Notes on Richard Stallman’s free software talk at Sheffield Hallam
The founder of the Free Software movement, Richard Stallman, gave a talk this past 3 March 2011 at my home institution, Sheffield Hallam University (England). The talk was entitled “The Danger of Software Patents“. Unfortunately I haven’t got time for a full summary or the expertise for a learned discussion, but I do have a spare moment for some quick notes from memory:
- Stallman stressed the importance of conceptual clarity on the subject of software patents, a subject in which powerful lobbies have an interest in clouding our thoughts by bringing three completely separate areas of the law (patent law, copyright law and trademark law) under the umbrella of that convenient fiction known as ‘intellectual property’.
- In other words, so-called intellectual property does not exist; for this reason Stallman never uses this term other than in inverted commas.
- Patent law may have its uses in other fields, e.g. arguably in the pharmaceutical field, but in the field of free software it is incredibly destructive as typically a software project will be a combination of numerous different ideas and a single legal challenge from a mighty corporation can torpedo the entire project.
- Free software refers to users’ freedom to read the source code and, if they so wish, share it with others as they received it or in a modified form. It is free as in libre, not gratis.
- Free software programmers can earn money from their labour; free software does not mean working for free, and has nothing to do with pricing.
- To a member of the audience: plagiarism has nothing to do with tonight’s talk. Again, let’s not muddle the discussion.
- Working as a programmer for a company which sells proprietary (closed source) software such as Microsoft is unethical because you are helping sustain a system that divides and rules, i.e. colonises, users of software. No one is pointing a gun at you forcing you to write proprietary software.
- If you support proprietary software you might as well go and live in Iran. Free software = free society.
- The Free Software movement needs your support, for our enemies are mighty and they will never give up the fight.