March 24, 2019

Stallman/Stanco: A Dialogue on Copyright Law and Free/Open Source Software (Part 7)

"We need to let people decide themselves whether or not they are moral by letting them choose"

  • July 13, 2000
  • By Tony Stanco

This is the seventh 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.)

For those who are already getting bored with these emails, you should note that this series on copyright is only the beginning. There are others between Stallman and me on the formation of a company by free developers, of free developers, for a free world that will follow this series. The free company will be the vehicle for free developers world-wide to band together to defeat the closed-code, proprietary scourge that threatens to enslave the world. We should all see by now where closed code will take us with things like Carnivore, if we don't act soon.

Unfortunately, it will take over a month to publish all the emails and unveil the plan. Though some of the emails are boring, they are necessary, because proprietary must be stopped.


Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/9/00
From:   RMS
To:     tony stanco


>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.


I agree that different kinds of works raise more-or-less different
issues.  To save time and trouble, I will talk here about software


>Copyright law does, therefore, not seem to me to be the problem in that  


Copyright law, as applied to software, plays a considerable role in
the problem of proprietary software.


>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.


Not only by corporations. There are many non-free programs whose
copyrights are owned by individuals, which have been made non-free by

I don't think it matters morally whether the owner of a non-free
program is an individual or a corporation. If it is non-free, it is


Subj:   Re: licensing article
Date:   6/9/00
From:   tony stanco
To:     RMS


>Copyright law, as applied to software, plays a considerable role in the 
>problem of proprietary software.


Yes, but you neutralized the problem with GPL, making software copyright
irrelevant so long as it is licensed under GPL.


>Not only by corporations. There are many non-free programs whose 
>copyrights are owned by individuals, which have been made non-free by 


Yes, but a major proposition we both agree on [in a previous email series on 
defeating proprietary] is that the majority of people are good. If that is 
then the majority of software eventually will be produced by
free developers, which will marginalize the non-free software.

Besides, unlike corporations, individuals need other individuals to produce
software. It is a joint product. No one individual can produce enough
software to monopolize without the participation of others. Again, if you
assume most people are good, there will not be enough of them [bad people]
to achieve their goal.

We need to let people decide themselves whether or not they are moral by
letting them choose GPL instead of proprietary, instead of forcing them to
be moral by trying to change copyright law to remove that moral choice.
Also, while you can change the law, you really can't make people be moral,
so giving them a choice is important. It lets them know who they are and it
lets us find out if it we are right that a majority is good.

Also, as I have said before, if a majority is not good, there is no hope
anyway (to change the law or defeat proprietary). But I am not worried, I
not only think a majority is moral, but an overwhelming majority is.

There is only one reason that developers work on proprietary (against their
better judgment in making a deal with the devil) and that is because it pays
them. Period.

Remove that economic incentive to be immoral and they will naturally be
moral. While some would remove that economic incentive by making all
software uncompensated, I would remove the incentive to produce proprietary
by paying for free. There are two ways to remove the incentive on a 
level, but only one on a practical one, because developers have to live in a
real economic world to feed their families.

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