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GNU is Not Unix Books Media Book Reviews

Free Software, Free Society 528

I've heard a lot of people describe Richard Stallman as "unreasonable." I find Stallman instead to be one of the most persistently, relentlessly reasonable people whose thoughts I've ever encountered. Stallman may be a dogmatist, but the dogma is sincere and his own, not borrowed. A new book from the GNU Press called Free Software, Free Society collects several of his essays (and some other material) into one slim book. Stallman's essays document what his actions (as a programmer and through projects like GNU) have demonstrated concretely -- that the software future can be one primarily of rigorously open and freely, explicitly shareable code: a nightmare of control is not the only option. Free software enthusiasts might find little actually new: Those readers are probably already aware that control exercised through hidden, inaccessible bits is becoming more odious, more ubiquitous and more invisible. This makes the book worth reading especially to people who are currently not interested in the distribution and disclosure of software's source code. Unless you can completely disentangle the future of society from the future of software, this should concern you.
Free Software, Free Society
author Richard Stallman
pages 220
publisher GNU Press
rating 9
reviewer timothy
ISBN 18822114981
summary Philosophy and practicality don't have to clash; this book makes the case that software can be open, and why it should be.

What's between the covers

Free Software, Free Society is divided into four sections:

  • One: The GNU Project and Free Software (10 chapters)
  • Two: Copyright, Copyleft, and Patents (6 chapters)
  • Three: Freedom, Society and Software (5 chapters)
  • Four: The Licenses
Despite the division into chapters, the book's content does not conform to a single straight line, so I will deal with the chapters I mention out of the order in which they appear.

The book starts off on a good note. Key to understanding nearly everything in the book is a basic understanding of what source code is. Since Stallman's usual audiences don't need to have this explained, Richard E. Buckman and book editor Joshua Gay provide a three-page introduction ("A Note on Software") which is as good and concise an explanation as I've ever seen of the meaning of "source code," "compiler," "assembler," "machine code" and "operating system." Without quibbling over details that space has made them gloss over, this section is a good mental boot camp for anyone reading the book with no programming knowledge at all.

This note is followed by a topic guide which walks a prospective reader through the contents of the book better than a table of contents can, pointing out what concepts are dealt with in the book's chapters, a sort of micro-index. (And in a book this brief, it helps make up for the lack of a more thorough index.)

Lawrence Lessig's introduction largely repeats what Lessig has said in the past about the openness of software. One paragraph in particular sums up one of my favorite analogies when it comes to Free software, and one which I think translates well to those familiar with other fields, like art and architecture:

"... Law firms have enough incentive to produce great briefs even though the stuff they build can be taken and copied by someone else. The lawyer is a craftsman; his or her product is public. Yet the crafting is not charity. Lawyers get paid; the public doesn't demand such work without price. Instead this economy flourishes, with later work added to the earlier."

Old hat, new hat.

Those familiar with Richard Stallman will no doubt recognize at least some of these essays, or at least their cores, because of the persistence with which Stallman has spread the word of the origins and underlying philosophies of the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation. The first chapters of the book may bore readers who have heard dozens of times the story of Stallman's experiences with the Incompatible Timesharing System (ITS) in the MIT AI lab, the dissolution of the software-sharing society there, and how it directly led to his quest for a complete Free operating system. Stallman is an engaging writer, though, and I found myself enjoying it even though I have heard the story several times before.

The chapter in this section most likely to trouble those set in conventional thinking when it comes to software is Chapter 4, "Why Software Should Not Have Owners."

Despite the title, the book does not consist entirely of essays; it also includes a transcript of Stallman's speech at NYU in May of 2001, which shows how consistent Stallman's speaking is with his writing style. Some people have derided Stallman (and the FSF) as too academic, removed from the realities of normal computer users and the business world which right now implicitly favors non-Free software, so it's interesting to note the context of that speech -- it was a direct, welcome reaction to the prodding of Microsoft Vice President Craig Mundie's speech on the same campus earlier the same month, in which Mundie casually referred to the "viral aspect" of the GPL, and declared that Free software "puts at risk the continued vitality of the independent software sector."

There's also Stallman's short story "The Right to Read" and even (Chapter 10) the text and score of the Free Software Song. 'The Right to Read" may be the part of the book most appropriate for reprinting in tract form to leave around public libraries: this is a story, not quite hypothetical enough, about a future where every time a book is read, it must be unlocked with a password and authorized by those who hold the strings of copyright -- and sharing books is prohibited. Replace "books" with "e-books" and the story becomes less an allegory as a description of current reality.

Just as current are Chapters 12 ("Misinterpreting Copyright -- A Series of Errors") and 16 ("The Danger of Software Patents"). Stallman's arguments here, despite his protests that practicality is secondary to ethical interests, are eminently practical and should be read by everyone whose work touches either copyright or patents. And contrary to disparagement sometimes heaped on the Free software movement, he does not dismiss either of these in toto -- he simply points out forcefully ways in which these protections can be dangerously perverted.

Some of Free Software, Free Society's contents may strike readers (whatever their level of interest) as needlessly pedantic. I'm thinking here specifically of Chapter 21, "Words to Avoid," which lists 14 words and phrases Stallman discourages in the context of Free software as he defines it. On second glance, I think even this chapter is well suited to the book, since the reasoning presented for his objections to each word on this list (a paragraph or two apiece) will be most informative to people not already steeped in the lore and leanings of the Free Software movement. Some of these (I'll tease by saying that the entry for "content" is my favorite) squeeze in some humor as well.

Stallman's philosophy is what drives his attachment to Free software, but this book is not just a collection of harangues -- there's a great deal of practical advice as well.

Chapter 8, "Selling Free Software" is an essay found in earlier form on the GNU website, which in a few hundred words obliterates a persistent myth about Free software -- that it can't be sold or can't make its sellers a profit. Stallman emphasizes the differences that the GPL has on distribution terms, but lays out the terms clearly:

"Except for one special situation*, The GNU General Public License (GNU GPL) has no requirements about how much you can charge for distributing a copy of free software. You can charge nothing, a penny, a dollar, or a billion dollars. It's up to you, and the marketplace, so don't complain to us if nobody wants to pay a billion dollars for a copy."

Helpfully, that older chapter is preceded by one written earlier this year, "Releasing Free Software if You Work at a University." This is a particularly short chapter -- it takes up only two pages -- but the brevity is to Stallman's credit. I would like to see many more case studies beyond the single example presented (a GNU Ada compiler developed at NYU with Air Force funding, with a contract that specified its source code would be donated to the FSF) but these would probably be better in a book with a narrower scope. By not dwelling on unneeded specifics, Stallman has saved space to explain arguments and tactics which may be useful in persuading your school to endorse a Free software license. I also learned in this chapter that "The University of Texas has a policy that, by default, all software developed there is released as free software under the GNU General Public License." (Can anyone tell me more schools where this is true?)

The practical upshot of a philosophical book.

Free Software, Free Society is not a book for casual reading, and has no thrills, cliffhangers or suspense -- unless you apply the thoughts within to current, real situations, in which case you can probably find more excitement than you might care for. When Stallman wrote "The Right to Read," no one had yet been arrested for making eBooks accessible or copyable. This book is intentionally didactic and persuasive.

Your library (local or school) should carry a copy of this book because it is distillation of ideas that are philosophically important but by no means abstract. And if the libraries available to you don't carry it, I suggest filling out a book request form -- which you may be able to do right from your computer. (Here are two online examples from Yale and New York City's branch libraries.) Likewise for (as appropriate) your school's computer science department, law school and business school. It would also make a nice gift to your Congressional representatives, since many of them seem to have forgotten that preserving a free society supposed to be their highest aim.

This is a book worth buying, reading, and passing on.

* That exception is when source code is not physically included with binaries; the source code must then be available upon request from the binaries' provider.

You can purchase Free Software, Free Society directly from the GNU Press site. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Free Software, Free Society

Comments Filter:
  • cough (Score:3, Funny)

    by einstein ( 10761 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:04PM (#4819567) Homepage Journal
    ..A new book from the GNU Press called Freee Software, Free Society collects several of his essays...

    is that freee as in beeer, or freee as in--

    ok, sorry, had to do it
  • Where is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:06PM (#4819579)
    ..the online or downloadable version of this book?
    • Re:Where is (Score:5, Informative)

      by prizog ( 42097 ) <(gro.silavon) (ta) (todhsals-silavon)> on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:56PM (#4820041) Homepage
      You can download all of the speeches and essays from If you find one missing, it's an oversight. Write to me at the FSF (novalis at nospam and it'll be fixed.
    • Re:Where is (Score:4, Informative)

      by etymxris ( 121288 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:57PM (#4820053)
      ..the online or downloadable version of this book?

      No where. And it doesn't need to be. If the book was licensed like the GPL, then anyone who bought a copy could redistribute the text. But there is a separate libre license specifically designed to deal with documents, and so the GPL doesn't even apply.

      And it makes sense that the restrictions put on books should differ from those placed on software. You cannot "compile" a book into an unreadable format and still make use of it, unless you have a correspondingly compiled software utility that descrambles the text.
      • ' You cannot "compile" a book into an unreadable format'

        Sure I can, it's called PGP.

        • But it would not be useful without decrypting it via a program that has been compiled into an unreadable format.

          In any case, it doesn't matter. For a book to be of use, it must be readable. This is different from programs, which can be used in their unreadable state. If the book is readable, it can be copied. A program can be copied too, but not in the same way. I can't take the sorting algorithm from an executable and use it for something else, unless I have the source code. But I can take any random paragraph from a book and insert it into another work.

          This is just talking about practicality, not legality. The GPL seeks to make legality the same as practicality, and to promote both at the admonishment of the doctrine of copyright.
    • Downloading the book (Score:5, Informative)

      by bkuhn ( 41121 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @05:05PM (#4821179) Homepage

      You can check out the source from CVS []. Also, most of the essays are already on the GNU philosophy page [], and the rest are being put up this week.

      We do request that if you download the book rather than buy it, that you make a donation to the Free Software Foundation instead [] to help offset the cost of producing and formatting the book for publication. Indeed, I am frankly afraid that our meager savannah resources will collapse from the slashdot effect.

      Bradley M. Kuhn
      Executive Director, Free Software Foundation

  • by Ashish Kulkarni ( 454988 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:06PM (#4819583) Homepage
    there is too much of RMS-bashing these days, here on slashdot and on a lot of other places. Sure, whatever his faults, he has contributed significantly to the software community in general. How many people here can say that? It pays to remeber that even the greatest of minds (Edison, Newton, etc) were often on the wrong side; that doesn't detract from their acheivements.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      People aren't bashing his accomplishments in the software community, they are bashing his faults (or merits, depending on how you look at it). RMS is intolerant of perspectives that differ from his own. That's what gets him bashed. If he had made no contribution to software, he wouldn't be worth bashing. The two issues are distinct.
      • by abe ferlman ( 205607 ) <{bgtrio} {at} {}> on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:40PM (#4819875) Homepage Journal
        RMS is intolerant of perspectives that differ from his own.

        I believe you're stretching the meaning of tolerance a little too far here. Tolerance is useful when we are describing the ability of individuals to get along without significantly interacting. It is a stepping stone from hatred to understanding; i.e., if you can't accept or sympathize with homosexuals, you should at least tolerate them since they don't do you any harm.

        But RMS gets very angry at people who try to harm his ability to create software by closing off avenues of inquiry through abuse of the idea ownership system. They are harming him, and they are harming his ability to contribute to the software community.

        If there were no relationship between what he gets angry about and his contributions to computing, you would be right that the issues are distinct. But they have everything to do with one another.

      • by EricFenderson ( 64220 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:55PM (#4820633)

        RMS is intolerant of perspectives that differ from his own.

        There's a reason for this, and I'll bet most readers here haven't had enough formal philosophy to understand why he seems intolerant. RMS has thought more about the ethics of software than you have. Period. It's the man's thing - this is what a philosopher does. Think. He's done the time and he's found a consistent conclusion - that software should be free.

        How does someone arrive at a conclusion and determine that it has some philisophical chance of being right? There's a few things people look at:

        • First: Can it be logically derived from simpler ideas or tenants? If so, providing this derivation makes a very strong basis. Generally, most ethical philosphers will be unable to provide a proof like this, since there is so much division among fundamental tenants. (As opposed to mathematics and logic, where things are commonly proven in this fashion)
        • Second: Examine the consequences of the your position, and the converse of your position. Does either have bad consequences? Ideally you'd like to come up dry on your position, and find all kinds of bad stuff when considering the converse. A bad consequence can either be something distasteful ("If software isn't free, then governments have an easy way to keep their actions and data ultimately, and forever, secret from the populations that live under them.") or something plainly false ("If proprietary software is a better model, then people will support proprietary software developers"). The first is bad because it's something that only a dictator should want, the second is bad since it just doesn't happen in reality.
        • Third: Do the logical consequences of your position have trivial contradictions? If your position says "the sky is blue" and "the sky is red", you have a problem on your hand.
        Everyone who thinks philosophy is just people yelling opinions at each other don't understand the game. It's about writing proofs, as tight as mathematics proofs, but about more common ideas. It's harder and more technical than any software work I've ever done. RMS plays the game well. He's been playing longer than you or I have.

        It's not intolerance - he's just confidant that he's solved the problem. Would you be tolerant of people who honestly believed and tried to argue, 100% convinced, that 2+2=17? I doubt it. Once you've solved the problem of software freedom, the thought that it's not the ideal is just as preposterous.

    • But, most intelligent minds were not zealotous and unwilling to be practical and professional when arguing. I've seen transcripts of debates of RMS and MS reps. The MS Rep always talked with professionalism, and when RMS was asked a tough question, he'd try to rail on MS and avoid the question altogether.

      I -really- wish I had links to some of them (anyone? I think there was a recent debate at MIT that RMS went off the handle).

      Basically, RMS's points have been heard, and change takes a long time. RMS isn't willing to wait for a long period of time, and isn't satisfied with how much has happened already, so I picture him as a stubborn zealot that will never truely be happy.

      Sorry to sound harsh, or to bash RMS. His ideas are good, but the way he conveys it is not.
    • Don't forget, the greatest artists and scientists were ridiculed in their own times. Great thinkers and wonderful artists such as Galileo, van Gogh and loads like them were considered odd and thus were ridiculed merely because they were far ahead of their time. Now I'm not glorifying RMS here, but surely history thought us that people with odd ideas on how things work/look like should be listened to and not disregarded.

      • Now I'm not glorifying RMS here, but surely history thought us that people with odd ideas on how things work/look like should be listened to and not disregarded.

        You're right that society judges people differently in hindsight, but what you're hinting at is not necessarily true. ie RMS (or anyone with an idea) is a saint because he's a weirdo. More often than not, people who piss people off with their ideas have bad ideas.

        RMS has probably taken the movement about as far as he can because his philosophy/demeanor is not acceptable to the next group that the Open Source movement needs to penetrate-- business leaders. RMS is/was convincing to the group of zealots that got the movement off the ground, but he's probably doing more harm that good now.

        There's a reason we have Martin Luther King Day and not Malcolm X day.

        • Free software came in the back door as sysadmins starting putting Linux servers all over the place in corporations. European development has been somewhat anti-corporate America in its orientation.

          I think RMS would gladly trade support in broad base of technology workers over support from their bosses. He's trying to change consciousness not change software vendors.

    • by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:26PM (#4819760)
      The problem is this:

      People judge the message by its messenger. That's important to recognize. Very important.

      RMS is a bad messenger. He is often rude to the point of hijacking meetings, interupting the floor time of other speakers, etc. He often shows up at events in an unpresentable manner. He often takes such a shrill, adversarial, divise tone that it's basically not worth speaking with him on any level except to say "I agree".

      He has made significant contributions, and should rightly be credited with them. He had done a lot of good things. History should judge him well, but it probably won't judge him at all. ,br>
      On the other hand, history will judge people like Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, The Woz, etc in a much more positive light because they are all glossy, ready-for-consumption public speakers (some to more or less a degree, Ellison and McNealy are often abrasive and rude, and Gates and Balmer are almost always slimy, vague, and fake visionary). They are largely presentable, largely ready to make a positive impression, and more likely to engage in a civil discourse.

      So by all means respect and value RMS's contributions. But insomuch as the full potential of the GNU, GPL, and OSS is unrecognized, realize that RMS's personal quirks, attitude, and style has a lot to do with that.

      A final closing thought: I am not one to be happy with or for people with a business "fetish" - but sometimes the playful, anti-mainstream, shrill overtones of the OSS world seriously inhibit their stated goals. Imagine going into a meeting with the CIO, CEO, etc of an organization and pitching for your product to be used over a Sun, Oracle, or MS offering. Imagine having them read over your proposal and start asking questions like "What does GNU stand for?" and "So exactly what is this KDE thing?" and the like. Big decisions that affect the lives of major organizations, employees, and shareholders require a somber, factual, reasonable, respectful debate. And a lot of times RMS and the RMS-esque crowd are unwilling to provide that.
    • I don't like your argument. By the same logic, Bill Gates, "whatever his faults, [...] has contributed significantly to the software community in general." But I'm not about to stop Billybashing, because his contributions don't excuse him from scrutiny and criticism.

