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Stallman’s Law (gnu.org)
306 points by BuuQu9hu on Nov 27, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments



Here's the thing about Richard Stallman -- he's absolutely correct in all of his principles and all of his underlying thinking. He's as intellectually farsighted as anyone I can think of in tech. However, all of the movement around him and the resulting "outreach" efforts have been rather shortsighted in comparison.

Let's use environmentalism as an analogy. There is a place for an absolutist intellectual position, when it comes to the underlying science. However, much of the tremendous progress that has been made with respect to the global environment has been a tenacious "foot in the door, while they're slamming it" struggle, where allies and politics are vital. This is why I found the FSF animosity towards "Open Source" perplexing. If a group is advocating for freedom, I find it perplexing when they seem to be coercing me to be free in exactly the way they deem correct. While leadership is vital in any movement (I think that leaderless movements generally fall off the rails and tend to spawn extremist groups) one of the primary reasons leadership is vital is to set the tone and morality of the movement. A firm philosophical and intellectual grounding is also vital, but it can't stand alone if the tone and morality of the movement allows it to succumb to any human group's natural tendency towards jingoism. RMS always got the intellectual far-seeing right. In terms of tone and politics: fairly close to dead wrong. Basically, he could impress college aged me, then alienate working aged me.


This is why I found the FSF animosity towards "Open Source" perplexing

I think you've misread something somewhere. Here is what the FSF says about "Open Source," and it doesn't seem like animosity: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.htm...

"We disagree on the basic principles, but agree more or less on the practical recommendations. So we can and do work together on many specific projects."


I think you've misread something somewhere. Here is what the FSF says about "Open Source," and it doesn't seem like animosity

Their stance has moderated over the decades. Also, it's not only what I've read from them online, I'm also referring to direct person to person interactions. Again, it's not the intellectual underpinnings, it's the stuff around it. If they're cleaning up their act in terms of outreach, then power to them. I would love to see a more politically effective FSF.


Maybe, but I used to work for a guy who organized a Free Software con some years ago, to which rms was invited. I watched the video of a former Sun employee up on stage talking about Open Source when rms walks into the room and, having discovered this presentation was about Open Source and not Free Software, audibly says "You fucking screwed me!" to my former boss. Whatever the FSF site says now, the animosity was definitely real.


"Disagree on the basic principles" is diplomacy 101 fail -- a great way to project animosity. It is the basic principles on which they agree.


Unlike so many political issues, this is a rare case where two groups broadly actually agree on a course of action but disagree on the problem that necessitates it.

* Software freedom is important because it produces quality software.

* Software freedom is important because it protects the user from mistreatment.


I can believe there are some open source advocates who claim your first bullet, and there are a few cherry examples (i.e. Linux), but I'm guessing a lot of us are better represented by, "I appreciate when other developers share their work with me, so I'll share my work with other developers." From this point of view, it's easy to see how the GPL is an impediment to professional (proprietary) developers, and why we'd choose a license better suited to sharing with ourselves.


I subscribe to neither of those philosophies you mention and it shows that this point of view is one that has been projected by the FSF.

Open Source is important because it gives both users and developers control. Open Source is the ability to fork.

And the irony of the situation is that these ideals where also embodied in Free Software, however the FSF has forgotten them, at least judging by their current behavior.

For example AGPL should not be considered either an open-source or a free software license, because it redefines what redistribution is, effectively placing limits on usage. Up until GCC version 4.5 it didn't support plugins, being a monolithic thing, out of fear that proprietary tools could make use of it; you can thank LLVM for the positive changes in that area. And here's a recent fuckup of the FSF, that's very close to my heart, because I'm an Emacs user - apparently Emacs must hate MacOS, even though many Emacs contributors and plugins authors are using it: https://github.com/emacs-mirror/emacs/blob/emacs-25.1/etc/NE...


The way I think of it is that GPL (and the precursor the GNU emacs license) was created when distribution was primarily via magnetic media or downloads and hardly anyone ran software which wasn't local (BBS software excluded?).

Which meant that as soon as you distributed GPL licensed software you also had to adhere to the license of sharing your improvements in source code.

Then when the internet through the web became popular you could use GPL software without distributing it and many use cases which didn't exist previously for the distribution options in GPL just didn't create the intended effect where users who changed the software and distributed it should also share their changes.

I would argue that AGPL didn't redefine what distribution is, but the capabilities and the use of the web redefined what distribution is, through software as a service. AGPL was an attempt to align the license with the original intent of GPL, which was to say that if you redistributed the software and change it, share your changes.


What are the basic principles of "open source"? Because as far as I'm aware, they don't include "user freedom". It's all about practical benefits which are not the primary benefits of free software (the primary benefit of free software is freedom).


>Because as far as I'm aware, they don't include "user freedom".

I'd largely disagree with that. I see "Open source" described (and describe it myself) as something that has many advantages as a way of developing software and developing communities (users and developers) around that software. But, at the same time, it's absolutely about letting users maintain control and being able to directly influence the direction of development.


The "open source definition"[1] does not agree with your reading. In fact, that annotations appear to entirely skirt around the issue of freedom. For example, their claimed reasoning for freedom 1 (freedom to modify) is:

> The mere ability to read source isn't enough to support independent peer review and rapid evolutionary selection. For rapid evolution to happen, people need to be able to experiment with and redistribute modifications.

No mention of user freedoms or why this is important to users, just some nebulous claim that this is related to "evolution" and "experimentation".

The entire OSD is written like this, with claims that the 10 completely-arbitrary-with-no-real-logic-behind-them tennants of "open source" will somehow make your software better. How? They don't say. The four software freedoms make sense if you discuss them from the context of freedom, but the 10 "open source" rights don't make sense outside the context of freedom.

[1]: https://opensource.org/osd-annotated


Do you think one mission statement on one website represents the position for all of us?


Clearly this has now devolved into mere semantics, but... if your position emphasizes user freedom, then your position is the "free software" position, not the "open source" position, just as a matter of the historical definitions of those terms. "Open source" was coined for the explicit purpose of de-emphasizing user freedom (that is, making the idea of FOSS more palatable to companies that were not interested in allowing user freedom). So...


