Notes from Richard M. Stallman Free Software Free Society: selected essays of Richard M. Stallman

Editor's Note
A Note on Software
(3)This section is intended for people who have little or no knowledge of the technical aspects of computer science.
(5) Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Section One: The GNU Project and Free Software

1 The GNU Project
The First Software-Sharing Community
The Collapse of the Community
A Stark Moral Choice
Free as in Freedom

Enumeration of four freedoms, the first of which, from zero to one, a precondition, reflects the dominance of copyright: moving beyond traditional copyright, free, open source licenses offer three additional freedoms related to human readable machine executable text, that is, software program source code.

Free Software Definition extends textuality and scholarship beyond human rhetorics deliberately into control rhetorics for machines, including high speed electronic computing machinery (von Neumann).

(18) for you, a particular user, if:
You have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
You have the freedom to modify the program to suit your needs. (To make this freedom effective in practice, you must have access to the source code, since making changes in a program without having the source code is exceedingly difficult.)
You have the freedom to redistribute copies, either gratis or for a fee.
You have the freedom to distribute modified versions of the program, so that the community can benefit from your improvements.

2 The GNU Manifesto

According to GNU Manifesto, all computer users will benefit by avoiding duplication of effort for system programming, not being tied to sole supplier for changes, encouraging study and improvement in schools, avoiding management overhead.

(34) Why All Computer Users Will Benefit

-avoid duplication of effort for system programming

-users not tied to sole supplier for changes

-schools can encourage study and improvement of system code

-avoid overhead of managing ownership, arranging payment, and monitoring usage

According to GNU Manifesto, Kantian ethics proves use restrictions and fees reduces overall wealth humanity derives from software for a few to become wealthier; programmers may be paid less but will not starve.

(36) we would all become poorer from the mutual destructiveness.

According to GNU Manifesto, no intrinsic right to intellectual property; copyrights and patents created by government to benefit the public.

(37) Proprietary and secret software is the moral equivalent of runners in a fist fight.

3 Free Software Definition

Statement of Free Software Definition.


-Freedom 0: run the program for any purpose

-Freedom 1: study and adapt (having source code is precondition)

-Freedom 2: redistribute copies

-Freedom 3: redistribute improvements

6 Why “Free Software” is Better than “Open Source”

Comparing the Two Terms


Open is weaker criterion than free because licensing agreements vary in what can be done with it.

(56) The official definition of “open source software,” as published by the Open Source Initiative, is very close to our definition of free software; however, it is a little looser in some respects, and they have accepted a few licenses that we consider unacceptably restrictive of the users. However, the obvious meaning for the expression “open source software” is “You can look at the source code.” This is a much weaker criterion than free software; it includes free software, but also includes semi-free programs such as Xv, and even some proprietary programs, including Qt under its original license (before the QPL).

Fear of Freedom

Must learn to appreciate value of freedom above practical advantage, treating freedom as key criterion in selecting which software to use and how to use it.

(57) Sooner or later these users will be invited to switch back to proprietary software for some practical advantage. Countless companies seek to offer such temptation, and why would users decline? Only if they have learned to value the freedom free software gives them, for its own sake. It is up to us to spread this idea—and in order to do that, we have to talk about freedom. A certain amount of the “keep quiet” approach to business can be useful for the community, but we must have plenty of freedom talk too.

9 Free Software Needs Free Documentation

Free documentation for free software to facilitate work and avoid rewriting.

(68) A manual that forbids programmers to be conscientious and finish the job, or more precisely requires them to write a new manual from scratch if they change the program, does not fill our community's needs.

14 What is Copyleft?

Copyleft required because simply putting program in public domain allows other to make it unfree: anyone who redistributes software must pass along same four freedoms.

(89) Copyleft says that anyone who redistributes the software, with or without changes, must pass along the freedom to further copy and change it.

Copyleft provides incentive to add to domain of free software and helps programmers contribute improvements while getting paid by trumping work product contracts; see studies on participation by paid workers in Feller et al.

(89) the employer usually decides to release it as free software rather than throw it away.

16 The Danger of Software Patents

Licensing the Paten

Danger of software patents because large corporations cross-license to avoid patent disputes, making it harder for small companies to compete or even take a claim to court for fear of countersuit.

(102) The mega-corporations avoid, for the most part, the harm of the patent system; they see mainly the good side. That is why they want to have software patents: they are the ones who will benefit from it. But if you are a small inventor or work for a small company, the small company will not be able to do this. They try. The problem is that small companies cannot get enough patents to do this (make everyone cross-license with them).