      Am I comparing RMS to Billy? No, of course not. I like RMS. What I am saying is that I acknowledge RMS's contributions, but I think he's also done some things that rightfully get him a little crap from the community.

      And speaking of that, I'm not too keen on Edison, either. Read one of the books about Tesla and Edison, and you'll probably stop holding up Edison as an example of a genius.

  • Contradiction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tmark ( 230091 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:06PM (#4819587)
    I find Stallman instead to be one of the most persistently, relentlessly reasonable people whose thoughts I've ever encountered. Stallman may be a dogmatist,

    Almost by definition, a dogmatist can't be reasonable, since dogma itself, as a tenet, is not subject to reason.
    • I'm not sure I agree with that. This is a little offtopic... But if there is a god... is s/he dogmatic? What do the leaders of most religions think?

      Yer Sex []
    • Re:Contradiction (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yep, I think most of us caught that. Just remember, it's timothy who crafted the write-up. I think that even trying to call RMS "reasonable" is mincing words. Just call him "persistently, relentlessly dogmatic" and you'd be far closer to the mark. For example, if you read the FAQ regarding calling "Linux" "GNU/Linux", most of the points are quite arguable. Since this isn't acceptable, near the end of that FAQ is the key assertion, something to the effect of "If you are a moral person, you'll call it GNU/Linux. You're amoral if you don't." ... Which is the whole issue we have with RMS. The only morality which is valid is his morality, and that's that. It only serves to alienate him from people who actually are reasonable (as well as from the irritable masses).
    • The dogma of dogma? (Score:5, Informative)

      by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:23PM (#4819732) Homepage
      Almost by definition, a dogmatist can't be reasonable, since dogma itself, as a tenet, is not subject to reason.

      That's a dogmatic definition of 'dogma.' The word has the same root as 'doctor' (whose medical meaning is quite recent - the sense of 'professor' is much older) and 'doctrine,' which originally referred to teacher and teaching. So a 'dogma' is generally a received teaching, but that does not at all mean (1) that there is no reason behind the teaching, or (2) that the student is not encouraged to reason about it. The same root is in the Greek word dokein one of whose meanings was 'think.' It also shows up as both 'orthodox' and 'paradox.' Also, 'document.'

      Basically, a dogmatist is anyone who professes to have a consistent teaching. While famous examples include Philo of Larissa's elaboration on Plato's Academy 4 and the doctrines of the Councils of the Catholic Church, these do not nearly exhaust the senses of the word. Your definition of dogma as not subject to reason sounds like itself a bit of dogma - something you have been taught, but in this case by someone whose reasoning about it is based on perhaps a judgment about the Catholic Church's instances of dogma, rather than an open study of the history of the term.

      • > elaboration on Plato's Academy 4

        i was scanning through and thought i saw " elaboration on Police Academy 4"....

        now, i can't stop laughing for some innane reason.
    • By this reasoning, very few people are "reasonable." We all have tenents that we live by, assumptions that we make to get us out the front door in the morning. A great number of people are religious, but that doesn't make them "unreasonable." Even certain aspects of science are dogma. It seems to me that RMS has certain beliefs, which are mostly clear from the outset, and he follows them pretty closely.

      At any rate, this is mostly a semantic argument, and gets further and further away from the actual question of whether RMS is "reasonable." When people say that he is unreasonable, we all (mostly) know what this means, though I think that it defies concise definition.

      From what I've seen of him, he is mostly not reasonable. There is quite a bit of an egomaniac in him and he's often had trouble with figuring out what battles are worth fighting. His whole GNU/Linux naming rampage has been fairly bad for him politically and has alienated him from some of his most valuable supporters.

      My opinion of him was finally gelled when I read the newsgroup conversations of the GNU/Lucid/X Emacs debacle. It at least showed that he had a very deep problem with working with other developers and even a bit of control-freakishness over the whole thing. A great deal of the problem was poor communication in both directions, but I felt that he had made a lot of the mistakes, and seemed reluctant to make an effort to meet the Lucid people halfway.

      I still admire RMS, he's sort of the great gand-daddy of open source and he deserves a lot of credit for laying the foundations that allowed GNU and Linux to flourish. Even withhis faults, we wouldn't be where we are today without him.
    • I only got as far as the words "reasonable people" and then I gave up on the article. I have witnessed Stallman's lack of reasonability in person. He is purposely out of touch with aspects of the world that most /.ers take for granted. I am not talking about showers here people, I am talking about modern tech. He is uncompromising, persistent and relentless but reasonable is not a word that applies to him. I appreciate the GPL and the FSF but let's not call RMS reasonable. I would guess that even he doesn't consider himself to be reasonable, and thinks of this as a feature, not a bug.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:07PM (#4819596)
    After seeing Cringely's Triumph of the Nerds PBS series, in which he pointed out that every person who became wealthy off of hi-tech in the '80s did it by exploiting the innovators, I've had a funny feeling that somebody's going to do the same with "free" software.

    My colleagues tell me no, that's not true. But just yesterday we started looking into replacing our commercial database engine with MySQL. Lo and behold, for our commercial use, we have to pay for it.

    That's fine, in itself. I think it's fine to pay people for work they did. But think about all the contributors to MySQL, who were doing it because it was "free" and "open" software. MySQL AB (the company who really does control MySQL) is going to make an awful lot of money from all that work. They wouldn't be backed by Venture Capital money if they weren't. But all those contributors shall see not a cent!

    I don't mean to pick on MySQL, but I think it's an interesting example. Open source and "free" software is a disruptive technology, just as something like Shareware was when compared to the Freeware model of the early '90s.