And yet you're pushing connotations onto it.

"Open source" was meant to be a way to frame the discussion in different terms. Yet by saying that it was "for the explicit purpose of de-emphasizing user freedom" you sneakily imply motives to the people who coined and promoted the term. Once parsed out, rhetorically it's about as sensible as post-9/11 "they hate us for our freedom" discourse in the US.


> "Open source" was meant to be a way to frame the discussion in different terms.

Yes, and the free software movement's main "terms" are user freedom. So by your own admission, "open source" was coined to de-emphasising user freedom (or rather, framing the discussion around "terms" different than user freedom). It's a matter of public record where the term "Open Source" came from.


"De-emphasizing user freedom" makes it sound like there's an actively freedom-hating agenda at work. That's the connotation it carries. And that's the problem. I could just as easily find ways to imply sinister motives in "free software" -- actively de-emphasizing the ability of programmers to make a living, for example -- but I prefer not to argue that way, y'know?

"Open source", as a term, is about emphasizing a different set of benefits that come from license terms that let anyone run, modify and distribute code for any purpose they choose. The careful way you word your comments to highlight negatives and avoid positives makes it seem obvious that you don't like that and want to make it sound sinister when it isn't. My advice to you would be, if you're going to lie, at least be honest about it!


> actively de-emphasizing the ability of programmers to make a living, for example -- but I prefer not to argue that way, y'know?

Because such an argument would be incorrect (not just a "re-framing", it would be a fundamentally flawed argument). Aside from the naming, free software fundamentally gives users the right to sell software as well.

> The careful way you word your comments to highlight negatives and avoid positives makes it seem obvious that you don't like that and want to make it sound sinister when it isn't.

The positives of "open source" are the same positives as free software. The only difference is the framing, which is a negative IMO. I'm not sure how you'd like me to discuss my issues with "open source" -- should I list the benefits (that are identical to free software) while doing a comparison to free software? Such a comparison would be redundant.

The only tangible benefit of the term "open source" is that it is more friendly to corporations because "free" has two meanings in English. But since it only takes a minute or two to clarify the meaning, I don't see why that should be a priority when the downside is that you don't educate users about the importance of user freedom.


Look, he used a bullshit argument. One guy says, (paraphrasing) [open source has many advantages]. The next guy replies by quoting the opensource.org website as though that's the only definition available. A citation for a strawman doesn't make it valid.

I have no idea who first put the words "open source" together, and neither do you. I think it's much more likely someone grabbed the term and added their own agenda to it after it was already popular. Regardless, assuming the original intention was as you claim, that doesn't mean everyone who uses that term now shares that view.


> I have no idea who first put the words "open source" together, and neither do you. I think it's much more likely someone grabbed the term and added their own agenda to it after it was already popular.

Perhaps you should read the site in question rather than guessing.

https://opensource.org/history

> The “open source” label was created at a strategy session held on February 3rd, 1998 in Palo Alto, California, shortly after the announcement of the release of the Netscape source code. [..] The conferees also believed that it would be useful to have a single label that identified this approach and distinguished it from the philosophically- and politically-focused label "free software." Brainstorming for this new label eventually converged on the term "open source", originally suggested by Christine Peterson.


In reply to user misrepresent, who seems to have signed up to HN just to attack RMS:

Wrong.

"Revision 1.29 February 9 1998 esr Changed ``free software'' to ``open source''. "

http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cathedral-bazaar/cathedral...


I haven't attacked anyone, and I haven't even mentioned RMS until now. That's a very weird accusation.


While claiming that referencing first-hand sources from both sides of the aisle as a "bullshit argument" isn't attacking anyone, you're not contributing to a healthy discussion.


And yet, if I look at:

    https://archive.org/stream/CathedralAndTheBazaar/cathedral-bazaar_djvu.txt
I see that Eric Raymond used the term on November 18th 1997. Wanna place a bet that I can't find an earlier use than that? Perhaps you shouldn't trust everything you read as definitive...


Well, it looks like I was wrong about the origin of the term. I misread Eric Raymond's changelog, and after a half hour of searching I can't find an earlier use. (I wish there was a usable search for old usenet postings...)

Anything else I said still stands though - including that it's foolish to try and paint everyone with the same brush.


Well there's free as in speech. And free as in beer. And free as in working for IBM without getting paid.


And free as in allowing Facebook or Google to make money off of you by selling your attention as their product.


Well, the source being open means that you are free, if only because any mistreatment occurring, you can open up VIM and delete it.

You can be sure I would have done that with MS Office and OneDrive in the File menu, or reboots without permission on Windows 10 if I could.


While Free Software and "Open Source" usually refer to the same software, they have different ethical views and have different reasoning behind why software should be free software[1].

[1]: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point....


Did you perhaps mean "different reasoning behind why software should be open source/free software/free code"?


But it isn't - the basic principle behind the FSF and GNU is that proprietary software is unethical, whereas the OSI specifically rejected that position.


At the very top of GP's article: This article has been superseded by a major rewrite, “Open Source” misses the point of Free Software, which is much better. We keep this version for historical reasons.

With a bit less animosity further down: "The official definition of “open source software” (which is published by the Open Source Initiative and is too long to include here) was derived indirectly from our criteria for free software. It is not the same; it is a little looser in some respects. Nonetheless, their definition agrees with our definition in most cases."

https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point....


And yet the basic principle they disagree on is the one fundamental religious tenet of free software - that proprietary licensing is a moral evil which should not be allowed to exist.


Which is ironic, because the one that posits that is also the one that really needs the legal framework that make it possible to make something proprietary.