Overturning a Patent in Court

Danger of software patents because ties up every software developer and computer user in a new form of bureaucracy in addition to point by Lessig that code becomes law.

(111) Software patents tie up every software developer and every computer user in a new form of bureaucracy.

Section Three: Freedom, Society, and Software
17 Can You Trust Your Computer?

18 Why Software Should Be Free

How Owners Justify Their Power

The Argument Against Having Owners

The Harm Done by Obstructing Software

Software should be free because material harm has concomitant psychosocial harm: from obstruction by restrictions on distribution and modification include fewer people using, inability to adapt or fix, unable to learn or base new work upon it.

Software should be free because forgoing use of program harms would-be user without benefiting anyone, nor reduce amount of development work, so efficiency is reduced also.

(122) Each level of material harm has a concomitant form of psychosocial harm. This refers to the effect that people's decisions have on their subsequent feelings, attitudes, and predispositions.

Obstructing User of Programs

Damaging Social Cohesion

Software should be free because social cohesion damaged by licenses prohibiting sharing something useful and good with neighbors; equivocating sharing with attacking ships leads to cynicism or denial in programmers knowing most users will not be allowed to use their work.

(123) Signing a typical software license agreement means betraying your neighbor: “I promise to deprive my neighbor of this program so that I can have a copy for myself.” People who make such choices feel internal psychological pressure to justify them, by downgrading the importance of helping one's neighbors—thus public spirit suffers. This is psychosocial harm associated with the material harm of discouraging use of the program.

Scarcity of willingness to work together for public good, not scarcity of technical innovation, could be considered contributing to making us dumber collectively.

(124) Since the age of Reagan, the greatest scarcity in the United States is not technical innovation, but rather the willingness to work together for the public good. It makes no sense to encourage the former at the expense of the latter.

Obstructing Custom Adaptation of Programs

Software should be free because of psychosocial harm to spirit of self-reliance because knowledgeable users cannot fix problems themselves due to lack of access to source code: recipe example for reducing salt content.

(125) The system programmers at the AI Lab were capable of fixing such problems, probably as capable as the original authors of the program. Xerox was uninterested in fixing them, and chose to prevent us, so we were forced to accept the problems. They were never fixed.
(125) Most good programmers have experienced this frustration. The bank could afford to solve the problem by writing a new program from scratch, but a typical user, no matter how skilled, can only give up.
(125) Giving up causes psychosocial harm—to the spirit of self-reliance. It is demoralizing to live in a house that you cannot rearrange to suit your needs. It leads to resignation and discouragement, which can spread to affect other aspects of one's life. People who feel this way are unhappy and do not do good work.

Obstructing Software Development

Software should be free because otherwise education and innovation restricted to corporate boundaries, similar to harm to spirit of scientific cooperation when too few papers are published to repeat experiments.

Irony in comparing deliberate preservation of Japanese oceanographic lab by invading US Marines to capitalist businesses by Nazis noted by Black.

(126) In any intellectual field, one can reach greater heights by standing on the shoulders of others. But that is no longer generally allowed in the software field—you can only stand on the shoulders of the other people in your own company.
(126) The associated psychosocial harm affects the spirit of scientific cooperation, which used to be so strong that scientists would cooperate when their countries were at war. In this spirit, Japanese oceanographers abandoning their lab on an island in the Pacific carefully preserved their work for the invading U.S. Marines, and left a note asking them to take good care of it.
(126) Conflict for profit has destroyed what international conflict spared. Nowadays scientists in many fields don't publish enough in their papers to enable others to replicate the experiment. They public only enough to let readers marvel at how much they were able to do. This is certainly true in computer science, where the source code for the programs reported on is usually secret.

19 Copyright and Globalization in the Age of Computer Networks

The Speech

The History of Copyright

Copyright considered a trade off between natural right to make copies and benefit of more material being published; compare to Lessig.

(136) This changing context changes the way copyright law works. You see, copyright law no longer acts as an industrial regulation; it is now a draconian restriction on a general public. It used to be a restriction on publishers for the sake of authors. Now, for practical purposes, it's a restriction on a public for the sake of publishers.

Losing freedoms from age of printing press including lending to friends, borrowing from library, selling to a used bookstore, and anonymity related to transactions.

