More on Free Software and Copyright:

As a follow-on to the discussion here about Richard Stallman's recent talk about reforming copyright law, and his objections to my use of the terms "free software" and "open source software" interchangeably, Stallman sent me the following message (which I reproduce here with his permission, and indeed at his request):

"I see you posted part of my message. Could you please post all of it? If you post just part, readers are likely to conclude that I had no other criticism and agreed with everything else."

Although I am not at all sure I agree that readers would be "likely to conclude" that he had no other criticism of my original posting, I'm posting the other parts of his message below. He continues:

"Did you change "open source" to "free software" in the original posting?"

That's an interesting one. Here's what I wrote back to him in response:

"No, I did not. I have several reasons for not doing so. First, I said what I said, and I'm uncomfortable (as a general rule) with going back and re-writing the history of the discussion -- among other things, the ensuing comments about the use of the terms "free software" and "open source software" would be incomprehensible to a reader if I changed the original posting that way. More significantly, I'm uncomfortable with the notion that you get to decide what the terms mean for others. I didn't use the terms incorrectly - I used them in a manner you disagree with. I've given you the opportunity to explain to my readers your disagreement, and they will decide for themselves whether they agree or not with your position. My job is to communicate with them as best I can, using the lexicon so as to make whatever point(s) I'm trying to make, and I don't think changing the original posting is the right move in that direction."


Stallman's original message to me in regard to my original posting:

I am disappointed that you describe my work as "open source", because I disagree with that camp and I constantly struggle against the misinformation which labels my work that way. You might as well call my work "Republican". For instance, this sentence

"Stallman understands this thoroughly ­ though the vast majority of commentators on the open source movement have missed this point."

is likely to lead readers to suppose erroneously that I am a supporter of the open source movement, when in fact I disagree with it fundamentally.

See for an explanation of this disagreement.

Would you please replace "open source" with "free software" in this posting about my work?

". . . he has concluded that copyright law is broken, in fundamental ways, that it no longer functions to encourage the production of creative works, but in fact has quite the opposite effect, serving primarily to stifle creative activity."

But I did not say that. That is not what I think, and I don't say it either. This is because I reject the more basic supposition that encouraging the production of works is the sole or principal goal. I do support that goal, but I think it is less important than another desideratum: to respect the public's important freedoms to use published works.

I am willing to trade freedom for the benefit of encouraging production of works only when it is a matter of an inessential freedom (which, in the age of the printing press, it generally was).

I suspect that his ultimate aim is not merely to substantially weaken copyright (as in his proposal) but to eliminate it entirely,

I do not wish to abolish copyright; if I did, I would say so. I often speak with people who advocate abolishing copyright, and I tell them that I do not agree.

I remain am willing to trade inessential freedoms to encourage production of works, and there are freedoms which I think are still inessential and fit to be traded in this way. The proposal in my speech is based on that. It reduces copyright power by restoring to readers the essential freedoms, but it continues the copyright bargain in regard to other freedoms which are substantial in economic importance but not essential in my view.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on Free Software and Copyright:
  2. Open Source and Free Software:
  3. Free Software and Copyright Law: