|FROM ||Ruben Safir
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] DRm is Theft and the FSF
|Free Software Foundation: Free as in "do what I say" Stallman-headed
group's increasing politicization leaves a sour taste
By Neil McAllister
May 29, 2006
When Richard Stallman created the Free Software Foundation (FSF)
in 1985, it was organized around a radical idea: Software should be
free, not just as in free of charge, but free as in the concept of
liberty. During the next 20 years that idea turned out to be not just
radical, but surprisingly practical. Beginning with Stallman's Emacs
text editor, to the various Gnu utilities, the Linux kernel, and beyond,
free software has proved to be an enduring success.
Much of the credit for that can be given to Stallman himself. Through
his tireless campaigning, he has transformed this idealistic notion
into something that the wider world, and even the business community,
can accept and take seriously. Although it may not always be easy to
agree with him, his arguments have been rational, and if nothing else,
intellectually consistent to the last.
All the more reason to be disappointed by the FSF's recent, regrettable
spiral into misplaced neopolitical activism, far removed from its own
stated first principles. In particular, the FSF's moralistic opposition
to DRM (digital rights management) technologies, which first manifested
itself in early drafts of Version 3 of the GPL (Gnu General Public
License), seems now to have been elevated to the point of evangelical
[ Talkback: Has FSF gone too far? ]
The FSF's most recent effort -- an anti-DRM protest staged at Microsoft's
WinHEC conference last week, complete with demonstrators costumed in
hazmat suits -- was particularly troubling. It signals a shift in the
FSF, from an advocacy organization to one that engages in hysterical
activism cut from the PETA mold.
Emblazoned across the demonstration's home page is the alarming statement,
"There is no more important cause for freedom than the call for action
to stop DRM from crippling our digital future."
Sure. And if you buy that one, I've got a bridge to sell you that
stretches from North Korea to the Sudan.
For starters, market realities right here in the United States put
the lie to the FSF's histrionics. Apple's iTunes Store, which sells
DRM-encoded music and videos to millions of iPod owners, is going like
gangbusters. Clearly, despite DRM's widely discussed inadequacies and
regular aggravations, more than a few consumers are willing to put up
with it when the price is right. That's just basic free-market economics.
In a statement regarding the demonstration, FSF executive director Peter
Brown said, "A media player that restricts what you can play is like a
car that won't let you steer" -- a false analogy so patently absurd as
to be laughable to a grade-school student.
You know what customers would do with a car that couldn't steer? Run
like hell. If their MP3 files were really similarly crippled (though
perhaps not quite as deadly, Mr. Brown), I'm willing to bet they would do
the same -- to non-DRM competitors such as eMusic, perhaps, or even to
plain old-fashioned CDs. For DRM to fail in the entertainment industry,
all that needs to happen is for customers to choose not to buy it,
which in turn should convince artists not to use it.
But the FSF has chosen a different path. Convinced, perhaps, that average
consumers are too stupid to know what's good for them, it's embarked
on a mission that's even more insidious than the DRM it opposes. No DRM
system ever told an artist what notes to play or what lyrics were OK to
sing. But the FSF seems intent on doing just that.
One of the original tenets of the GPL was that users of software should be
free, not just to run the software and make copies of it, but to examine
its code and improve on it. Free software means, among other things,
the freedom of programmers to write code.
But not, apparently, under the new FSF order. In this new worldview,
DRM is Wrong. It is verboten. And who knows what other algorithm or
subroutine might be cast out next; but who are we to question? By
abandoning social and economic arguments in favor of a moral one, the
FSF is in effect telling us that God is on its side.
This shift is very troubling. Among its other devices, the FSF has
chosen to unilaterally re-christen DRM as "digital restrictions
management." If I were to stoop to that level, I might describe the
FSF as the "Fundamentalist Software Foundation." But why go there? If
free software is going to maintain its relevance to the broader user
and business community, it must resist the temptation toward further
radicalism, give up the name-calling and demagoguery, and re-embrace
the rationality that Richard Stallman has demonstrated in the past.
Free software has proved its worth. That good reputation can only be
damaged by turning a movement into a crusade.
Brooklyn Linux Solutions
So many immigrant groups have swept through our town that Brooklyn, like
Atlantis, reaches mythological proportions in the mind of the world -
RI Safir 1998
DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS - RI Safir 2002
"Yeah - I write Free Software...so SUE ME"
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