    But I think it's naive not to expect to see some people make an awful lot of money out of code that others contributed to free. I fear history will repeat itself.
    • by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:19PM (#4819698) Homepage Journal
      That's one of the things about Free Software that's rather unfortunate. The same thing has been done with Linux in general (Red Hat) and X-Windows (numerous accelerated X implementations).

      The people who believe most in the principles Free Software has to offer are the least likely to receive anything in return for their efforts (well, barring Richard Stallman himself, but even he is poorly compensated in comparison to Bill Gates or Bill Joy). If you're coding for the joy of coding, then it in and of itself is enough compensation, of course, but if Free Software developers were truly paid at the level at which they contribute to society their work would easily exceed everything Microsoft or other commercial developers have to offer.

      • And if the best of the K-12 teachers that taught the programers that recreated the free software (and the doctors and scientists...) were compensated for thier contribution to society we wouldn't have problems finding teachers.

        I know we're on /. but don't give programers more credit than they are do.
      • by Jester99 ( 23135 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:19PM (#4820290) Homepage
        The same thing has been done with Linux in general (Red Hat)

        Actually, I think that you picked a very poor example in that one. Red Hat realizes the value that core developers brought to Linux. A thousand or so of the major contributors -- who did it for love, not for any hope of future profit -- were given rights to buy RHAT stock at the IPO, making them all quite a boodle of cash if they were smart enough about it. Not only that, but Red Hat pays the salaries of people who used to just do linux development because they wanted to, but because Red Hat is able to make money off of it, they feed them as well.

        Very rarely do the engineers and scientists and researchers grab the profits from their inventions. But businesses exist for profit, and that's how the world works: they make the money off of things invented by individuals.

        Linux/open-source businesses in particular have been fairly conscious about remembering to reward those who worked to bring about that which they're profitting off of. Goodness knows, it's certainly in their best interests to do so.
    • I suggest you go back a review the MySQL license again: (

      "As long as you never distribute (internally or externally) the MySQL Software in any way, you are free to use it for powering your application, irrespective of whether your application is under GPL or other OSI approved license or not. "

      Now, if you're saying that you want to include MySQL in an application that you intend to distribute for commercial gain and not pass conpensation back down the line to MySQL AB then I say you are doing the very same thing that you are accusing them of doing - trying to profit from someone else's work.

      To me their license makes perfect sense and is quite fair.
    • You're wrong about the MySQL licence.

      MySQL is dually licensed under GPL and a commercial license. MySQL AB can do this since they are the creators of the code.

      If you wish to use the software under the restrictions of the GPL, you are free to do so. But if you wish to do something not allowed by the GPL, then, and only then must you purchase the commercial license.

      This is clearly spelled out in MySQL AB's licensing section:

      If your application is NOT licensed under GPL or compatible OSI license approved by MySQL AB and you intend to distribute MySQL software (be that internally or externally), you must first obtain a commercial license to the MySQL software in question.

      Had they made MySQL LGPL or BSD licensed rather than GPL, then this restriction wouldn't exist.

      You can do anything with MySQL that the GPL allows. But if you want to do something not allowed, you still can, but you must pay MySQL AB.

      I don't see how you can find any fault with this.
    • That's a lousy example. You can make commercial use of MySQL under the GPL. Commercial licenses are offered as an alternative to the GPL. The reason you'd buy a commercial license is if you want to modify MySQL without the obligation to release your modifications under the GPL.

      Also, the people who run MySQL AB are the ones who developed the MySQL database. They're not running a company to get rich off someone else's code.

      As for people who've contributed code, documentation or tools for MySQL, they are getting paid. They're getting a free database. If you consider the cost of purchasing some comparable alternatives, they're getting paid very well.
    • That's fine, in itself. I think it's fine to pay people for work they did. But think about all the contributors to MySQL, who were doing it because it was "free" and "open" software. MySQL AB (the company who really does control MySQL) is going to make an awful lot of money from all that work. They wouldn't be backed by Venture Capital money if they weren't. But all those contributors shall see not a cent!

      I don't think you understand. Those developers made the contribution out of the kindness of their hearts. Perhaps they found a bug during the course of developing for their own company, or perhaps they did it on their free time. But the important thing is that they gave of their talents with the expectation that they would receive nothing in return save a bit of personal satisfaction.

      MySQL AB places no restrictions on the code, it is completely GPLed and open to everybody. Documentation is freely available from a multitude of sources. Not a single developer is being restricted from having his hard work available to the entire world.

      But in addition to the free version, the creators of MySQL have offered a way for companies to purchase a license, and thus avoid several GPL issues. On top of that, they have also made the choice to stick out their shingle and offer support sevices for the product, which will probably make some good money as well.

      But the important thing that you completely misunderstood was that they had complete freedom under the GPL to do this. And more importantly, so does everybody else. Hell, you could start your own company if you really feel like it.

      Nobody is being taken advantage of, because everyone is given the same oppertunities to profit from the code.
    • Lo and behold, for our commercial use, we have to pay for [MySQL]

      That's not actually true -- it's under the GPL. Only for proprietary distribution do you have to get a non-GPL license.
    • But just yesterday we started looking into replacing our commercial database engine with MySQL. Lo and behold, for our commercial use, we have to pay for it.

      Look a little bit harder next time. MySQL is available under the GPL, which does not distinguish between commercial and non-commercial use. From the MySQL web site []:

      MySQL is available for free under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL). Commercial licences are sold to users who prefer not to be restricted by the GPL terms.

      Also, prebuilt binaries of the so-called "MySQL Classic" are only available under the commercial license, but if you can't be bothered to build it from source, you must not be very serious about using it.

