Copyrights kill freedoms, tech activist claims

Contrarian free software developer describes a tech world without copyright.

By Ankit Jain

Programmer and software freedom activist Richard Stallman delivered a rousing attack on copyright law and proprietary software Monday afternoon at the International House Auditorium.

In a two-hour lecture, Stallman claimed that current copyright law and proprietary software was an attack on fundamental freedoms and outlined his own vision for how copyright law should work.

“If you’re using a non-free program, then it has taken away your freedom,” he said. “We can’t allow the power over our citizens that came to be in the age of the printing press.”

Striking a defiant tone from the onset of his speech, Stallman laid out in no uncertain terms his absolutist perspective between free and proprietary software.

“With software there’s just two possibilities, either the users control the program or the program controls the users,” he said.

For Stallman there are four essential freedoms that everyone should have in regards to software: the ability to run the program as one wishes, the ability to study and change the source code, the freedom to share exact copies, and the freedom to share modified copies.

Proprietary programs, Stallman explained, take away these fundamental freedoms and, by requiring that their users use them in certain ways and to perform specific functions, end up becoming instruments of control.

“A non-free program is simply an instrument of unjust power. A non-free program is an injustice. It should not exist. Non-free software is unethical,” he said.

Stallman explained how current copyright law is rooted in a reality that no longer exists. Copyright law was originally created for a world of centralized distribution centers. In a world where anyone can now distribute information through the Internet, the current copyright laws do not work.

“[Copyright law] is no longer an industrial regulation on publishers, controlled by authors, with benefits going to the public,” he said. “It’s now a restriction on the general public, controlled mostly by the publishers, just in the name of the authors.”

Third-year Ben Scholz attended the talk and found Stallman’s arguments convincing.

“Ultimately I found his arguments pretty well-thought out and rational, despite his maybe crazy demeanor,” he said.