Richard Stallman: Free Software in Ethics and Practice

In 1984, Richard Stallman founded a social movement known as the free software movement. The free software movement fights for the ability to control our computers as a cooperative community (as opposed to being under the rule of software proprietors where users have only as much control over their computers as the proprietor allows).

On May 1, 2008, Stallman gave a talk in Manchester, England on “Free Software in Ethics and Practice” and the newly formed Manchester Free Software group recorded this talk and released it under a license that allows sharing.

This talk is quite engaging; Stallman gets into why schools must run exclusively free software, touches on international politics, and addresses the secondary issue of why free software matters for business (secondary in importance, that is, as society shouldn’t organize around business interests).

Download the talk

“Making available” is not copyright infringement

At Fordham Law School’s annual so-called “Intellectual Property” Law Conference on March 28, 2008, Ray Beckerman of Recording Industry vs. The People debated Kenneth Doroshow, a Senior Vice President of the Recording Industry Association of America, a corporate label lobbying group.

An interesting point of contention was whether it ought to be considered copyright infringement to make copies of copyrighted works available when one doesn’t have license to distribute that work. The RIAA says “making available” is copyright infringement, as this reduces the work the RIAA has to do to successfully sue ordinary people who allegedly infringe RIAA’s client’s copyrights. Beckerman contends “making available” isn’t infringement; copyright holders should have to prove that an illicit copy of their copyrighted work was made, not merely offered. The moderator of the debate, Professor Hugh C. Hansen, the keynote speaker, Michael Schlesinger, and a lot of the lawyer-filled audience apparently believed that “making available” constituted copyright infringement.

They were wrong.

Beckerman explains:

[T]his panel discussion took place on the business day before Elektra v. Barker and London-Sire v. Doe 1 came down, both rejecting a making available right. And of course a month later Atlantic v. Howell was handed down, rejecting the ‘making available’ theory from pillar to post.

Read the transcript of the event. Unfortunately this transcript doesn’t include Schlesinger’s remarks but Beckerman summarizes those remarks just before the transcript.

Who benefits from Adobe releasing Flash-related documentation?


Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a proprietary program probably best known these days for two things: showing people videos (YouTube) and making animated interactive graphics on the web (many ads are require Flash). Flash documentation was also, until recently, only available if one agreed to rather onerous non-disclosure terms which restricted how many people could write their own Flash player.

The most widely used Flash implementation is proprietary and not available for all kinds of computers and operating systems. A free software Flash player program was needed so that people could use their computer in freedom without having to forgo visiting a number of popular websites.

One free software Flash player, Swfdec (pronounced “swiff deck”), has been in active development for some time, and generally becoming more capable. Another free software Flash player, Gnash (the GNU Flash player), offers considerable capability to play Flash websites. Gnash has also been in active development.

What’s happening now

Today Adobe announced that they have released documents which describe the structure of Flash files one finds online. These documents are restrictively licensed—sharing the document files is not allowed, not even verbatim non-commercial sharing—but the information is available without agreeing to the non-disclosure terms. There’s no clear indication that Adobe holds patents on the ideas one needs to implement their own Flash software and no clear license granted for such patents.

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gNewSense GNU/Linux 2.0 is out!

A GNU/Linux computer operating system that contains only free software—software you are free to run, inspect, share, and modify—is out and ready for you to try on your ordinary PC (Intel or AMD-based computer).

The hackers who make gNewSense (pronounced “guh-NEW-sense”) GNU/Linux started with Ubuntu GNU/Linux and removed all the software that doesn’t come with these freedoms, including software most people doesn’t know is in their operating system like firmware (software used to control various computer devices) and drivers.

Download gNewSense GNU/Linux

How do I put this huge ISO file on a CD I can try?

Ubuntu GNU/Linux has a handy set of helpful instructions.

Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister: Pam Hrick was robbed

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation recently released “Canada’s Next Great Prime Minister“, a competition show where five candidates competed to become the crowd favorite. The show is licensed to share. There’s been some buzz about it online (1, 2) and for good reason: their take on DRM is right-headed

While plenty of TV networks have experimented with offering shows online for free, it is CBC’s use of DRM-free BitTorrent downloads that is the most interesting. Guinevere Orvis, one of the interactive producers on the show, told me that the motivation for this choice was their desire for the “show to be as accessible as possible, to as many Canadians as possible, in the format that they want it in.” As for DRM, she said: “I think DRM is dead, even if a lot of broadcasters don’t realize it.” She added that “if it’s bad for the consumers, it’s bad for the company.”

and this alone puts them considerably ahead of American broadcasters who are still not clear on how they can retain control over every copy of every show, restrict copies electronically, and track viewers so as to more effectively sell them stuff. For American media distributors, DRM is still taken seriously. It’s this kind of thinking that creates a huge competitive edge for those who treat their viewers better. The CBC is way ahead of the US’ PBS in terms of licensing, DRM-freeness, and modern decentralized distribution of their shows.

But the most interesting part of this show has to do with the level of debate, a debate you won’t hear on American TV.
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Still want to support the Democrats?

Remember how the Democratic Party, freshly voted into control of US Congress, said that impeachment was “off the table”? After explaining how light impeachment really is, Ralph Nader lays it on the line for the Democrats:

Repeatedly during the past seven years, Mr. Bush has lectured the American people about “responsibility” and that actions with consequences must incur responsibility.

It is never too late to enforce the Constitution. It is never too late to uphold the rule of law. It is never too late to awaken the Congress to its sworn duties under the Constitution. But it will soon be too late to avoid the searing verdict of history when on January 21, 2009, George W. Bush becomes a fugitive from a justice that was never invoked by those in Congress so solely authorized to hold the President accountable.

Is this the massive Bush precedent you and your colleagues wish to convey to presidential successors who may be similarly tempted to establish themselves above and beyond the rule of law?

Is this the way you and your colleagues wish to be remembered by the American people?

So what’s your breaking point?

Progressive Leftists can’t vote for Obama or the Democrats

Thanks to C. G. Estabrook for his help with this post. Check out News from Neptune and share it with your friends.

Critical reading on why Progressives can’t vote for Barack Obama:

Tony Yarusso says Barack Obama (D-IL) “spoke out against the war from the beginning, and continues to consistently do so (while still providing the necessary support to the personnel on the ground to keep them relatively safe until they are allowed to come home)”. This is more commonly known as paying for the continued occupation of Iraq. What the US should be doing instead is paying to bring US military and mercenaries home immediately (with war crime trials and paying for Iraqi ruination to follow, of course). So if Obama is such an anti-war hero why isn’t he telling Nancy Pelosi to stop bringing funding bills to the floor? The Democrats control the Congressional calendar. Obama’s rhetoric indicates that to the degree he opposes Iraqi occupation he’s likely to simply shift the war from Iraq to Afghanistan (or “AFPAK,” as Richard Holbrooke says).

Obama’s “well-considered response” amounts to saying he is willing to send rockets into Iran, welcome Iranian sanctions and he doesn’t mind that 300-to-1 death rate of Palestinians over Israelis or the recent Gaza raids (and the deaths and injuries resulting from them). In fact, he wrote to the US Ambassador to the UN while Israel was killing more than a hundred Gazans to urge that the Security Council not interfere.

“Now the gravest threat … to Israel today, I believe, is from Iran. There the radical regime continues to pursue its capacity to build a nuclear weapon and continues to support terrorism across the region” … “Threats of Israel’s destruction can not be dismissed as rhetoric. The threat from Iran is real and my goal as president would be to eliminate that threat.”Barack Obama 25 February 2008 (transcript)

This despite the IAEA telling us that Iran isn’t the threat Obama claims: there is no evidence Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Obama praises Israel’s recent Lebanon invasion and says that Palestinians have much to give up under an Obama presidency: “[Any] negotiated peace between Israelis and the Palestinians is going to have to involve the Palestinians relinquishing the right of return as it has been understood in the past,” he averred. “And that doesn’t mean that that there may not be conversations about compensation issues.” (see Joshua Frank’s article for more on Obama and the Middle East).

