February 19, 2019

Stallman/Stanco: A Dialogue on Copyright Law and Free/Open Source Software (Part 6)

"I believe everyone should be free to cooperate; specifically, free to share and change software"

  • July 13, 2000
  • By Tony Stanco

This is the sixth 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 6

Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/7/00
From:   RMS
To:     tony stanco


>Giving people copyright is not inconsistent with the "freedom to 
>cooperate." If people share what belongs to them, that shows their moral 


And when they turn out to be bad, does that mean they should be able
to use copyright to prohibit others from cooperating?  I do not think


>  Where's the freedom, when they have no choice but to  "cooperate."


You must have misunderstood what I said. I do not believe anyone
should be forced to cooperate. I believe everyone should be free
to cooperate; specifically, free to share and change software.

To secure this freedom for you, we must stop anyone from taking it
away from you--by copyrights or by any other means.


You wrote:

>>>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.

I responded:

>>You must have misunderstood me greatly, to say that.

You wrote:

>Why would the GPL be needed if there was no copyright and people 
>cooperated and shared? I thought the purpose of GPL is to get people to 
>cooperate and share.

That isn't the issue I thought I was talking about. So I think there
is indeed a big misunderstanding--either you misunderstood me or I
misunderstood you. I cannot tell which.


Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/7/00
From:   tony stanco
To:     RMS


There indeed appears to be some misunderstandings.

My position is that GPL does what I consider to be necessary for the
protection of freedom and liberty for the world's citizens from code being
arbitrary law from unelected dictators and machines being their non-human
police force. No other thing that is touched by copyright has this threat.
So software is different.

Copyright law does, therefore, not seem to me to be the problem in that
regard. Copyright (and most laws) share a problem, however, that can be
traced to the power of corporations, but it is not wrong in and of itself.

Since corporations come between the creators (of software, music, books) and
the users, there have been, and still are, abuses of BOTH groups by them.
But the problem is not copyright, but the power of corporations.

If you envision a world where copyright is owned by the creators and sold
directly to users, I think most problems disappear. CDs can cost $2-3
because that's all the musicians get now. The rest goes to distribution and
profits of corporations. Books have a similar cost structure. I don't think
most users would think it unfair to pay a small amount like that (or say 5
or 10 cents a song). And the creator won't mind because that's all he/she
gets now.

The problem is that corporations are trying to maintain their power and
users are rightly trying take that power away. The Internet has upset the
traditional power structure and these groups are trying to re-establish a
balance that works for them alone.

What I see is that corporations will logically lose, unless they can
artificially impose themselves in the equation, because their former
economic value (of distribution and financing of distribution) is gone, 
because of the Internet. The
power will shift from the corporations to users naturally. But it is unjust,
I think, if users want to take the creation without compensation to the

The creators have been silent for the most part (which is a mystery to me),
but when they speak up, they will side, eventually, with the users. Why?
Because creators and users need each other. There is a symbiosis between
them that will naturally emerge. But neither needs the corporations'
distribution system anymore. Traditional ideas die slowly, but the symbiosis
will make itself apparent soon enough.

So if you are concerned about corporatism, I agree with you. But if you
think that the creators should not be compensated (when we are still in an
economic age), I think I have to disagree.

It is unfair for the user to demand what the creator produces for free, if
the creator disagrees. This has to be true if you think about it, because the creator 
can stop producing at any time. So the user can only get what the
creator produces with his acquiescence, anyway.

If, on the other hand, the creator wants to be paid and the user does not want to pay, 
this is just, too, since the user should not be coerced, either.

This arrangement dignifies the will of both parties without subjugating the
will of either without their consent (obviously a requirement for a just

Having said all this, the struggle against the corporations by the free and
open communities is noble, because their power structure cannot be allowed
to continue by artificial legal or technological means.

But I think free/open loses some hearts and minds of good people, when they claim 
that creators should not be compensated.

People can disagree about that, of course, but the moral argument is not as
clear as the one against corporations. At least it is not as clear to me.	

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