  • The legal analogy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Logic Bomb ( 122875 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:13PM (#4819648)

    Regarding the comparison of free code to the law, I think Stallman (and Timothy) might be disappointed to read this [] at LawMeme. For those who don't want to follow the link:

    New York based securities litigation firm Milberg Weiss known for representing stockholders of Enron, last September started copyrighting some complaints it files on behalf of its clients by registering with the U.S. Copyright Office. Milberg's attorneys recently sent out ten letters to other attorneys who represent other plaintiffs in same cases with Milberg asking them to stop copying their work after discovering that documents it filed with courts were being copied, in some instances virtually unchanged. Aside from sending out the letters Milberg has not taken any action as of now, but that may change since the firm starting to feel that its expertise is being used without compensation. Milberg also feels that because of copying it has suffered monetary losses.

    Apparently, nothing is sacred. :-)

    • Milberg Weiss isn't just quibbling over small beans. MW is the country's biggest class-action law firm, and they know how the accounting works: One firm gets assigned to head the plaintiff's effort, and that firm earns almost all the fees associated with the case. How big are these fees? Well, with regards to the Enron case, MW's fees were:

      1. 8 percent of the first $1 billion in damages
      2. 9 percent of the second $1 billion
      3. 10 percent on anything more
      ... those fees pay for a lot of expense-account lunches.

      Clearly MW (which also represents the lead plaintiff in the Dynegy class-action suit) sees its complaints as up-front research done in order to bolster its position as representing the lead plaintiff, and is nervous that other firms cribbing its research will piggyback on its work. Clearly they're misusing copyright. (Well, they are lawyers.)

      One would hope that such a misuse would be unnecessary. Ideally MW would be able to go the judge and say "Your Honor, look at all the complaints we've filed, and look at all the subsequent complaints other firms have filed, and how much of their complaints use our arguments." Whether such an argument works in practice, who's to say?
    • I've even seen patent applications with copyright notices, typically where the patent includes explicit software code. That's a bit much. The whole point of patents is that when the patent expires, anybody can do it.

      Patents expire while they still matter, unlike copyrights. Claritin goes out of patent next week. The "GIF patent" expires next spring. RSA encryption went out of patent last year.

  • ok, a little offtopic, but I saw this [] book (Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software) at a brick & morter bookstore a couple months ago, and had a quick look at it.

    Interestingly enough, O'Reilly had a page devoted to the software that was used, and it sure wasn't open source (PageMaker or FrameMaker, IIRC),

  • by gsfprez ( 27403 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:15PM (#4819666)
    is the book copyrighted? If not, is it under any license agreement? Or can i scan it in, and redistribute it on the internet (in its entirety, with obvious credit that RMS was the author and not me?)

    obviously, since the book has physical attributes, i wouldn't believe or suggest that a physical book itself would be free... but i'm curious if he eats his own dog food.

    tangental question...
    how did it come about that Lessig's eBook was protected to the point of being unusable? Did not he write it? (/Yoda) And did he not have control over how its protections were to be set? I am a devotee of Lessig's ideas (not to the man himself), but this has always bothered and confused me.
    • I think that the entire book is available online already, just maybe not collated into a book with chapters. I know the "Right to Read" is already published online.

      Since I haven't read the book, I can't be sure...

    • Grabbing my copy off the shelf, I notice on the copyright page...
      Copyright (C) 2002 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

      along with this message...

      Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the book provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.
      Permission is granted to copy and distribute modified version of the book under the condition for verbatim copying
      Permission is granted to copy and distribute translations of this book into another, from the original English, with respect to the conditions on distribution of modified versions above, provided that it has been approved by the Free software Foundation.
      and on the first page of every chapter is this notice...
      Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved
      • by Gumshoe ( 191490 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:53PM (#4820620) Journal
        Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved

        Well said. I would like to emphasise though, the quoted extract.

        What few people seem to realise is that Stallman doesn't advocate a blanket application of copyright law to all kinds of works. He states that functional works, computer software in particular, should be treated very differently to works, such as this book, that present the coherent thoughts of a single author. This is why "verbatim" is quickly followed by "or with modification" in the GNU GPL but not here -- to modify these articles would be to misrepresent the views of the author.

        The reasoning behind this conclusion is long and better described by Stallman himself.
  • by Drakonian ( 518722 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:15PM (#4819670) Homepage
    Score: -1, Troll.

    Some people say vi zealots are unreasonable. I disagree, I think you should have to press a special sequence of characters before you can edit a document. ;)

  • If RMS will use the proceedes to buy and use:a bar of soap, a razor, and nail clippers. Wash those filthy ankles!

  • Stallman is often criticised as a fanatic ideologist. Do you remember Linus Torvalds saying 'ideology sucks' or 'linux is just for fun' ... Well, today, linus is working for Palladium so, although we don't know precisely ideology is leading us... we can get a picture of what absence of ideology leads to.
  • by tshak ( 173364 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:19PM (#4819704) Homepage
    What's the big deal with Free Software? Why can't he broaden his focus to other area's of engineering and intellectual property? Why is software the only profession that has a foundation (FSF) to make it free.

    My theory is that other professions have a much larger barrier of entry then software development. It's easy as a software developer to cheapen the value of the time it takes to write code, whereas with an airplane you can't cheapen the value of raw materials. It's sad to see that the most valuable aspect of any product - the time put in by people - is the least valued by RMS (from my perspective).
    • Although it would be great to type "cp ~/transport/airpanes/boeing747/TF1000 ~/transport/airpanes/boeing747/TF1001" and create a new airplane, its not possible. Software has no marginal cost, and therefore has a very small cost overall (1 person uses a program, which took 100 hours at $20 an hour to produce, cost of the program is $2,000. If 1,000,000 people use it, cost is still $2,000)

      There are free documentation (hmm, wheres the online version of *this* book) licenses, as you can copy an electronic form of a book easilly. You cant copy an airplane.
    • It's easy as a software developer to cheapen the value of the time it takes to write code, whereas with an airplane you can't cheapen the value of raw materials.

      So? If it can be cheapened, it will be cheapened. That's economics.