Freedom is not so simple:

“This procedure thus implies a certain logic of exception: every ideological Universal–for example freedom, equality–is 'false’ in so far as it necessarily includes a specific case which breaks its unity, lays open its falsity. Freedom, for example: a universal notion comprising a number of species (freedom of speech and press, freedom of consciousness, freedom of commerce, political freedom, and so on) but also, by means of a structural necessity, a specific freedom (that of the worker to sell freely his own labour on the market) which subverts this universal notion. That is to say, this freedom is the very opposite of effective freedom: by selling his labour 'freely’, the worker loses his freedom–the real content of this free act of sale is the worker’s enslavement to capital. The crucial point is, of course, that it is precisely this paradoxical freedom, the form of its opposite, which closes the circle of 'bourgeois freedoms’. - Slavoj Zizek


Just because your quasi-mathematical model breaks, that doesn't necessarily mean this has anything to do with reality. We have high confidence that mathematical models in physics and chemistry often do have consequences and say something about reality. Economics has an interesting track record here as well. In the realm of ethics, politics, and ideology? Ehhh...not so much.


Ideology has almost nothing at all to do with mathematics, you got that right.


It's interesting that contradiction, that is inconsistency, is a hint that a mathematical system does not model something in reality, because we don't want to believe such a thing can exist. But it is about as hard to work out the kinks of inconsistency from of a mathematical model as it is from ideology, law, ethics, and other such systems that we construct to guide our behavior. So I would say that METAmathematics has a lot to say about us and our ability to construct consistent systems-- it's really hard.

Freedom is one such example since it cannot belong to everyone when competing interests are at play. That might be a strange way to slice it though, since the language we use to describe freedom is probably not as well defined as we think.


Stallman recognized this from the start of GNU:

"proprietary modifications will not be allowed"

https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html


Stallman's greatest strength - his uncompromising, liberty or death approach to computing - is also his greatest weakness. With all due respect, by refusing to use proprietary software under any circumstances, and taking extreme measures to avoid various forms of tracking, he isolates himself into a sunshine and rainbows bubble of free software. Stallman is very good at predicting what the worst case scenarios may look like under various regimes of technological oppression, but he has no idea what the current state of affairs is outside his freedom bubble. He can't see what direction the state of the art is moving in, and has no first hand experience with any of the various evils he dedicates his life to fighting.

Stallman wrote my favorite text editor, and the original version of the C compiler I've fiddled with for the past decade, so I can't complain about the guy. He's a living legend. I just think that the potential negative results of hard-line free software purism don't get enough discussion within the free software community.


I consider RMS like the highest speed on my speedometer. I'm probably never going to drive that fast but that gives me a sense of perspective about how fast I can go and what's safe.


> ...but he has no idea what the current state of affairs is outside his freedom bubble. He can't see what direction the state of the art is moving in, and has no first hand experience with any of the various evils he dedicates his life to fighting.

I see misunderstandings and misstatements. Firstly, it's incorrect to say he has no idea of the current state of affairs "outside his freedom bubble" (a term that sounds derogatory and insulting to me). Look up his posts on Uber, AirBnB, Amazon [1] and several others and decide for yourself if he seems as clueless as you believe him to be (but remember he always talks from the premise of freedom). First hand experience is not a necessity in order to criticize something. We all criticize things without first hand experience, based on hearsay, based on what we've read on social media (just because something came from "a friend") and so on.

He does resort to strong absolutist positions in his posts, but do we have anyone else like him in the world? Honestly, I consider myself a "weak person" who succumbs to the pleasures of life taking the easy route when I look at his writings and his stance, and I wish we had more people like him with a lot more money and influence to fight for our freedoms and create things that would make the world and its people free over time (whereas in the last few decades we've been seeing our freedoms taken and controlled by large, fast growing corporations).

[1]: https://www.stallman.org/amazon.html


Not sure why one wants to criticize him as academic space needs extremist for broader opinions and we should learn from them than try to keep everyone nice and adapted to what we had on that day. If he didn't paint the world with the term GPL, maybe we didn't have services like github yet.


I'm not a huge free-software advocate but I do broadly agree with rms.

But I went to hear him speak a while back and came away feeling more anti-free-software than before hearing him.


Environmentalism is the quintessential example of why compromise doesn't work. Climate change is an existential threat to humanity and has only become more of a threat since the origins of the modern environmental movement. I'm not sure how you can represent a failure of this catastrophic magnitude as "tremendous gains".


Were there any alternatives? Because the fact that our efforts had an undesirable outcome does not mean our methods were bad. Heck, even the very best methods can lead to undesirable outcomes.

I feel that sometimes we expect that an acceptable outcomes is reachable. Sadly, it often isn't. A large part of my growing up has been realizing this.

More to the point, the only real mistake I see environmentalism might have made is come in too hard in the middle. We needed to stir up the shit to get enough people on board. But after that, you need to calm down and get grinding on affecting change. Shooting down progressive action for 'not being good enough' is a great way of preventing progress.


> Were there any alternatives? Because the fact that our efforts had an undesirable outcome does not mean our methods were bad. Heck, even the very best methods can lead to undesirable outcomes.

A more hard line stance on greenhouse gas emissions is an alternative. You can claim that this isn't a viable alternative, but viability is made by a majority trying.

I'm not just looking at outcomes. Ten years ago we knew that immediately halting greenhouse emissions wasn't enough to stop climate change, but there wasn't even a push to do that. We weren't even trying for desirable outcomes, so I don't think it's unreasonable to say our methods were bad.

> I feel that sometimes we expect that an acceptable outcomes is reachable. Sadly, it often isn't. A large part of my growing up has been realizing this.

You claim that taking a hard line stance for an acceptable outcome is unreachable, but the right has been making this work for years. They take an extreme right stance, even more extreme than they want, knowing that the left will compromise and the right will get what they want.

You can't claim that compromise is a winning strategy when over and over the left compromises and loses while the right takes hard line stances and wins.

> More to the point, the only real mistake I see environmentalism might have made is come in too hard in the middle. We needed to stir up the shit to get enough people on board. But after that, you need to calm down and get grinding on affecting change. Shooting down progressive action for 'not being good enough' is a great way of preventing progress.

History does not bear out this assertion.


I'm not sure how you can represent a failure of this catastrophic magnitude as "tremendous gains".

Ozone.


There's far more to environmentalism than climate change, however important climate change may be.


