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Stallman/Stanco: A Dialogue on Copyright Law and Free/Open Source Software (Part 4)

"Remember Shakespeare's admonition that people sometimes mar what they have in trying to achieve still more."

  • July 18, 2000
  • By Tony Stanco

This is the fourth day of an email dialogue with Richard Stallman on the philosophy of copyright that will be published over nine days on LinuxPlanet. This dialogue arose from comments that RMS was kind enough to give me on a two-part article on software licensing that appeared on LinuxProgramming recently. (Check out the articles at LinuxProgramming: Software Licenses and Traditional Copyright Law and Looking at the General Public License and Open-Source Licenses.)

DAY 4

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/4/00
From:   RMS
To:     tony stanco

[Stanco]:

>What law is is a very difficult issue. It appears you think that it has 
>an independent existence outside of what a majority of elite lawyers say 
>it is at any one time. You say that it is what the Supreme Court says it 
>is. But the Supreme Court is a group of elite lawyers.

[Stallman]:

Supreme Court consists of elite lawyers, but most elite lawyers are
not in the Supreme Court.  The ones outside the Supreme Court don't
decide what US law is.  They only argue to convince the Supreme Court
what it should be.

The Supreme Court can reinterpret US law today.  But not even the
Supreme Court can alter history as regards the interpretation in the
past.

Our enemies want to pretend that US legal tradition is on their side.
Our enemies want people to believe that their view was enshrined in
the Constitution and has never been challenged except by a few
radicals.  This is not true--it is a snow-job.

Please dont elevate their propaganda campaign to the status of defining
what the truth is.  You will make our victory even harder,
by giving them an advantage they do not rightly possess.


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/5/00
From:   tony stanco
To:     RMS

[Stallman]:

>You will make our victory even harder,
>by giving them an advantage they do not rightly possess.

[Stanco]:

What victory are we trying for? Defeat of proprietary or defeat of copyright
law?

I signed on to defeat proprietary and protect free developers and free
citizens. Copyright is not a problem to that as long as your GPL is used.

The only problem I have with copyright is that currently it is dominated by
corporate ownership, instead of owned by the creators. But this just
reflects my anti-corporatism. Corporations have become economic tyrants,
replacing the political tyrants of old. They have too much power and now
threaten the liberty of people.

Also, I would rather make people equal at the top, than equal at the bottom.
Taking property rights away from people (as opposed to from corporations)
does not sound like a good idea to me. That makes them equal at the bottom.

Why not make them equal by giving them property? If you want equality, why
not give everyone $1 million, instead of making everyone poorer (i.e., 
taking
property away)? Equality at the top makes more sense to me. Creating more
property (even arbitrarily) so people have more, is not an evil thing.
Copyright allows that. It increases the amount of property in the world. And
it generally does not need a great deal of resources to produce.

While I don't think that the third world could produce enough art, books or
music to enter the world economy, I do think they could produce software or
other practical intellectual goods that the world wants and which would
allow them in.

There is no freedom without economic freedom. Economic freedom requires
property. Without property people are enslaved by nature or by others.
Allowing them to produce property empowers them and gives them dignity.
Property is not the problem. Especially now when property can be produced by
the intellectual powers of the person. This is an extension of self and is
important as that. (think of art.)

Now that people all over the world can use their intellects to get out of
poverty it is a thing to be devoutly wished for.

[Stallman]:

>Our enemies want to pretend that US legal tradition is on their side.
>Our enemies want people to believe that their view was enshrined in
>the Constitution and has never been challenged except by a few
>radicals.  This is not true--it is a snow-job.

[Stanco]:

You want us to have too many enemies. Let's choose our enemies wisely.
What's the point of letting people paint us as anti-property,
anti-establishment, anti-lawyer? This will not help our cause, if our cause
is free software. If the cause is something else, you should let me know.

Can't we just agree to defeat proprietary? They're the real enemy. Making
everyone our enemy will not help our cause.

Sometimes I think you are too much a philosopher and not enough of a
tactician. This was the same opening you left Open Source and they took it.
Now they have the momentum and you're left trying to re-establish your
pre-eminence. Not to mention that Open does not and will not end up caring
about freedoms of developers or citizens.

Who cares if the majority of lawyers have the interpretation of the history
of the Constitutional copyright issue wrong? What's that to Hecuba or Hecuba
to that?

Why do you care? What's the difference to free software? GPL works with
their interpretation just as well regardless. In fact, I would suggest that
if the world was as you claim, there would be no GPL, since it wouldn't be
needed to right the wrong.

Why dissipate our energies on such a tangential issue? Let the world be as
it is and let them say what they want, and we will rely on the GPL for free
software. GPL achieves freedom for developers and therefore for citizens. Is
there something more you are trying to achieve?

Remember Shakespeare's admonition that people sometimes mar what they have
in trying to achieve still more. Is GPL not enough of a legacy? I think it
will put the world on a road that goes where you want it to get to, in due
time, but don't try to overleap the entire path to get to the end all at
once. Let the world catch up and let others take their place on that road,
too.
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