyrights you still have the right to reverse engineer and such things (forget the DMCA for a second -- we're talking established copyright law). You just can't distribute copies of X you bought (or got for free -- the key is that someone who owns the copyright to X or their agent let you have a copy).

The only reasons that anyone is getting up in arms now about copyrights are:

  • bits are much too easy to copy (as compared to, say, paper)
  • copyright owners are freaking out and thinking that the answer to the ease of pirating lies in advocacy of draconian laws, laws that make hither-to legal behaviour (e.g., taping a TV show for later private viewing) felonious
Other than that there's nothing so special about software that copyright law should not apply to software while it applies to, say, books.

And we must not forget either that, having obtained passage of the DMCA and the like, copyright owners often think that it means that they can use the new provisions of such law to gouge consumers. See e-books for an example of this, and how it failed when consumers couldn't be bothered. Which goes to show that even in the face of the DMCA you still have a choice: don't buy (but don't pirate), and it shows that this is, in fact, a practical choice (obnoxious, perhaps, but practical).

The only solutions to the ease of copying of digital media are:

  • deal with it
  • get gov'ts to pass laws like the DMCA
  • encrypt all transmitions and media and distribute tamper-proof hardware to control decryption
In fact, laws like the DMCA are a subsidy for they are an attempt to save producers (and consumers) the cost of all that tamper-proof hardware.

If the DMCA doesn't work (I predict it will, in due time, be ditched), the solution that will be (and is being) adopted will be tamper-proof hawrdware and end-to-end encryption -- even the transmissions from your steroeo to your speakers will be encrypted.

Big deal -- the cost of entertainment will become clearer and we can all excercise the power not to buy it. I've already dropped cable service, but for cable access to the broadcast channels.


Books are not the same as software, posted 21 Aug 2001 at 23:55 UTC by piman » (Journeyer)

nmw, I disagree on two points. First, I believe that it should be within fair use rights to distribute things as much as you want non-commercially. However, I doubt we will come to any agreement on that issue or be able to convince each other otherwise, so I will let that rest here.

Second, I believe there is a fundamental difference between copyrighted software and copyrighted books, and that is books do not have source code. If I have a book, I can read the book, get ideas from the book, even quote paragraphs out of the book, cross out parts of the book, write notes in the book, and so on. My possession of the book makes sure I can whatever I want with that book, except copy it and distribute it to other (unless I follow fair use laws). In terms of the FSF's freedoms 0 to 3, books give me, inherently, freedom 0 and 1, and freedom 2 within the bounds of fair use and first sale. Plus, when the copyrighted expires (assuming copyrights ever start expiring again), I can do whatever I want with it.

I cannot do this with software in which I cannot access the source code (which can only happen if software can be copyrighted). I cannot fix bugs, cannot tweak it, cannot add features, and so on. I cannot lends parts of it to anyone else, or "quote" it by using clever parts of the source in my own program. My possession of the software is restricted in a means that does not exist for any other medium (except for masked works, which I feel the same way about). With software, I can be restricted from freedom 0, 1, 2, and 3 by measures I cannot counteract. And if the copyright expires, I still do not have source code (although at that point I can decompile the program), and therefore still do not have freedom 1 or 3.

(The four freedoms I refer to in this comment are explained in this essay.)

Back to RMS, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 03:51 UTC by Bram » (Master)

A few concrete points about RMS -

  • You can read here an exchange in which RMS displays not only a childish inability to accept other people rewriting his code for the better, but says quite a few embarassingly wrong technical things as well.

  • RMS's oft-repeated story about the origins of the GPL is full of shit.

  • RMS does not personally deserve credit for everything the FSF does. He deserves some, but the people who give money and write code deserve more. He most definitely does not deserve credit for everything released under the GPL. That's just ludicrous.

  • RMS has a general reputation for seriously damaging work done by people who work for the FSF - rewriting peoples's code in the middle of the night, using assistants as voice recognizers, not showering, etc.

  • RMS hasn't written anything significant in a long time. These days he just repeats the same old lines over and over, and strokes his own ego.

