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Kelty (2008) Two Bits, Chapter 6

July 26, 2009

Kelty, C. 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

Chapter 6. Writing Copyright Licenses

179 ‘The use of novel, unconventional copyright licenses is, without a doubt, the most widely recognized and exquisitely refined component of Free Software’, esp. GNU General Public License (GPL), by Stallman.

180 by early C21 hundreds of FS licenses + huge legal lit

180 Biella Coleman: no hacking apprentice can make it w/o in-depth knowledge of intellectual property law

180 Before you can defend ideas like common property and sharing, must first produce them thru concrete practices [constitution of FS practices is what this book is about, oder?]

180 This chapter: GPL history (1st FS license) – controversy over EMACS (highly respected software); 181 GPL ‘figured out’ in the process via new medium: Usenet and Arpanet lists [recursive mediation?]

181 this story not about hacker genius, but about ‘active modulation’ of practices among human and non-human agents, all part of broader knowledge-power reorientation [see STS lit]

181 FS philosophy is fact of FS itself, ‘its practices and its things

181 – Free Software Licenses […]

Dewey on Bentham: his liberal reforms were product of experimentation; 182 same goes for FS and Stallman, ‘hacker hero and founder of the Free Sofware Foundation’; famous software creator; ‘Bentham-like inventiveness’

182 Hacks = ingenious solutions to technology problems; work-arounds

182 FS owes its existence to US copyright law which it subverted

183 FS licenses known as copyleft; instead of strong rights for indivs, stress on porting, sharing, forking software

183 But note this is description after the fact; initial goal was not to hack copyright law

183- EMACS

EMACs not just a text editor, a religion, main interface to operating system for many geeks

184 pre-UNIX very few progs to manipulate text directly on a display

185 powerful set of tools

185 idea of EMACS spreading via different machines and forms

186 Stallman’s EMACS communal sharing; not universally loved

187 for users strong incentive to join commune and extend EMACS, proto-recursive public even if autocratic; small size of community helped him

187 Stallman well aware of open systems blind spot [see previous chapters]: conflicting moral-technical orders of intellectual property

188 Controversy of 1983-1985 in context of explosive adoption and modification of EMACS

188- The Controversy

189 Social drama [not Kelty’s term] around GOSMACS. Stallman accused rival Gosling of “software sabotage” for selling version of EMACS to Unipress. Yet Stallman in pickle for using small bit of Gosling’s commercial code. This drama resolved when Stallman created Gosling-free UNIX version – this became standard. [Could FS history be rewritten/modulated using Turner’s political anthropology, i.e. fields, dramas, arenas…?].

189 three issues pending: (i) software copyrightable?, (ii) what counts as software?, (iii) meaning of copyright infringement.

190-1 Gosling didn’t mean’public domain’ by ‘free’; thought public domain would destroy GOSMACS; 192 back then in 1983 still no FS license, ‘no articulated conception of copyleft of Free Software as a legally distinct entity’.

192 In 1983-85 EMACS commune morphed in GPL – Stallman adding copyrights and messages to software.

193 March 1985: Stallman’s GNU Manifesto, heated discussions, revisited in various forms ever since [notice the painstaking, precise mailing list archival research throughout the book, see Postill and Peterson in press, What is the point of media anthropology?, Social Anthropology journal].

195 Stallman worried people may be put off by legal threats

197 Mailing list post by one Labalme shows proto-FS thinking at work. Also insight into hacker practices: oral, undocumented, messy [Born’s 1997 Paris research among AI geeks supports this].

198 Social drama [not Kelty’s usage] continues – Stallman vs. Unipress.

199 – The Context of Copyright

200 most people in controversy took orthodox line that software not patentable

200 copyright law seldom used for software production at the time

201 copyright gradually and unevenly replaced trade secret as main way of protecting intellectual property; very important 1976 changes to copyright law, Copyright Act 1976

203 … but didn’t define software – this happened via court cases in 1980s; different cases answered differently whether software was copyrightable

203 hackers in 1980s far less legally sophisticated than today – didn’t understand well 1976 changes, their practices changed slowly

204 Infringement was crucial issue but avoided by rewriting code

205 Legal uncertainties undermined Stallman’s commune: how sustain it if unsure about whether could legally use sb else’s code?

206 Lots of flame wars given that law in flux, and US soc litigious plus low legal knowledge, so danger that many would opt for buying software

206 But these discussions have educated FS geeks and today know almost as much about intellectual property law as about code

206- Conclusion

207 from 1986-1990 FS Foundation famous among geeks, by late 1990s had own legal staff; story of EMACS shows that GPL more than a hack: a new, legal commune 208 that stressed sovereignty of ‘self-fashioning individuals’; not a return to pastoral idyll of community but creating something new out of ‘dominating structures of bureacratic modernity’ [central sociological point of this book; see also Boellstorff’s Second Life study and notion of techne, this blog]

209 EMACS dispute set precedent: young geeks today undergo rite of passage of getting involved in similar debates – ‘the only way in which the technical details and the legal details’ can be properly explored

Chapter 5

Chapter 7

Preface & Introduction

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