Consider the concept of the overton window, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overton_window -- the cause of software freedom needs at least some people taking an extreme view in order to help shift the discussion and normalize more moderate views.


Here's the thing about Richard Stallman -- he's absolutely correct in all of his principles and all of his underlying thinking.

I disagree with this.

There are things you can (are allowed to) do, things you know you can't do, and things that are inconceivable / impossible.

His position is that #2 is evil (because knowing you could fix that printer driver if only you were allowed to is fucking annoying), and there is a moral duty to minimize it.

I think that #1 is good and should be maximized, and there is very little practical difference between #2 and #3. Minimizing #2 at the expense of also reducing #1 is bad and harmful.

In practice, there is a flow of things from #3 to #2 to #1. Things are moved out of the impossible with funds from paying customers, and then made open by people re-implementing them once the hard exploratory part is done.

There is also a smaller flow of things directly from #3 to #1. Some research is publicly funded or due to individual curiosity, instead of corporate internal. Some kinds of products can be funded from support instead of initial sales.

Destroying category #2 would choke off the first, much larger, flow. The second would not be able to make up the difference. This result would be good according to Stallman's ethics / priorities. I think it would be bad.


#2 and #3 have one huge practical difference: incentive. See, as far as profit-maximising is concerned, expanding the realm of #2 is very good for whoever owns the stuff. See how DRM is doing exactly that. If #2 itself was either forbidden or visibly abhorrent for everyone involved, we'd get more #1 right away.

Note that there is some flaw to #3 to #2 even when public funding is involved. Many patents were born that way. This abomination should of course stop yesterday. Because right now, the flow from #3 to #1 is smaller than it has rights to be.

Destroying #2 doesn't have to choke off the flow from the impossible to the possible, if adjust our society around it. Stuff like ending capitalism may do. (Of course, let's not do USSR "communism", it obviously didn't work. To be honest, I'm not sure what a good solution should look like. But I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve mega-corporations that own more money than entire nation-states.)


> Destroying #2 doesn't have to choke off the flow from the impossible to the possible, if adjust our society around it.

I honestly cannot tell exactly what the parent comment is referring to with #1 #2 #3, but a mutual change of societal incentives for writing software enabled by Free Software is what RMS suggested in the GNU Manifesto:

"In the long run, making programs free is a step toward the postscarcity world, where nobody will have to work very hard just to make a living. People will be free to devote themselves to activities that are fun, such as programming"

https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.html


The GNU Manifesto contains such gems as

In response to “Programmers need to make a living somehow.”

> All sorts of development can be funded with a Software Tax:

> Suppose everyone who buys a computer has to pay x percent of the price as a software tax. The government gives this to an agency like the NSF to spend on software development.

Just what software needs. A bunch of politics to decide who gets funded and who doesn't

In response to “Won't everyone stop programming without a monetary incentive?”

We get

> What the facts show is that people will program for reasons other than riches; but if given a chance to make a lot of money as well, they will come to expect and demand it. Low-paying organizations do poorly in competition with high-paying ones, but they do not have to do badly if the high-paying ones are banned.

So the GNU solution is to ban making money from software. Hmmm


> So the GNU solution is to ban making money from software. Hmmm

No. That's a misreading, and you're taking it out of context. The GNU solution there is to ban proprietary software companies doing their thing (those companies happen to be high-paying as a consequence of doing what Stallman thinks should be banned).

It's a reasonable point, if your ethics are such that what the high-paying software companies do is, on the face of it, unethical. Sure, the ethical software producers might make less money, but that's not the same thing. Mind you, after banning the unethical ones, they might make more than they did before.

For the analagous argument, everyone agrees that pre-1860, the highest-paying cotton producers in the USA should have been banned - not because they were the richest, but because of what they did to become the richest.


The first one makes sense in an ideal world though. If the government exists to ensure your freedom, then it should fund the development of free software.

WRT the second one, shouldn't we be free to write closed source software?


Maybe not, because that would be infringing on the freedoms of the user (study, modify etc). A line has to be drawn, and we must decide which is worse: me reading the code of the software you distribute, or you preventing me to?


I honestly cannot tell exactly what the parent comment is referring to with #1 #2 #3

The list at the beginning: things you can do (#1), things you're not allowed to do (#2), things that are still in the great unknown (#3). Hadn't realized that was confusing, thanks.

In the long run, making programs free is a step toward the postscarcity world

This both is putting the cart somewhat before the horse, and works better by increasing category #1 (what you can do) rather than destroying category #2 (what you're not allowed to do).


" But I'm pretty sure it doesn't involve mega-corporations that own more money than entire nation-states"

So should we limit companies that operate at a global scale to revenue or profits to that of the worlds smallest nations? Where do you draw your line? Or do you limit companies from ever operating at the scale that many of them do? What has permitted them to get so big in the first place and is that a good or bad thing?


Stallman's style isn't mine, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Radicals can alienate moderates, but they can also shift the Overton window.


There is this quote by the late, great philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser. I really like it, and I have shared it with RMS who, to my surprise, wasn't familiar with it. Professor Morgenbesser, whose field of study was American Pragmatism, was asked about his thoughts on pragmatism.

It's all very well in theory, but it doesn't work in practice.


If you're familiar with left-wing groups, it's a fairly recognizable pattern (and heavily mocked by Monty Python in Life of Brian). It's even harder on the FSF because the OSI was very clearly set up to push the same ideas while dropping the part that the former considers crucial.


> he's absolutely correct in all of his principles

I don't think principles are matters of fact. A set of principles may be consistent with each other, and/or you may agree with them, but that is not to say that one who holds them is correct.


Stallman keeps being right about everything yet people want to call him an extremist.

Stallman is flexible enough to accept using closed hardware, closed firmware shipped with a device, non-GPL licenses.

On the other hand, patent and copyright laws...


> However, all of the movement around him and the resulting "outreach" efforts have been rather shortsighted in comparison.

I'd say it's the exact opposite: Stallman is a hopeless idealist with absolutely no anchor in reality. The only thing that keeps the FSF relevant is the people running it besides Stallman.


But it works. Somehow the free software movement survives and still makes influence in the modern IT world where it seems everyone holds convenience above ethics (how many people believe that privacy is good and mass surveillance is evil and yet use things like Facebook, it's absurd).


I'm hesitant to agree that ANYONE is "absolutely correct in all of his principles and all of his underlying thinking."


That some corporations can abuse IP is obvious, but that doesn't remotely imply that the concept of IP itself is either dysfunctional or immoral.

Stallman is completely wrong in all these statements.

He's very shortsighted in fact, his views are 19th century if anything, and they're not even very intellectually founded, or well expressed.


I just DuckDuckWent "richard stallman predictions", and found this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3418340 It enumerates a number of predictions Richard Stallman made, that turned out to be true.

Do not dismiss him too quickly.

By the way, the concept of IP is obviously dysfunctional: ideas and expressions are non rival goods. They are not moved, borrowed, nor stolen; they are only copied from substrate to substrate (be it a mind, a piece of paper, or a computer). Property rules simply don't work there.

What does work is monopoly rules, such as copyright, patents, and trademarks. The use of "property" to describe such limited state granted monopolies is an obvious piece of newspeak, an Orwellian ploy to make those laws look better than they are, and frame the discussion: if you're against monopoly, you're a normal person. If you're against property, you must be a thief of sorts.


There's also the StallmanWasRight subreddit. It can be tongue-in-cheek a lot of the time, but a lot of the topics are relevant.

https://reddit.com/r/stallmanwasright


Thank you for your post. I've never thought of the concept of "non rival goods" nor how the notions of property and monopoly can be abused by people (in the way you describe).


http://blog.ninapaley.com/2011/07/09/culture-is-anti-rivalro... is a nice text about the rival/non-rival nature of things.


Intellectual property is as real as real property. A Native American would make the same argumentyou do, but levy it against the notion of real eatate: owning a plot of the earth is ridiculous.

Your argument against "nonrival" would imply that if a manufacturer creates surplus product, its ok to steal the surplus because no one else needa it.. even if they go bankrupt because no one then buys the non surplus.

And a Marxist would say that labor ia property, and its rheft to deprive a laborer of ownership of their labor. All property is a legal fiction, you cant arbitrarily decide that one kind ia legitimate and the others aren't. Rivalry is just one factor.


> […] "owning a plot of the earth is ridiculous."

I may side with the Native Americans on that one.

There is this idea of a Land Value Tax, where most or all taxes would be taken on naked soil. Such a tax would effectively abolish land ownership, because everyone would effectively rent it from the state. Long story short, it looks like it might work.


> owning a plot of the earth is ridiculous

you'll think differently once you've planted your crops in it


That some corporations can abuse IP is obvious, but that doesn't remotely imply that the concept of IP itself is either dysfunctional or immoral.

Nowhere does rms claim this implication, so this is just a strawman. He doesn't even oppose "IP" as a whole (except for the term itself), just those restrictions which conflict with the Four Freedoms.

He's very shortsighted in fact, his views are 19th century if anything, and they're not even very intellectually founded, or well expressed.

Says the person who fails to make a single argument to justify their position.


Corporations need to be treated as if they could have radically different managers at any moment (because they can). The Best Company Ever of today could be bought by Worst Corporation In Existence tomorrow.

It essentially doesn’t matter what a company is currently doing or “promises” to do or not do, if those behaviors are not legally binding. And even then, if you have to read a hundred-page document to figure out what the legal binding is, assume that the company has carefully placed a nice escape hatch somewhere in their legalese.

It was supposed to be true that if one vendor does something you don’t like, you simply “vote with your wallet” and go to one that you do like. That works great when buying toasters. Yet now, with essentially your whole life tied up in one or two devices and key services like Internet being dictated by one company based on where you live, it is REALLY hard to just walk away from one crappy technology experience and find something you like better. This is a real sign that it is not a good idea to have so much technology powered by so few corporations.


If anyone needs an example of the first point, look to what happened to Sun's free/open projects and firmware downloads after it's acquisition by Oracle.


It also works great when you buying a satisfactory toaster is the problem. It works less well when your neighbor buys an insecure IoT toaster that DDoSes the website you want to read an article from.


"Voting with your wallet" seems a pretty absurd concept to me anyway. If you could vote with money, there'd be no need to call it a vote. One may as well be a proponent of "voting with bombs" for all the rational good tying power directly to wealth will do you.


Managers don't make a company good or evil. Culture does. Culture bends managers, reward some behaviors and suppresses others...unless you change management en masse, the culture is persistent and strong.


You're seriously overestimating how powerful managers are and how difficult it is to change the culture of an organization.


Interesting that the more "advance" technology gets, the lower our reasonable expectation of privacy becomes.

I want to know when the average person gets on a computer, and surfs around, what data do they expect is kept for just themselves vs shared with the service.


I don't think the "average person" even thinks about data privacy at all.

I've seen people tell other people to "get off MY feed!" as if it's a thing they own and can control. As long as the platform can maintain this illusion, everyone will be happy.


thats a good point, also interesting that people get territorial over digital space.


> get off MY feed!

shitposting on public facebook posts is a lot of fun


I think it's because of the common assumption that the system that controls your data must also house the application that interacts with this data. When decentralized applications finally arrive (the inklings are already here) users won't be forced into this false choice. In that sense, companies like Google and Facebook are behind the curve, and don't really represent technological "advancement", but rather a social shift that has legitimized itself by falsely presenting itself as inevitable.


You just touched upon one of my idealistic geek wet dreams: Truly decentralized applications. Let's use ondemand music streaming as an example. I dream of a network where I pay whatever vendor I want, to deliver streams of music. I also pay whatever vendor I want to save my data (think playlists and play data). And I pay whatever vendor I want (could be free software as well) to play those streams. Each component does one thing, and the communication between is documented and open sourced. If I decide to switch player, that is fine, perhaps I use a different player on my phone and on my rpi terminal. If decide to switch stream provider my data is not locked with the previous vendor.


That's some idyllic thinking, but I agree such interoperability would be awesome. However, I don't see how it could be realized with current closed ecosystems. Seems like this would almost require open software...