It's nice to put a personality behind a movement, but the truth is there are hardly any singular personalities behind free software, it's a mass movement, made possible by hundreds of individuals.

If you have to worship someone in free software, worship Linus Torvalds. He's actually a nice guy, and even managed to get an operating system written.

More RMS, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 06:26 UTC by piman » (Journeyer)

Bram, none of those are "concrete points" as you only provide one link. But I'll dissect them anyway.

I can't comment on the XEmacs/Emacs split, because I don't know LISP. You may well be right.

RMS's "oft-repeated story about the GPL" is not something I've ever heard. If you're referring to the oft-repeated printer story, that's the start of the GNU project. The GNU project existed before the GPL (as that page you linked to explains). Something's "full of shit" around here, but it's not RMS.

RMS has not written code in a long time because of RSI, or so I've been told by many people. This is also why he tried in the past to dictate code to people. As for people who "give money" and "write code" - RMS does not give himself a paycheck for the GNU project (although there are other people on the payroll), and he most certainly did write code when he could. He may still, I don't know.

Not showering is hardly a reflection on his abilities as a programmer or his ethics. I've heard that it's because he's hydrophobic, but it has no bearing on anything here.

Linus Torvalds didn't get an OS written. Linus Torvalds got a kernel written. It's a very good kernel, and I use it on my computers, and I thank him deeply for doing so. But a kernel does not an operating system make.

Outlawing proprietary software, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 07:38 UTC by Radagast » (Journeyer)

It's pretty obvious that "outlawing" proprietary software isn't what RMS wants, nor anyone else. ESR's "the government drags me off to jail or kills me" argument, for instance, is a straw man erected to make RMS' views seem more extreme than they are.

Much like "intellectual property" is different from physical property in that it can be copied at a near-zero cost, it's also different in the way it needs to be protected to keep scarcity. While it's pretty easy to protect your physical property, for instance by keeping an eye on it, it's no tso easy to protect your "intellectual property", since it can be copied at zero cost, and without taking anyone from the originator. If someone steals your car, your car is missing, and it's easy to see that it's happened. If someone "steals" your proprietary software, this is not the case.

Because it's believed that introducing an artificial scarcity in "intellectual property" is beneficial for society as a whole (by encouraging production of more useful IP), the governments have created extra protection for IP. This is what's commonly known as copyright.

What the more extreme free software advocates (such as RMS) want is generally for the government to withdraw that extra protection, so that IP can be more freely copied. This would have the effect of "outlawing" proprietary licensing, because proprietary licensing would be impossible to enforce, but it's not like anyone would be dragged off to jail for trying it. It's more a matter of proprietary licensing becoming extremely impractical because the state chooses not to give special priviledges to IP.

Now, it's true that the GPL rests on copyright law to work. However, if copyright in its common form did not exist, the GPL would not be necessary. You wouldn't in all cases get source code for the software you used, but you could in most cases be able to freely copy the software without paying for it, and that would destroy the incentive to keep the source code secret. Also, reverse-engineering and decompilation, with subsequent change and redistribution of the resulting source code, would be legal, so it would be more useful for software producers to release source in the first place.

It's fairly obvious that if the state did cease the special treatment of IP as opposed to other property, noone would go to jail, noone would be forced to do anything, but it would have the net effect of marginalizing and, over time, removing proprietary licensing.

Abolishing copyright ?, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 09:59 UTC by chbm » (Journeyer)

In face of all the copyright sillyness going around I'd like to point the (L)GPL only has legal base on Copyright. If you abolish Copyright the GPL isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Re: Abolishing copyright ?, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 11:32 UTC by Raphael » (Master)

Sure, if the copyright law is gone, then the GPL looses its legal base. But without copyright,there is no reason to have the GPL anyway, because anybody would be allowed to copy, reverse-engineer, modify and distribute any piece of software. The absence of copyright would also mean that any company would be able to take some GPLed code and use it in a proprietary application, like several companies are doing today with BSD-licensed code. But this should not be a big problem in comparison with the benefits of allowing any developer to take any source code or binary program (commercial or not) and do whatever they want with it.

