Copyright & community

07.08.2005 14:13

I've listened to Richard Stallman's talk about copyright and community today. He tried to apply ideas from his free software movement to other kinds of works like literature, movies, music and physical objects.

He rejected the idea that free software ideas could be applied to hardware because you don't have a compiler or a copy machine that will cheaply manufacture a piece of hardware for you from a blueprint. I don't agree with that. If he claims that everyone has the right to learn from software by looking at the source an changing it, then I don't see why it would be OK for companies to hide the physical design of a device. 20 years ago it was quite common for companies to include full schematics with an electronic device you bought, but now the insides of some of the chips are the biggest company secrets. You won't find a television set today that will come with any sort of schematics or connection diagrams. Stallman said that physical objects are already as free as they can be, but many companies are deliberately making their electronic products so that they can not be tampered with (like embedding circuits in plastics so that you can not access them without destroying the device).

His interpretation about how the age of computer networks reestablished the situation that existed before the invention of the printing press was quite interesting. Before the invention of the printing press the ability of making a copy of a piece of written work was uniformly distributed between people. Everybody could make a copy and making 10 copies was about 10 times more difficult than creating one copy. With the printing press only publishers were able to make a large number of copies because they owned the expensive equipment. This uneven distribution of ability to make copies made copyright law necessary (or at least not harmful). Computers again enabled anyone to make large or small numbers of copies and Stallman believes that this makes conventional copyright harmful.

As expected he said that "digital rights management" devices are evil and that everyone should stay away from them. It seems interesting that he even acknowledges the existence of DRM (DRM is mentioned in the GNU Free Documentation License, so that definitely means that FSF acknowledges its existence). There are numerous examples that show that it is almost impossible to clearly define what exactly is a way of enforcing copyright (or "digital rights"). DMCA law in US is often criticized because of this, because by definition a lot of everyday items can be classified (like black markers for example) as devices that circumvent copyright protection schemes.

I also didn't like his idea that the author has absolutely no right to charge anything for his or her work. He said that if nobody asked the author to produce a piece of literature then he has no right to request money from people to read it. As far as I don't approve lengthening of the copyright that is happening today and huge amount of money publishers are getting I find this statement nonsensical. Someone manufacturing a physical object in advance and then selling it has in my opinion the same right to get some money for his work as a musician or a writer. I'm not saying that they should both use the same ways of getting money though. I also find his support of taxing empty CDRs as a way of financing musicians a bit weird. There are huge practical problems with that (like who will gather all the money from all around the world and who will then decide what part of this money an artist would get?) not to mention that the bulk of CDRs are used for everything else except music.

I was also surprised at the way he answered questions at the end of his talk. I would expect someone who is defending the right of free speech at least let people finish their questions. Most of the time he interrupted them in the middle of their questions and said that this or that assumption is wrong or that they are pronouncing their words wrong or that they aren't speaking clearly and so on.

Posted by Tomaž | Categories: Life

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