(137) The reason is that e-books are the opportunity to take away some of the residual freedoms that readers of printed books have always had and still have—the freedom, for instance, to lend a book to your friend, to borrow it from the public library, or sell a copy to a used bookstore, or buy a copy anonymously without putting a record in the database of who bought that particular book. And maybe even the right to read it twice.

US using same methods as Soviets: watching copying equipment, harsh punishments, informers, collective responsibility, propaganda, using robot guards; Lessig code is law.

(138) However, the U.S. is not the first country to make a priority of this [preventing forbidden copying like the DeCSS algorithm]. The Soviet Union treated it as very important. There, unauthorized copying and redistribution was known as Samizdat, and to stamp it out, they developed a series of methods: First, guards watching every piece of copying equipment to check what people were copying to prevent forbidden copying. Second, harsh punishments for anyone caught doing forbidden copying—you could be sent to Siberia. Third, soliciting informers, asking everyone to rat on their neighbors and coworkers to the information police. Fourth, collective responsibility. . . . And, fifth, propaganda, starting in childhood, to convince everyone that only a horrible enemy of the people would ever do this forbidden copying.
(138) The U.S. is using all these measures now. First, guards watching copying equipment. Well, in copy stores, they have human guards to check what you copy. But human guards to watch what you copy in your computer would be too expensive; human labor is too expensive. So they have robot guards. That's the purpose of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. This software goes in your computer; it's the only way you can access certain data and it stops you from copying.


Rethinking Copyright

Question and Answer Session

When arguing for free licenses, distinguish between functional works such as computer software and non-functional works such as personal thoughts and entertainment.

I complicate this distinction Stallman draws between computer software and nonfunctional works by promoting suffusion of philosophical thoughts into working code via flossification.

(148) But for non-functional works, one thing doesn't substitute for another. Let's look at a functional kind of work—say, a word processor. Well, if somebody makes a free word processor, you can use that; you don't need the non-free word processor. But I wouldn't say that one free song substitutes for all the non-free songs or that one free novel substitutes for all the non-free novels. For those kinds of works, it's different.

20 Free Software: Freedom and Cooperation

Free Software: Freedom and Cooperation

Details about the four freedoms; Freedom Zero is freedom to use.

(163) stub

Freedom One is the freedom to help yourself; Freedom Two is the freedom to help your neighbor.

(164) stub

Freedom Three is the freedom to help build your community.

(166) stub

Free software has tremendous advantages for business because it puts the user in control to exert influence by developing in house or utilizing free market for development and support, security and privacy (many eyes argument), promote compatibility and standardization.

(177) stub

Freedom issue does not arise for 90 percent of software development, which is used solely in house.

(177-178) If there's only one user, and that user owns the rights, there's no problem. That user is free to do all these things. So, in effect, any custom program that was developed by one company for use in-house is free software, as long as they have the sense to insist on getting the source code and all the rights.

GNU Free Documentation License

Stallman differentiates freedom as a criterion (moral value, ethic) from mere practicality, and makes the point that there is a gap in documentation because of restrictive licenses of publishers like Oreilly: obviously manuals are open, although perhaps from a source perspective the printed manual is like object code; surely a profitable printing enterprise can exist where efficiency and economy of scale allows for FOS licenses to govern documentation as well.

Stallman is all about the factor of freedom in decision making, in particular how it relates to computer software: while he states that this is not required for other types of writings, Amy White argued in favor of open source philosophy many years ago at a CAP conference.

Noted in previous readings or from experience of meeting him that Stallman seems ambivalent on the need to make all texts free like all software, not just texts containing software program language source code; interpreting this phenomenon in terms of philosophical concepts that the former are destined to be ultimately consumed by humans, the latter by machines, about whose thoughts humans cannot fully grasp and should therefore not prejudice, suggested a deep ethic of respect for otherness of machine intelligence in not restricting usage through four freedoms.

Difference between transparent and opaque copies of the FDL document; serves as good basis for philosophical concept of epistemological transparency.

(214) A “Transparent” copy of the Document means a machine-readable copy, represented in a format whose specification is available to the general public, whose contents can be viewed and edited directly and straightforwardly with generic text editors or (for images composed of pixels) generic paint programs or (for drawings) some widely available drawing editor, and that is suitable for input to text formatters or for automatic translation to a variety of formats suitable for input to text formatters. A copy made in an otherwise Transparent file format whose markup has been designed to thwart or discourage subsequent modification by readers is not Transparent. A copy that is not “Transparent” is called “Opaque”.

Stallman, Richard M. Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman. Boston: GNU Press, 2002. Print.