Besides, I do not think that RMS and the people from the FSF are stupid: they know that the copyright laws are not likely to change soon, so the GPL has a good reason to exist.

"freedom to re-dist non-commercially" phhhhft, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 16:40 UTC by nmw » (Journeyer)

piman: Who are you kidding? You deny an author a return on his/her investment if you re-distribute their work without their permission, regardless of wether you do it "commercially".

The only differences between software and other data types (books, music, movies) are superficial. People want to read books printed on paper (a cultural issue) and people don't need to see a whole movie or hear a whole song (they can get up to get a snack in the middle of a movie, say, without missing too much), but you need all of a piece of software to use it (which has the implication that software size has to be within bandwidth limitations). In other words, the differences are about trasmission media preferences and lossy-ness tolerance.

Source code vs. binary is a red herring. When you read a book in English that was written in German you don't demand to get a copy in the original when you buy a copy in English; most people don't anyways, and noone expects that copy in the original to be free either.

Of course RMS is extreme - he has to be, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 19:24 UTC by Talin » (Journeyer)

OK, let's admit it. RMS is "extreme". He's an extremist.

But what does that mean? Does it mean that he is fanatically and single- mindedly devoted to a particular cause? Well, yes. Does it mean that he falls on the far end of the bell curve of human behavior? Well, OK, that's true too.

Is being an extremist a bad thing? Well, generally that is true only if the person is so single-mindedly focused on their set of principles that they ignore other important considerations. Where one particular "moral" principle becomes so important to them that all other "moral" principles become expendable.

I don't see a whole lot of evidence that this is the case for RMS. Its true that his program, if carried out, would deprive some people of their livelyhood, but in a capitalist society we deprive people of their livelyhood all the time - that is, we take business away from our competitors.

RMS is, however, very single-minded. Annoyingly so, in fact. You really can't relate to him the way you relate to "ordinary" people.

And in some ways that's a good thing. Suppose RMS were just another talented programmer, with a personality like Guido or Larry, who had a bright idea for a new license. Would we be sitting here discussing him? Unlikely. Would we be using the GPL as much as we are today? Probably not. Would there be a worldwide free software "movement", as a recognisable political entity? I don't think so. Oh, there would be open source - there was open source long before RMS came along. And there would be a few people talking about "freedom" and what is the moral impact of proprietary software on a few obscure mailing lists, but no one would listen to them.

I've got news for all of you: People pay attention to RMS because he is extreme, because he is so consistent, and single minded. Most ordinary folks aren't capable of the kind of machine-like consistency that RMS exhibits. I find that my opinions tend to evolve over time - my likes and habits change. And taking a hard moral stance on something is often simply too much work for most people. (A friend of mine said that evil people are evil because they are too lazy to be good.)

Of course, we must remember that RMS is also a man. He must slip up on occasion, that is simply human nature.

The world watches RMS because he is devoted and sincere. Not because he is a great programmer (there are greater), nor because he is a brilliant essayist, or a great public speaker.

RMS is the way he is. Deal with it.

RMS' extremism a distraction, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 20:44 UTC by nmw » (Journeyer)

Who cares about RMS being an extremist. Where have I complained of his extremism?

It's like the Farrakhan thing -- everyone saying "separate the message from the messenger" because Farrakhan is so disliked (but they really menat "and ignore the anti-semitic and anti-white racist parts of his message").

With RMS it's "yeah RMS' anti-copyright stance is freaky, but look, he's an extremist, and isn't it refreshing that he is and that he stands by his priciples?" (love the messenger, hate the message, in other words -- the reverse of the Farrakhan mantra).

What a joke!

This is not a beauty contest. We're talking about some pretty fundamental legal issues that hitherto had been pretty much settled for hundreds of years. Yes, new technologies have lowered the marginal cost of copying and distributing information and knowledge almost to zero (but not so dramatically the cost of producing new content and knowledge) -- so what does that mean for the next 500 years, and who cares about RMS' extremism and its beauty or pettiness.