      Once software writing becomes almost too cheap to support new software development, supply and demand says that it will stop getting cheaper. No big deal.

    • All people have is time. Their time from birth to death is a guaranteed random variable. Everything else is material accumulation or the cognitive interpretation of material surroundings.

      If one believes in equality, democracy, and the drive to make a better humanity, one can easily be lead to believe that everyone's time should be equally compensated.

      So think about it. Even you yourself state that "the value of raw materials" is the only true cost because it is the only thing "you can't cheapen".

      With that statement said, If you believe that everyone deserves equal constant pay for their time, what's the difference between getting paid zero if everyone else is paid zero as well? Especially since time is what you automatically cheapen every moment in the act living, weather or not you are paid for it. The end result is the product or the public appreciation of the creative use of time.

      Since their is no tangible output to software, it just means that the same logic stated above is applied to a situation where the value of the raw materials (code) is also zero. (minus the cost of materials for the actual computer, of course...)

      Why expand on an ideology that is most revolutionary applicable to software? A first in humanity where the product requires no "raw materials", beyond the technological container, to create or infinitely duplicate?

      I for one, commend RMS, on his efforts, and see no need for him to expand in areas that he has no personal interest in.
    • RMS has stated in the past that there are many battles out there more important than software, but that there are also people out there more qualified than he to fight those battles. He chose software because no one else was doing it and he was (and is) capable of doing a very good job at it.
    • What's the big deal with Free Software? Why can't he broaden his focus to other area's of engineering and intellectual property? Why is software the only profession that has a foundation (FSF) to make it free.

      What doesn't the ACLU worry about rainforest decimation? Why doesn't the EFF broaden their focus to workers compensation?

      An organziation needs a focus. If you broaden your focus too much, you dilute your message and risk alienating potential supporters who agree with part of your message but not all of it. And if you're a small organization (and compared to say the ACLU, the FSF is microscopic), you only have so much time and energy to spend. By focusing they increase their chances of doing good.

      Furthermore, software has a certain special place in copyright law shared with few other areas. Software is both functional and expressive. Without the source, it's functionally impossible for an end user to modify it. I'd be hard pressed to modify my copy of Microsoft Office, but I can pretty easily modify my car or a book I've purchased.

      My theory is that other professions have a much larger barrier of entry then software development. It's easy as a software developer to cheapen the value of the time it takes to write code, whereas with an airplane you can't cheapen the value of raw materials. It's sad to see that the most valuable aspect of any product - the time put in by people - is the least valued by RMS (from my perspective).

      This has nothing to do with the cheapening of developer time. Remember that RMS comes from a developer background. Many Free Software supporters (like myself) are professional programmers. He highly values the time put in by people, and so do I. But the person who built my car also put in alot of time, but I'm free to modify it, install off-brand parts, and general do as I will with it. Why does the personal who wrote my software get to control how I use it?

      Let's look at an idealized "perfect Stallman world" in which he gets everything he wants (as near as I can tell). It becomes hard to sell software, because once one copy is sold it will be copied and resold for increasingly smaller prices until it has a zero price. Does this mean no software will be written and software developers will starve? Certainly not. First, more software is written strictly for in-company use. There was never a goal to sell it. If the company is concerned that there are valuable secrets in their in-company software, they can use "trade secret" law to protect it from being spread just fine. This leaves the much smaller segment of software for sale. Will the market shrink? Perhaps. However, much of the value of purchased software has always been support and warrantee. (Well, that's the theory. In practice much commericial software has useless support and disclaims any warrantees, but anyway...). So there opens a market for selling support and warrantees, and who best can support and warrantee the product besides the authors? Also, if software is open, there opens a large market for developers who will assemble existing products to create customized solutions for particular clients. Ultimately, the software is needed. The people who write the software need to make money. Something will be worked out, be it the Street Performer Protocol [], tips, sponsorship by a company providing support and warrantee (essentially what RedHat and many other distributors do now), or something else.

      I'm a software engineer and I support Free Software, and I'm not worried in the slightest about Free Software destroying my career. I may need to remain flexible, especially when I take jobs writing software for sale, but the work will remain.

  • by Hornsby ( 63501 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:23PM (#4819738) Homepage
    A lot of people get too caught up in his philosophy and overlook the fact that he's a coding god. I liked this [] article that sheds some light on his coding abilities.
  • Yeah, but... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bobalu ( 1921 )
    the people who don't give a damn about the bits being free or recognize MSFT as evil are probably not gonna be the ones who'll buy the book, so this is pretty unlikely to change any minds.

    On the other hand, Wal-Mart is selling a PC with Linux for $200, showing how the most expensive part is the Windows tax. Now THAT will do a LOT of good as it'll get middle America gets comfortable with Linux.
  • by EschewObfuscation ( 146674 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:27PM (#4819769) Journal
    I have to say that I usually disagreed with rms. Or rather, I didn't so much disagree with him as felt that he went too far in his advocacy of things in which I also had a (less dogmatic) belief.

    The best example I have is his story The Right to Read. When I first read it (very soon after it was first made available), I dismissed it as a political tract with very little basis in reality. I knew that the fairly recent dawn of the e-book was a Bad Thing (tm), but I certainly didn't think that anything could ever progress to the sci-fi horror world that rms invented.

    Not long ago I realized how wrong I was about that. The world (or at least US legislation, as purchased by the RIAA and MPAA and executed in things like DMCA) has caught up with Richard's dystopian future. Now I can not only picture it, I believe it is likely to happen.

    I can no longer view rms as a radical. If he will not compromise, perhaps it is because the alternative is so terrible that compromise is simply not possible.
    • My girlfriend (yup slashdotters, thats right!) is very pro-IP pro-software patent pro-DMCA. She's also a lawyer in training. I forced her to read Right to Read, and I'm slowly turning her around. One of the best bits of text GNU's produced.
  • not have a problem with companies exerting control of their products via hidden and inaccessible bits so that they may continue to profit from their product, which concerning software is usually only very easy to copy without proper compensation/renumaeration intellectual property?

