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Date: Mon, 2 Sep 2002 19:17:20 -0400
From: Ruben Safir
Subject: [hangout] [dyfet-at-ostel.com: current speech]
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----- Forwarded message from David Sugar -----
From: David Sugar
To: Ruben I Safir
Subject: current speech
Date: Sun, 1 Sep 2002 23:15:01 -0400
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"Software Literacy and the right to study"
As I come here to speak before you today about software freedom, I am not
speeking about a purely abstract idea or idealism of how we think the
world should work. Software freedom is as much about very real world
economic freedom as it is about social rights that all humans should be
free to exercise.
Certainly all modern societies recognize the need to encourage people to
publish new ideas. In that science itself is advanced through incremental
improvement on the past, the greatest benefit to society occurs when the
most people are able to activily participate in it. Certainly, society as
a whole generally benefits when new ideas and improvements to old ideas
are published and disseminated and everyone is free to use these new
ideas and can themselves contribute to further improve upon them.
To encourage people to participate in publishing their ideas many
societies offer temporary restrictions on the public's rights to enable
authors and inventors to derive some special economic benefit through
means such as copyright. These special considerations are justified so
long as they serve the overall need of society, and usually on a very
limited basis. These considerations are offered in many countries not as
an absolute right, and certainly not as a property right, but as a special
consideration for the benefit of society as a whole. Copyright is talked
about in this manner in my american constitution, in article I. In your
Macedonian consitution, one can find similar concepts, even if the wording
and some of the emphasis is different, as part of article 47.
To balance the priviledge of copyright, in my country we have a concept of
"fair use". "Fair use", as we understand it in America, is derived from
the 1st and 4th ammendements of our constitution, as this part deals with
real rights that are granted to individuals. These real rights are
different and absolute, rather than the priviledge of copyright. In the
Macedonian constitution, many of the things we call "fair use" as derived
from other rights are more directly spelled out in article 47.
Free Software is also founded on these basic ideas that all societies
recognize. When we are talking about Free Software, we are not talking
about software that is free in cost but in the freedoms that are offered
and which society should expect. Free software, as we generally define
it, is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study,
change and improve software. To make these freedoms easier to understand
the free software foundation has defined four basic software freedoms:
The freedom to run the program, for any purpose, what the fsf
calls freedom zero, as no other form of software freedom is
possible if one cannot freely run programs.
The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your
The freedom to redistribute copies of software so you can help
The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements
to the public, so that society as a whole benefits.
Each of these freedoms is essential. However, today I am going to speak
mostly about what we call the first freedom. When we speak about this
freedom, to study and learn and adapt software, we are also talking about
the freedom that people have to exercise and use the ideas and knwoledge
that they may posses or gain. Whether we spell this basic freedom out in
our respective laws using the same or different language, this basic idea
that people can share and use knowledge is fundimental to all societies.
When we educate our children, we do not give them licenses to use math or
literacy. When we teach our children to read and write, about culture and
literacy, which often is done by studying how others have done this in the
past, we do not say that because this knowedge was given by others that
others now have some imaginary right to control or benefit from anything
that person may write or publish in his lifetime thereafter. As all
societies I think would agree, education is a very fundimental and natural
Similarly, if one is to write software, one would do so by studying
software written by others. This is no different than other professions.
If one wants to be an auto mechanic, for example, one might do so by
studying and learning or taking apart or putting together cars. When One
learns about cars, the car companies who made those cars that the mechanic
learned from do not try to claim some form of ownership over the ideas or
skills of the mechanic. In this sense, software is no different than any
other profession, and if in fact, software were treated much the same,
perhaps there might not be need for me to be here before you today.
The reason we speak of software freedom is that these very basic freedoms
that we understand and hold dear in our lives are under threat and already
have been eliminated in many areas of the software profession that exists
today. Very often we find these basic freedoms are eliminated by those
that sell propriety software and do so under terms and restrictions that
are neither part of those natural rights we all understand must exist as
societies, and as a result also that handicap and prevent others from
obtaining the same economic oppertunities that those very same proprietary
vendors often originally enjoyed.
