Richard Stallman: Free Software and Beyond

16 July, 2008
Guest author: Ismael Peña-López
Lecturer Public Politics for Development and ICT4D
Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

His main field of interest is twofold. On one hand the aspects related with Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D): e-Readiness, the Digital Divide, e-Inclusion, etc. On the other hand the aspects related with e-Learning and empowerment: digital capacity building and literacy, e-Portfolios, Open Access, etc


The following text has been crossposted from Richard Stallman: Free Software and Beyond, liveblogged notes taken at the conference by Richard M. Stallman at the First International Conference Free Knowledge, Free Technology – Education for a free information society in Barcelona (Spain), 15 July 2008, on the production and sharing of free educational and training materials about Free Software.

The conference deals first with the concept of Free Software to then enter broader and deeper considerations about Freedom in the Information Society. The speaker reflects about how the pervasiveness of computers as tools implied in almost every socioeconomic aspect makes the debate about Free Software actually a debate about Freedom in general.

Richard Stallman on Zeuux 2008 (China) by Shizao on Flickr

Richard Stallman on Zeuux 2008 (on May 31st 2008, China) by Shizao on Flickr

Richard M. Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation
Free Software and Beyond

Free Software is about giving freedom to the user and respecting the work done by the community of programmers.

The analogy with cooking recipes is clearly the best way to help people understand the four freedoms of Free Software.

Electronic book readers are evil

The key to promote Free Software is not software in itself, the possibility to be able to “cook”, but: as long as software is needed to do more and more things because of the pervasiveness of the Digital Economy, then we’re talking not about the freedom to run some software, but the freedom to perform a lot of activities.

For instance, e-Books, DRM, etc. attempt against the possibility to lend books, or give them to your sons and grandsons, because electronic book readers are not made on free software, hence they subjugate the user to the retailers’ will. Buying such devices is like stating you don’t want to share your books so you should advice your friends that, if they buy these devices, you won’t be friends anymore, because they don’t want to share books in a community of readers.

So, the problem is not software in itself, but changing (to worse) the model of society we’re living in to another one more closed, selfish, commoditized, etc.

Free content for a free life

Practical, useful, functional works should be free

  • Software should be free
  • Recipes should be free
  • Reference works, like encyclopedias, should be free
  • Educational works
  • Font types

You have to control the tools you use to live, to shape your life. If you don’t, you’re not free.

There’s some content that can perfectly not be free. Opinion works are one of those, as it is important not to be misrepresented. But, sharing should be made possible for each and every kind of work. And this includes music sharing.

Copyright should only cover commercial use, modification of originals.

When a work embodies practical knowledge you’re going to use for your life, it should be free and it should be free to be modified. It’s not the case of art. Art should be shareable, but not modifiable.

Teaching free software vs. teaching gratis software

We should teach values, not some specific software: (a) because it’s values schools are expected to be teaching, (b) to avoid dependency from specific companies.

Thus, schools should only bring free software to classes. And free textbooks.

Note: for the ‘questions and answers’ part of the conference, please refer to the original text.

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