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Martin Paul Eve

Professor of Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London

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Richard Stallman at SussexYesterday I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Richard Stallman, the pioneer of the CopyLeft movement, at the University of Sussex. Stallman was speaking on the need to reform a copyright system which has outgrown the historical circumstances of its creation and now serves the mega corporations, such as Disney, as opposed to the majority of the population.

Stallman's speech was broad-ranging, from E-Book readers ("The Amazon Swindle") through the Sony rootkit fiasco to redefining copyright terms based on the category of the work (utilitarian: no copyright; art: copyright -- 10 years?). He was polemical in his call for a complete destruction of the record companies that deserve nothing more than obliteration for their complicity in attempting to take away users' freedoms.

A high point was, in my mind, the argument on schools breeding dependence upon proprietary software. While this demonstrates the fact that, for Stallman, almost every ethical principle can be deduced from parallels in the realm of free software, his argument did, at the end of the day, work: would you let a drug dealer inject children free of charge (gratis) so that, when they leave, they will be hooked on an expensive product?

While there was nothing new here (although Stallman did auction a toy gnu for £100 on behalf of the FSF at the end of the lecture), it was great to see the man in person. Also worth checking out is @Eingang, who live-tweeted the event and actually brought up something that caught my attention:

Interesting aside: Stallman pronounces Linux as Lihn-uhx. I'd say Lihn-ux and I've heard many Europeans say Line-uhx. #IET

Another good moment was the GPL vs. BSD-style (sorry, Richard, I mean: free, but weak) licenses argument. The programmer in question quite clearly hadn't read or understood the GPL (insisted that he couldn't sell GPL code; patently false) and then tried to argue that the GPL took away his freedom to encroach upon the freedom of others, something that Stallman redefined as power. In Stallman's view: when you ask for the freedom to exercise your will over others in order to restrict their freedom, this is power.

Finally, although I haven't had a chance to listen to it myself and can't therefore vouch for the quality of the recording (I can't listen to it at the moment as I'm in a library), I also made a recording of Stallman's lecture. This recording is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives license: Richard Stallman speaking at the University of Sussex.