I wouldn't say open source. But well-defined inter-operation protocols and strong encryption, yep.


The pipe command for services. I can dig that.


    s/advance/convenient/


Expectation doesn't become less. But awareness of implications does. People aren't easily digesting realities of digital space. Abusing this lack of awareness and making it look like lower expectation of privacy is evil (and some clearly try to do that, to justify their breaches of others' privacy).


It's really a cultural (judicial?) shift that is immensely reluctant to apply the traditional standards of public interest (of which privacy is a sub set) to new technology.

The continued expansion of IP rights and copyright extension is part of the same shift.


And yet, today's big opensource projects often are driven by big corps.

I wonder how rms would reconciliate that. Maybe we can get there the difference between opensource and freesoftwares?

In any way, having big companies publishing opensource code tell us how past we are the time when every single company will just publish proprietary software and let you guess the specs.


I think there's a few drivers for big corps getting involved in open source:

1. Getting intelligent people to work on projects for free. This is actually rarer than it sounds. But it does happen.

2. Protecting dependencies. Once a large company depends on a piece of technology, it has a vested interest in the future of that piece of technology. For proprietary code bases, this might mean buying the supplier. For open source, it means getting involved in the project.

3. It's their business model. Create a popular open source project and then provide paid support to organisations that use it.

4. Recruitment. Getting involved in the communities where skilled people hang out, and being seen to be involved in those communities, is great for recruiting those skilled people.

5... other reasons (I thought of a few more but decided not to attempt an exhaustive list)

It's all commercial reasons - how to make more money from this software project.

RMS' view often seems to come from a place where all commercial organisations are inherently evil and out to do their users harm.

I believe that 99.9% of the market for a piece of software are never going to be interested in taking responsibility for the safety of that software. You can give them all the rights you like, but they're not going to use them. The supplier of a piece of software will always be held responsible for its safety. It's not surprising that the supplier will attempt to exert some kind of control over the use of the software, if only to reduce their liability.

Again, commercial interests. Trying to do the best thing for everyone.


> RMS' view often seems to come from a place where all commercial organisations are inherently evil and out to do their users harm.

Yes, this was the thinking in early 2000', and indeed this was a proper reaction to the windows context back then. But I don't think that's what rms is fighting for anymore, I would state it more like : "if I bought it, then I own it", like when you buy a house, you can do any change in it you want. That's what is puzzling me in the linked statement, it sounds a lot like we're back in the 2000'. I guess shortness of statement is killing its details.


> like when you buy a house, you can do any change in it you want

Except when you can't. HOA rules, or municipal regulations can prevent you. Other rules and regulations applies as well.


Exactly, often you are not even allowed to paint your house in a color of your choosing.


Wow. This is starting to sound like Stallman Kremlinology.


Stallman and the FSF advocate Libre (or "Free" as in speech) software, not open source. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there are philosophical (ideological, one might say) differences between the two movements:https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.en....


That's why I mentioned the distinction in first place.


I have no idea when this "law" was written or said, but I think this type of thinking--in 2016--is exactly the cause of what it's prophesizing.

Instead of thinking from "corporations vs. us", a better approach would be to think of humanity as a single entity.

I do understand that all this "open software" movement could have an impact because it was very polarizing and moved a lot of people. But in a world where open source is the norm, it should not be about fighting against corporations. The discussion should be on a higher level.

For example, you should think deeper about why it looks like: "While corporations dominate society and write the laws, each advance or change in technology is an opening for them to further restrict or mistreat its users".

Only when you look deeper into the corporation's motivations you'll be able to figure out a way to defeat this. Otherwise it just reads like a rant.


> Only when you look deeper into the corporation's motivations you'll be able to figure out a way to defeat this. Otherwise it just reads like a rant.

It's actually pretty simple - money, power. Corporations are amoral machines; if there's something that brings profits and they can get away with legally, some corp will eventually do it (same seems to apply to small companies).

> Instead of thinking from "corporations vs. us", a better approach would be to think of humanity as a single entity.

Thinking like this was always the hallmark of my life. But the more I interact with actual people, and not just high-school friends but random people; CEOs and coworkers and shopowners and cleners - the more I realize there is a split there. Some of us think of humanity as a single entity worth caring about. Others don't give a fuck. They think of "me, family and friends vs. the rest of the world". Which makes it easy to justify fucking "the rest of the world" for profit. I don't really know how humanity is to reconcile those two worldviews.


The thing I sometimes have trouble with is:

1. Corporations behave like sociopaths.

2. Corporations don't really exist. They're a legal fiction that, in reality, is just a group of people working towards a common goal (maximum profit).

I wonder if it's counter-productive to think and speak of corporations as some sort of separate entity to the people it is composed of. I think the notion that 'corporations are evil sociopaths' is one of those thought-stopping 'mind-killers'. Corporations don't have intent, good or bad; they don't really exist (except in our minds).

As harsh as it may sound, if we want a 'corporation' to behave ethically, then we should assign blame to those that are perpetrating the harm: to the employees, managers and owners of that corporation. It's their collective efforts and actions that have led to unethical outcomes, not the singular effort of some invisible corporate spectre.

I think it's the only possible way to fight this 'diffusion of responsibility' that allows a whole bunch of (mostly) normal people to all do tiny unethical acts that, when viewed in aggregate, are abhorrent. I suspect whatever the best solution is will be similar (or analogous) to how you overcome the 'bystander effect': rather than saying 'someone call 911', say 'you, guy in the red shirt (point at him), call 911'.

tl;dr - It turns out the Ring of Gyges is not a ring at all. It's a multi-story building filled with rows of cubicles.


Thinking of corporations in terms of its employees means said employees have to take responsibility for their products. I'm all for it.

The same can be applied to governments (though I believe it's less of a problem than with corporations): it's not "the government" that's fucking things up, it's the people in it.