Consider the case of our auto mechanic. Let us say he is very good and
becomes the chief mechanic for Yugo motors. If we applied the same logic
that proprietary vendors do in software to this situation, then what might
happen is that say Voksvagan or Honda might one day visit the Yugo
director one day. The visitors would explain that the mechanic obviously
is knowledgable about cars, and this knowledge can only be obtained by
learning from other cars. Since all cars would come with a EULA that
specifically prohibts one from studying cars or creating new cars, clearly
Yugo must immediately cease making cars, and pay for past damages for
having done so. The only way Yugo would be able to manufactur a car is
perhaps by hiring people that know absolutely nothing about cars and then
making sure they do not accidently learn about how cars work or accidently
come up with common or even obvious ideas that are already covered by
This is not to say that proprietary knowledge as such is in itself bad.
Many companies may have ideas for how to do things that they develop and
use internally. In keeping these ideas internal they may gain competitive
advantage. We typically call these things trade secrets, and trade
secrets, as such, offer no overt threat to freedom.
Similarly, there is a very broad range of proprietary software development
that does not concern us at all. Many companies develop and modify
software internally for specific purposes. This software is not meant to
be distributed, and while it may be an unfortunate loss to the public as a
whole that this software will never be seen elsewhere, this is certainly a
right any organization should enjoy.
Commercial software, as such, also poses no issues from the point of view
of software freedom. Certainly people and groups have a right to buy and
sell software as they do for any other commodity. Software freedom is not
about establishing lower costs for software.
The real issue we face comes from the commercial distribution of
proprietary software and the social and economic damage this does. This
damage occurs because of distributing something to others while trying to
retain control as if it were an internal and private proprietary product.
These same controls, when exherted externally, interfere in the very
ability for others to use these products as they see fit and from the
natural rights of others to study and learn.
If I run a company that has a car, I can certainly say who in my own
company can use the car and when. I can also say who may ride in the car
and I have a right to exercise proprietary control over it. If I sell you
a car, and try to exercise this same proprietary control, I am interfering
in your ability to use your own property or knowledge. Imagine if I told
you that you would only be permitted to let the people I choose drive with
you in your car, that you would only be permitted to drive it on the
streets I permit, etc. Imagine if you were further told that you are not
entitled to modify your car or to resell it to others.
Companies that purchase and use proprietary software have to deal with
many similar restrictions on the software they purchase and use today.
They may be restricted from who or how many people can use a given
software. They may be restricted from modifying software, or, worst yet,
restricted from obtaining any commercial oppertunities by modifying their
When proprietary software companies speak of these practices, they like to
speak of "Intellectual Property". As noted earlier, there are no modern
societies that recognize ideas as physical property. However, besides
being a very false idea, we find a great irony put forward by these same
firms. On the one hand, these companies that distribute proprietary
software that would like have knowledge legally treated as if it were
physical property, often at the same time wish to deny to those they sell
to the same property rights they themselves would try to claim.
We often hear proprietary commercial software firms speak of the right to
"innovate". Similarly, by offering proprietary software licenses that
wish to impose how one can use software they wish to protect this
priviledge to themselves exclusivily while simultaneously denying the
benefit of innovation to all others.
Those of us who are free software professionals understand that software,
like other sciences, is founded upon the ideas of those before us and
progresses through the often incremental contributions of others.
Somtimes in software, like in science, a real innovation does occur, and
by having anyone freely able to learn and study software, the largest
chance of such innovation occuring becomes possible. While proprietary
software vendors will only permit innovation to occur at their own
facilities, such innovation can happen anywhere at anytime. It can happen
right now, in this very room. Someone here right now might get an
Governments and commercial enterprises are increasingly becoming aware of
the very real benefits of free software today. Governments, in
particular, have an implicit obligation to obtain the most value for the
public's money that they spend. Value as such is not nessisarly measured
in currency alone. Increasingly, governments are interested in free
software for the value in terms of permitting their own citizens economic
oppertunities that are denied them by purchasing and using proprietary
commercial software. Similarly, companies are increasingly finding that
the cost of proprietary software is not just in the ever increasing costs
of software licenses alone, but in the cost to their own freedom to use
and profit from the software that they purchase.
In providing oppertunities for Macedonians to directly participate in the
development and worldwide commercial software market locally, free
software offers incentives for forming a local software industry that can
compete on an equal basis with that of any other advanced country in the
world. Software does not require expensive plants or high capital
investment to develop. Software primarily requires educated people who
are free to use their skills and natural talents. Certainly, Macedonia,
as any other country, can and does produce people with such talents and
skills. Free software means these people can practice these skills for
their own benefit and the benefit of Macedonian society as a whole without
having to look for work in or migrate to foreign lands.
----- End forwarded message -----
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