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[<email@example.com>] [Internal] RMS lecture in CODE
This is the text made out of notes by jeebesh bagchi , one the members at sarai.
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CODE posting 2: RMS lecture
Here I will try to give a detailed write-up on Richard Stallman's lecture. My
comments are in brackets.
RMS was introduced by Micheal Century as a combination of Thomas Paine and
Mozart, who has reminded the world of a basic common sense of living live by
sharing with freedom. (to me it sounded a very heavy introduction, and these
kind of things does no good to engaging with ideas). RMs spoke for about one
hour without consulting any notes or texts.
He started by looking at the older traditions of copying of a text to make
another copy. It was a tedious job and consumed much time and labour. Lots of
time these were just verbatim copying. But at times while making a copy, the
copier would write some comments and these were then futher copied as
commentaries. Also, many such commentaries would be complied together to make a
compendium. These existed for many centuries and many cultures had developed a
complex body of work through this parctice.
With the coming of the printing press the possibility of distributing multiple
copies of the same emerged. If one could set type of a hand written material
then lots of copies could be printed an distributed. The setting was done in
one press/ place and then copies distributed from there to other places. A
economics of scale emerged around printing and distribution.
Copyright in England started as a mode of censorship. That is one needed
permission of the State to print anything. (This was basically printers license
not writers license. Any body could write anything as long it is not printed
In the US constitution the copyright is argued to benefit society and progress.
Monopoly (to publish and economically benefit from it) is a concession given to
engender public progress. Also, as a reward (incentive) to write more. The
books were produced centrally and distributed from there on. The law did not
restrict ordinay readers from sharing with others or copying the book by hand.
It might have been beneficial as it would have acted as an incentive to author
to write more books. Importnat to note was that copyright was not enforced on
The move from printing press to the computer networks creates a huge problem
for regimes of copyright. (Though the earlier technologies of copying like
photostat and magnetic tapes we can see the move to restriction on the reader
or the listener being brought under the copyright regulation. In Russia access
to photostat machines was massively controlled and massive checks on what is
being photocopied. Even simple text books were seen as state secrets!!)
With the emergence of the computer network any and everybody who reads can also
make a copy and share it with others. The same law is now used for massive
crackdown on social act of sharing. This enforcement has taken on a draconian
turn. US is the world leader in stamping out copying. In an earlier decade in
Russia guards, information police, logging, spying on neighbours were all part
of attempts to stampout copying.
Today, we have robotic guards, legal framework that makes copying a act of
felony with 10 years of imprisonment. The level of legal and penal brutality
around copying is on a massive rise, almost no limits. Software Publisher
Associations are the new infopolice. ISPs have been given the mandate to
unplugg on complaints. teachers are told to teach - "say no to sharing".
Goodwill and sharing is under severe threat. Public gives away some freedom to
benefit from more creation. (That is the moral logic of copyright). Now the
Public should take away certain freedom that it has left out for itself.
The Digital Millenium Act restricts the e-book freedom. Using broad cotegories
copyright acts clubs things together and brings disparate things within its
(He then speltout three different kinds of work under copyright acts, actually
from hereon I got little confused as to what was RMS' s take on copyright was)
He divided work into three broad categories.
1) Functional : work thats primary end is to get things done. Programmes,
recipes, dictionary. You may have a better idea to make it suit your interest
and need better e.g changing recipes to suit your taste. For this category of
work we will need freedom to copy and modify things, and to publish it to share
with others. To publish modified version is crucial for these functionalities
to be more useful to us.
2) The second category of work are primarily works that states someone's views
or arguments. The example for this are memories, catalogues, scientific paper.
Here copyiny and then modifying maynot be suitable. (here i got little
confused. if modified versions states that modification has been made and
credits the source, then what is the problem?)
3) Entertainment and Aesthetic work: here the cricial question is can people
make modified versions? Version changes was very much part of the folk
tradition where great work got created by people joining in and adding their
bits. (Actually he was very eloquent about this aspect of the folk culture). It
could be argued that Shakespeare work was a part of this great tradition of
modification on socially available stories, talks and gossips.
[Actually the recent anxiety shown by the music industry shows that simple
copying is a problem, leave alone making modified versions]
The we come to distribution:
- Commercial and non-commercial distribution. The non-commercial distribution
are mostly private/ person to person distribution or public distribution like
the Napster. BUt there is an urgent need to go further to incorporate non-
commercial public distribution in works that we all make or are assit in.
Also an important fact that remains to be recognised is that music industry
pays only 4% of its revenue as royalties. (so economic argument of feeding
artists is really misplaced)
E-book never goes out of print! So copyright of a work never reverts back to an
author. Perpetual copyright~! (It fascinating how law is used to create new
forms of control)
Lenght of time in a copyright should be negotiable and dependant on the
functionality and need of the work.
He also warned against being light about recent regulations which are
definitive threat to the freedom in the digital domain.
[More in the next posting]
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