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[<jeebesh@sarai.net>] [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 
and distributed.)

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 readers.

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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