I agree. Moreover, we have ‘smart contracts’ technology now to make responsible society real. The problem is that we have too much parasites in human society who fight against progress in this area to protect their status quo. I think that in future responsible people won’t share the same economics/law system as irresponsible one, the same way humans are separated from the animals now. This split will happen once the world bullshit reaches its critical mass to make all reasonable people to unite.


Huh, do you think all the status-quo-preserving douchebags will want to live by themselves? That's no fun, is it? Then again, the internet is young. Maybe such segregation would work, but I'm not a fan of the idea. I'd rather try getting everybody on the intellectual boat, mostly to avoid segregation but also because smart asshats exist (my hope being that the beauty of responsible society swings them over).


I think it is accurate to talk about corporations like separate entities - alien entities, in the same way we sometimes talk about "market" as an entity, or about "$country" when we mean its government's decisions. In a complex organization composed of many individuals pursuing somewhat aligned, but ever so slightly different agendas, there may not be any single person to blame for the aggregate behaviour.

I see your suggestion of overcoming "diffusion of responsibility" as a way to kill the alien being corporation is. When you force things to be set up in such a way a single individual (or a small group) is ultimately responsible for some area of corporate behaviour, you reduce the chance of corporation displaying some emergent behaviour that no human can prevent or vouch for. Seems like an interesting and maybe even good idea to me.


The opposite happened when mainframes and minis transitioned to PCs, but he's right from the 2000s onward.

Something changed, and I'm not 100% sure what. Tech is reflecting the larger political trends of the world where strong man rule and other forms of authoritarianism are ascendant.

I do think the driver is democratic to an extent. People seem to be demanding less freedom in exchange for convenience, security, simplicity, etc... in tech and in life.


No, you can't just take a statement and call it a "law", even in a facetious sense.

Murphy's law, Betteridge's law, or other facetious laws are at least roughly formulated as "if X, then Y" (or sometimes "Y happens"), which mimics the structure of actual scientific laws. Stallman's statement is formulated as "if X, then maybe Y" (or "Y could happen").


that sounds like you are trying too hard to not see what he's trying to say.


> No, you can't just take a statement and call it a "law", even in a facetious sense.

Well he did, so apparently you can.


"If corporations dominate society and write the laws, then each advance or change in technology is an opening for them to further restrict or mistreat its users."

Also, you definitely can, tongue-in-cheek, call a general statement a "law." It's not meant to be taken in a literal sense; it's meant for humorous or broadly pragmatic effect.


You've explicitly rewritten it as "if X, then maybe Y", exactly as I said.

"If corporations write the laws, then maybe they will restrict or mistreat their users." That's not a law.


That's not a "maybe" any more by now. Corporation are meant to maximise profits, at the expense of everything else, except braking the law —and even that is debatable. Some jurisdictions even have laws to enforce that mindset.

As soon as profit maximization is at odds with the user's interests (that's pretty much all the time), the corporation will naturally act against the user's interests.

From this, I'm pretty sure "law" is a relatively accurate descriptor.


Essential Rules of Tyranny

Rule #1: Keep Them Afraid

Rule #2: Keep Them Isolated

Rule #3: Keep Them Desperate

Rule #4: Send Out The Jackboots

Rule #5: Blame Everything On The Truth Seekers

Rule #6: Encourage Citizen Spies

Rule #7: Make Them Accept The Unacceptable

http://www.alt-market.com/articles/198-the-essential-rules-o...


Based on the context, I expected your list to remind me of how corporations have been treating users lately (I thought this was the point you're making) - but out of these 7 rules only #7 seems to apply? What I mean is that #1, 2, 3,4, 5, and 6 literally don't seem to be happening? (At least, they don't remind me of anything?)


I wish Stallman got back to its printer roots. Hardware is where the battle is. Good enough GPU / DSP / NIC and the rest is set. Sane not too hard to write drivers that works fine under open source OSes, enjoy prolongated lifetime for your devices and more interesting uses.


`s/corporations/government` and this is still true


The two blur together at the top.


The objectives, roles, and responsibilities are significantly different.


In theory, yes. The problem is that many government officials act to further corporations' objectives for example by enacting laws enabling or making shady activities easier.


Yup. And that is a problem, isn't it? Because it shouldn't be that way. We should work to limit such influence, not just throw up our hands and say they're the same.


Oh of course, but do you have any practical suggestions? I fear the whole thing needs to be ripped apart to have any chance of actual change as opposed to the less-than-superficial "yeah that's a problem, gotta do something about that, don't we?" rubs nipples that politicians are spewing out when faced with criticism.

Point is, corruption played such a major role in building the modern world it's impossible to get rid of while maintaining capitalism as it stands.

The old school solution would be a bloody revolution. Needless to say, not something I'm in favour of. On top of that, modern surveillance makes me very pessimistic as to its outcome. (Could that be a measure to determine what's too much surveillance? When revolution becomes impossible?)


There's the rub :) I feel a lot of the frustration you're expressing as well. I really don't like contemplating refreshing the tree of liberty with iron-rich, crimson, liquid manure.[-1]

I don't have a history of political activism, and haven't done a lot of reading on it, either, so anyone can rightly accuse me of some level of earnest, well-meaning naïvieté. I'm also not much of a politician, so that naïvieté counts double.

Any suggestions I'm putting forward are suggestions and ideas for me, first.

- Continue to honestly and charitably engage as much as possible with people that may not agree with me. Refrain from speaking from emotion, taking extra time to word things as best as I can. The goal should always be to reach understanding, if not agreement. And not agreeing is okay. Remember that if I don't have an open mind to understand their point of view, it's very unlikely they'll be open to understanding mine. Keep in mind Rapoport's Rules[0] as much as possible, as well as understand how others can come to different political positions (Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" is a great resource for this.)

- Push back when possible against the idea that government is a business. There are definitely areas of overlap and skills that can be useful in both domains, but the two are not, nor should they be, the same.

- Work to increase election security. It's largely non-partisan and in everyone's best interest. verifiedvoting.org looks like a great place to start. In particular, push to remove direct recording electronic voting machines.

- Work to increase transparency into government. Support work like that of the Sunlight Foundation[1] (which unfortunately looks like it's shutting down[2]), and other open government organizations, both monetarily and letting people know that this type of information is available.