Bram, I demand an explanation from you, posted 22 Aug 2001 at 21:17 UTC by atai » (Journeyer)

Bram, you claimed that the story of the origin of the GPL is "full of shit." Now you either give some explanation to back up your claim, or if you cannot, apologize for your uncivilized behavior.

Origins of GPL - sorry, posted 23 Aug 2001 at 00:27 UTC by Bram » (Master)

I apparently had conflated the stories of the story of the origin of the GPL with the origin of GNU - whether this was mispresented in the story I read (technology review a while back), something I inferred from it wrong, or just improperly remember I don't know, and I'm sorry.

I have to admit to being a bit colored in my view of stallman - my one mail exchange with him was one of the most memorably boarish, self-riteous, and downright rude ones I've ever witnessed.

Moving The Median To The Extreme, posted 23 Aug 2001 at 02:37 UTC by nymia » (Master)

Talin, that's a very good point. Though I know RMS wants the Median push waaaaayyyyy out to the extreme. That's his comfort zone. That's where he would like us to be. Many may like that to happen, but, there are also others who don't.

I don't know if I will feel comfortable if the Median is pushed back or forward. All I know is the median of the bell curve is a nice place to be.

Linux, BSD, RMS and the GPL, posted 24 Aug 2001 at 02:42 UTC by GJF » (Apprentice)

Personally, I'm grateful to RMS for his contribution to free software. Perhaps his greatest contribution is the GPL itself, which I believe has fundamentally changed the nature of computing.

Linus Torvald's choice to licence Linux under the GPL was quite possibly the critical factor in its success, and quite possibly its competitive advantage in achieving its current status.

I am impressed by the commitment RMS (and the FSF) has shown in developing, promoting and most of all protecting the GPL. I think we'll need him for a while yet.

RMS, a big sigh and an indigestion tablet, posted 29 Aug 2001 at 11:15 UTC by rmorrell » (Master)

Having sat on the same table in front of audiences with RMS and having worked with the FSF recently after leaving VA (they assisted us greatly in copyright violation issues with our SmoothWall project) I have to say that Jono has some valid points. However it doesnt answer a fundamental question. Why do managers and decision makers not want to use Linux/BSD solutions over proprietary solutions. Its not because RMS picks paperclips out of his hair or scratches his nads on camera, or even when he appears in TheRegister or on CNet as a raving extremist. RMS takes a lot of shit off people, but there is a panacea. RMS is surrounded by GOOD people like Georg Greve who work their ass off for salaries that are frankly appalling - totally bogus. You could not want to meet nicer people. If you think of an erratic president or King in charge of a country, he / she is surrounded by people who help shape decisions and also help the status quo. In Georg you have that status quo. I like RMS even if he did sing me Happy Birthday in front of 600 people and embarress the hell out of me, he can annoy me and embarress me to hell when I read about his antics earlier this year at Cambridge, but I appreciate what he stands for, his moral stance on copyright. Sometimes I think he thinks he's fighting a one man war - which he isn't. If you talk to Jeremy Allison he'll back me up - Richard has done some good things and is a powerful crusader and everyone needs good generals - even if they are perceived as cranky. Look at the US - they had Mcarthur and Patton both of whom were total nuts yet they've gone down in history.

What embarresses me but adds a comic side is the almost fanatical support for his altar ego with the halo and that bizarre free software song. We are software professionals that make a difference to the way people work. We're not farming a commune and growing our own vegetables - if I could ask one thing it would be for the younger members of the community - always in evidence wherever RMS surfaces to remember that they reflect the way the wider audience perceive us - whether FSF or OpenSource. It's frankly embarressing, RMS is a human being - not some superhuman programmer. Admire his ethics - remember that arguments between developers will ALWAYS happen and the GLIBC thing is a prime example. Arguments are GOOD, dirty washing in public is bad, but confrontation can be good for development teams - I should know I run one.

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