When one considers the recent history of US-Iranian relations one can’t ignore American mistreatment (coup, the Shah puppet leader, President Carter helping the Shah after Iranians chased the Shah out, America helping the British exploit Iranian oil resources—Anglo-Iranian Petroleum later to become British Petroleum or “BP”) Stephen Kinzer concludes that history tells us Americans will feel the aftershocks of treating Iran so badly (transcript, video, high-quality audio, lesser-quality audio). Obama’s threats and hopes against Iran represent no substantive change in policy. Obama’s views highlight why he’s being taken seriously: Obama promises to keep American hegemony going.

Mosaddeq’s policies aren’t the issue here. There’s a big difference between being able to control your own government and having another government choose your leaders for you. Americans would not tolerate an “Operation Ajax” (the American and British coup d’état that removed Mosaddeq from power) letting someone else choose the next American president. Americans would certainly rather replace Bush through their own mechanisms and impeach Bush and Cheney, thus insuring that the American people’s needs are being addressed. Speaking of impeachment, this brings me to another reason not to support the Democrats (including Obama): they are following through with their promise to keep impeachment “off the table“. The Democrats will probably later say impeachment, if pursued in earnest, would come too late.

Obama can’t be trusted to punish offenses against the Constitution. He, like his Democratic party leadership, said he won’t pursue impeachment of President Bush or Vice President Chaney. Obama would “reserve impeachment for grave, grave breaches, and intentional breaches of the president’s authority”. Meanwhile others have long assembled lists detailing why impeachment is necessary now (which directly implicates the national Democrats in Bush/Chaney’s dealings). While the national Democrats don’t pursue impeachment, Ralph Nader tells us that New York State Assembly “Speaker Sheldon Silver told [Eliot] Spitzer that many Democrats in the Assembly would abandon him in any impeachment vote.“.

The war is the critical issue of our time because of its moral and financial weight. Let’s not repeat the same immoral and unjust policy with Iran that we’ve pursued with Iraq and Afghanistan. As I’ve said before: Democrats will pay attention to anti-war views when anti-war proponents stop giving them money and votes. The US needs a real anti-war movement and that movement will only come from the people giving orders to politicians.

What’s the long-term price of focusing on cost?

In Federal Computer Week Vice Adm. Mark Edwards, deputy chief of naval operations for communications was quoted saying:

The days of proprietary technology must come to an end,” he said. “We will no longer accept systems that couple hardware, software and data.

Jeff Waugh endorsed what he read as a step toward open source saying “The US Navy warmly embraces Open Standards (a natural talent for Open Source), for all the right reasons” but what are those reasons?

FCW refers to “a combination of motivations” but focuses chiefly on cost:

The Navy’s decision was informed by a combination of motivations, including the desire to provide the latest capabilities to warfighters and control the costs of its information technology operations, he added.

“We can’t accept the increasing costs of maintaining our present-day capabilities,” Edwards said. “In the civilian marketplace, it’s just the opposite. Some private-sector concerns are cutting their costs by 90 percent while expanding their performance.”

Is this just a negotiation tactic to temporarily lower the cost of the proprietary systems the Navy has apparently been satisfied to purchase so far?

When you look at proprietary systems as a cost issue (instead of preserving national sovereignty, or gaining freedom to improve the system outside of the proprietor’s control) you find that proprietors pitching to big clients are usually willing to lower their price in the short term to get the contract. Then the proprietor ramps up the price later on, leaving the client with a monopoly for “support” all along. I have a hard time believing that any serious escape from the links between government and the large proprietary software/hardware firms will come quickly.

Radio Canada en Français!

Nifty Nate informs me that

Radio Canada, the francophone side of the CBC, is now streaming in ogg:

48kbps of Free goodness.

I’m glad the francophone side finally caught of with the anglophone side (which has been streaming ogg for a while).

Merci Nate! Mes pensées exactement.