- Actually contact my representatives to express my views on issues that are important to me.

- With respect to corruption directly, recognize that this is also a largely non-partisan issue. Different types of corruption are important to different people, and that's okay. Be especially open to accusations of corruption of those you support. Learn as much as you can about the situation. If they're groundless, lay out that evidence civilly and calmly. If there is some support for them, be up front about it. After all, you want the people you support to be open and forthright, and with integrity. If they're seriously corrupt, do you really want them to represent you or support you, even if they agree with you on a lot of issues? And accept across the board that things aren't likely to change overnight, that sometimes compromises need to be made.

- Learn more about how comparable issues have been resolved in the past. The first that comes to mind wrt corruption is Tammany Hall[3].

- Don't try to solve all the problems. Pick one that's important to you so you don't spread yourself too thin. Remember that for most there's more to life than just politics.

Looking over this list, it does look hand-wavy. That said, the current polarization is one of the most troublesome issues we're facing. It prevents us from working together on the things we agree on. So while "listen more, understand those you disagree with" may sound Pollyannaish, I honestly think it's crucial.

[0]: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/03/28/daniel-dennett-rapo...

[1]: https://sunlightfoundation.com

[2]: https://govpredict.com/blog/sunlight-foundation-gone-who-wil...

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammany_Hall

Edit to add: [-1]: Figure out for yourself beforehand what the tipping point is for increased political action. I found Dan Carlin's most recent "Common Sense" podcast episode "Trumped" useful in thinking about this particular topic.


Very nice. I don't know what my tipping point is, but I suspect we have long since overshot it. The only reason everything's so relatively peaceful is because of the lack of transparency. We only ever hear what's going wrong if it leaks, which I postulate to be only a small fraction of total shitty goings-on.

I've been thinking about (2) recently, and a separation of Bank and State akin to the separation of Church and State came to mind.

For one, completely disallow gov. officials to get on a private lobbying payroll and vice-versa. Infringement by not naming the position "lobbyist" but "turd sandwich" provokes harshest penalties and analysis of the person's work during their time in Congress or wherever in order to find dishonest activity (which ideally would then be rolled back. Easier said than done).

Secondly, make bail-outs impossible. When a private company fucks up, that's by definition a private problem, not a public one. The public cannot be forced to account for a private entity's stupidity or evilness.

Couldn't agree more with (4). Without having explored the question far and wide, I'd say

- Public entities have no right to obscurity except in very specific cases like access to and storage of peoples' private data. That implies that certain data is stored in a way it can only be decrypted by the owner or an authorized third party (owner issues a key to th.p.), while other data is completely open.

- Private entities, on the other hand, have complete protection (freedom of speech|thought|religion, yadda yadda).

- Private-public entities like multinational corporations (the tiny general store 'round the corner is private, not sure where to draw the line; when there's more than one branch/subsidiary?) have a mix of those rights, i.e. perfect, undiscriminating accountability and transparency has to be possible should enough doubt crop up about the company's honesty.

(1)(5)(6)(7) Yes. Better communication, more honesty and personal responsibility certainly go a long way to improving the situation and empowering the people.

(8) Very important. Personally, I don't engage much in my local politics other than reading the paper and voting. The only demos I've ever been on where against TTIP, which is as much an economic issue as it is a political one. I like to say "Do you part and hope for the best", and my part is in software. In the mean time, let's hope nothing craps out.

"Listen more, understand those you disagree with" is crucial. There is disagreement, so obviously there's a problem somewhere that the other side doesn't know about. Understanding the other side means understanding other peoples' problems, means having a broader view of the situation, means having better tools to do something about it. Good communication is key, but honesty is crucial. To quote Wilde: "Anybody can say charming things and try to please and to flatter, but a true friend always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true friend he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good."


While there's a grain of truth to this, to insist on this generalization is to twist Stallman's meaning to suit your own purposes. It's quite clear that Stallman is, here, speaking /quite specifically/ about corporations -- inveighing against them, in fact. I am sure that he would agree that governments can engage in similar behavior, but the target of his criticism here is corporations alone. Forcing governments into the conversation is a way of derailing specific criticism of corporations.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. --Chomsky


Corporations are democratic because they have shareholders.


I had to use an iPad for the first time in my life recently, and I have to say that Stallman is right.


s/corporations/governments/. Or at least "corporations and governments".


Only in the case where the government is compromised by, say, regulatory capture [1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture


What about cases in which the government is compromised by incompetence and/or poor ethics, esp. due to ignorance?


As someone who works in government, you're dead right about incompetence, and I would add 'ignorance'. These are the two things I have seen do the most harm, by an extremely large margin. And I think it's inexcusable.

I'd argue the same thing for corporations as I would for governments: we shouldn't tolerate individuals, occupying some powerful position, who harm others due to their own 'ethical carelessness'. In fact, that seems like a reasonable standard to apply to individuals, full stop. Individuals should be held accountable for their actions; we shouldn't shunt the blame to some incorporeal concept (i.e. 'governments', 'corporations').


At least on the surface that's an extremely fascinating idea. I guess I would want to understand why we created institutional protections for individuals in the first place before forming any opinion about whether removing such protections is a good idea.


A government is just a corporation that manages a country.


You have to ignore reams of political science to believe that claim.


I think "institution" is the word you are looking for.


I worked for a corporation for 12 years, and I was in a team developing software for CT scanner operations. What's wrong with that? Then I also worked for a very small company, where I coded... games. So according to the RMS, that could be morally less wrong. :-)


I don' disagree with the law itself.

However, each technological advance is also an opportunity to break free from restrictions and mistreatment from the previous status quo.


Interesting. Sounds very Kaczynski to me:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/unabo...


This is tangential, but isn't http://www.root-servers.org/ still the authoritative source for DNS. I was browsing DNS options (switched to open-DNS) but the main http://www.root-servers.org/ site is down. It appears to be cached as recently as this month with a map, but is not responsive. A few other "detector" sites have it down. Is this important, or does it not show up because it is a resolver?




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