    If you find that too wordy I'll make an alternate version for you. What if you don't have a problem with a company using copy protection so that they can earn money for the software they produce, be able to pay their developers, and not have to resort to subsitance Open Source?
  • Lessig's Analogy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dwm ( 151474 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:33PM (#4819819)
    I'm sure Lessig is a brilliant guy, but the legal analogy is really pretty crappy.

    People don't pay lawyers for the content of the various documents they produce -- that's why so often the highest-paid lawyers in a firm rarely write anything; the actual crafting of briefs, etc. is often left to junior associates or even paralegals. The value lawyers bring (and yes, this is a gross oversimplification, but is true at least 80% of the time) is that they know which form to file, where to file it and have access to the people who get things done.

    To sum up, the legal analogy fails because you (usually) don't need a specialist to tell you what program to run, and you don't need a specially-credentialled person to run the program for you.
  • Will someone explain to me where the "versus" comes in? Everything I read makes open source out to be some kind of David against closed sources Goliath. What's the battle for? Both exist, both have pros and cons, so move on? Must there be a "winner". Isn't that like saying there must be a winner in the "50 cents a day, daily newspaper" versus the "free cityguide newspapers" you can pick up at a lot of restaurants. They're not battling to snuff the other out, they're just done differently by different people with different models and intents. So? Let people write closed source, and sell it, and come up with hardware key, parallel port dongles and retinal (not rectal) scans for licensing if they want to. Then let another company, or group of programmers do everything open and work on donation money, or anything in between. Where's the battle, and why a winner?
  • by elmegil ( 12001 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @02:36PM (#4819846) Homepage Journal
    I hardly think so.

    To be dogmatic is to have set ones mind on "The Answer" and not let go, no matter what, as inflexibly as possible. Dogmatic does not ipso facto mean you're wrong, but it sure as hell does not make you "reasonable".

  • I think the main reason many programmers disagree with Stallman and his ideas is that they cannot find a way to be paid to create GPL licensed software. Stallman has come to a unique point in his career where he can be paid American dollars with total job security to create software that he gives away. The problem many of us face is that for the average person such positions are the creation of make believe and la-la land, and we are forced by the companies we work for to keep the source closed so that the companies we work for can make money. While it is true that engineers should work hard to persuade their managers to release a company's products and source code under some sort of license (even the GPL) the decision to license software is usually not made by engineers but by MBAs who are in charge and have a different way of thinking.

    So personally I do not think that Stallman is "crazy" or anything but I find it hard in my own life to apply the GPL to the software I write, because if I did I would be fired and prosecuted for stealing Intellectual Property.
  • I find him a nice stable person who do a nice job at representing Open Software and Linux. Where i would be screaming and throwing things around me he just talks on like nothing happened. I think that his moderate stand on things make him a better representative than i would. We zealots tend to loose ourselves when people lie to us in our face. For example me, if i hear another MS sales rep downtalking linux i will shove his head up his ass where it belongs. Stallman woudnt and for that i admire him.
  • Pedantic.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:19PM (#4820293)
    When RMS tries to choose words and terminology carefully, people say he is nitpicking.

    Why is it that no one ever complains when RIAA and Microsoft etc. do it? The are always careful about choosing the words extremely carefully (I bet they pour money into such "research") and then market it aggressively.

    The point is that it's not just nitpicking. It does matter. The "literal english meaning" of the term does have an effect on how we think about what the term describes.

    With the success of microsofies, today,

    Copyright Infringement is called piracy , and I bet almost everyone outside of the slashdot crowd does think it is indeed a sort of stealing (even though the person from which it was "stolen" retained their copy.). The term used did therefore, have an effect on how people think about it.

    Untrusted computing is thought of as "Trusted computing".

    Draconian Digital free speech curbes and Digital rights restrictions are known as "digital right managements".

    Their Trying to ascribe concepts of ownership to nonmaterial stuff and to such ridiculous things as my genes, time-honored agriculture traditions, idea, prices of products is called "Intellectual Property".

    Insecure systems are thought of as 'systems protected by virus-protecting software'.

    Secure systems are thought of as systems lacking antivirus software.

    A communistic "landgrab" of all new laws they can think of by buying the government, is called democracy.

    A market literally choked in almost any field of software or hardware by one ruler, and choked by respective players in other fields, is called a "free market".

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:39PM (#4820479)
    Now, now, that's not a knock. Whenever you have a specific philosophy that you adhere to at all costs, that's singlemindedness, and it also comes across as unreasonable to many people. It's just like the technologists who insist that Everything Must Be An Object or Static Typing Is The Way or that Linux Is The Pinnacle of Operating System Design or whatever. Having very specific, unbending, and hardcore rules can give you blind spots or at least make you look like a fanatic.

    You have to respect such people for their zealotry, but that doesn't mean they're the kind of person you'd walk to work on a project--one that has to make slight concessions to the was of the world--with. At least Stallman has the experience and intelligence that make him worth listening to, unlike most of the people who write crazy anti-copyright rants for and other inbred sites.
  • by mr_gerbik ( 122036 ) on Thursday December 05, 2002 @03:45PM (#4820537)
    If all software was open and free (as in liberty), we would have a cure for cancer by now and a cure for AIDS. Blind people would be able too see, the deaf would be able to hear. There would be no more wars. Corporate greed would not exist. Man would work for mankind. People would live on the moon. The Segway would cost $100, and yes, cities would be built around it. There would be no hunger. Everyone would get laid. Everyone would be beautiful.

    Do not underestimate Free Software.

"The hands that help are better far than the lips that pray." -- Robert G. Ingersoll