Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Right to Read (1997) (gnu.org)
234 points by tobyjsullivan on May 13, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments

On the one hand, sometimes I think that Stallman's predictions of where technology is going aren't so novel because they're just a special case of where capitalism always goes.

On the other hand, I remember reading someone who said that one property of brilliant ideas is that when other people hear them, they think "well I could have thought of that."

> where capitalism always goes.

Unfortunately that's just another way of saying "what people want". Even more than just want, because it's not like world peace, where people want it, they just don't want to pay for it. This, they're looking to pay for (perhaps not the product itself, but the other qualities of the product that get made in order to promote their DRMed format they certainly want, and authors want the DRM. Yes, authors. Not just publishers)

But people want to pay for these products that only get made if DRM protections are made for them.

And I wonder if you can kill one without the other.

Normal authors don't want DRM. Only those who support censorship and abusive preemptive policing. I.e. police state methodology (as expressed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_BMG_copy_protection_rootk...).

You can surely kill DRM, and it will only improve real creativity.

Nooo, noo, markets claim to offer information about what people want but the way they are laid out right now, with all the manufactured consent peppering choices, it's not really fair to claim that capitalism reflects "what people want" in the industrialized world, today.

Errrr, why? I mean, I don't think markets literally tell us what everybody wants in that there are plenty of coordination problems, ridge cases, etc.

But on the whole I think markets do a great job and, more importantly, I don't know of a better mechanism.

The basic mechanism of market economy does in fact an excellent job of figuring out what people want at the very moment, and how much they want it relative to each other.

The important thing is, this mechanism does not exist in vacuum. It doesn't really distinguish between sources of "wants", i.e. whether a consumer wants something because that is their genuine need, or because it's a manufactured marketing-based need, or whether they're forced by circumstances into choosing this particular product (e.g. lack of choice).

I think we should both appreciate the effectiveness of this system and also talk about its failure modes when employed in the wider context of human society.

«manufactured marketing based need»

This reeks of paternalism and fascism. You claim you know what people actually want despite their own claims to the contrary?

So what, you'll tell people when they "don't really want" what they say they want?

There are only two possibilities - either it's what people actually want, at which point the whole half-a-trillion-dolar marketing industry is a huge waste of time, or marketing actually works and people want different things than they'd want if not influenced by it.

I don't think it's "paternalistic" to recognize the power imbalance present here. I think it's stupid not to.

This is an oversimplified view on marketing.

Imagine there is a human desire X in some people, and there are three products A, B and C designed to fulfill that desire. Do you honestly think the marketing industry is stupid enough to primarily be engaged in trying to sell product B to people who DON'T have desire X? Of course not. The idea is to convince people that product B does a better job of fulfilling desire X than competing products A and C. Or at least that it optimises some other variable – it might not be universally better, but it may be a whole lot cheaper, or easier to get a hold of, or have better customer support.

Real[1] marketing is mostly concerned with finding the people who have a particular need, and making sure they are aware of a product that fulfills that need, and what the strengths of that product are.

Marketing is fundamentally about increasing sales as much as possible with as little expenses as possible. The most efficient way to do this is to find people who already would have wanted your product if only they were aware that it exists, and make them aware that it exists. Convincing people to buy things that fulfills needs they never had is possible, but takes a lot of effort. Too much to be worth it, in most cases.[2]


[1] This may sound like I'm moving the goalposts, but all I'm really trying to do is guard myself against the obvious "but I got this viagra marketing spam email which does not fit your description" rebuttal.

[2] Yes, there are plenty of "artificial needs" to go around, but most of them are created by culture, of which only a smaller part is marketing. They're rarely created by a single, hugely effective marketing campaign. (I say rarely, because De Beers comes to mind...)

[1] no true scotsman is exactly what you are doing. [2] it's nonsense to say "artificial needs are created by culture, of which only a smaller part is marketing," when marketing, consumerism, and commercialism are so thoroughly pervasive in our culture. Hell, even religious holy days have become utterly commercialized. Industrialized people are inundated with advertising.

I think you're absolutely right about "real" marketing, but I think you're giving it too much credit. "unreal" marketing is much more real.

There's no need to go around telling people anything.

We could just stop believing that « capitalism is just another way of saying "what people want" ».

I couldn't agree more.

  Unfortunately that's just another way of saying "what people want".
I think that switches cause and effect.

Capitalism is like a force of nature: people get swept up in its flow and it's much easier to just go with it than to resist it. Going with the flow also has benefits for society a whole, which makes it easy to defend coasting along. It's quite comfortable for those that are successful in riding the waves and they are envied, making it harder for society as a whole to recognize and acknowledge that there are also downsides, that the current causes ruin left and right and that for a good and just world for all we should obstruct, divert and impede capitalism somewhat.

The Western European socialist democracies institute the equivalent of hydro-electric dams for capitalism to benefit those that do not manage to benefit from capitalism directly.

>> where capitalism always goes.

> Unfortunately that's just another way of saying "what people want"

No. This is noticing that the system that provides for immediate "wants" has some relatively obvious failure modes. Failure modes, which we hit again and again.

I forgot that « sell personal interest profiles to retailers » line was there. As a futurologist he's not bad at all.

A friend put it succinctly: "Stallman is crazy, but he is not wrong."

I think this is unfair. Stallman is seen this way, I think, because of his appearance. If he cut his hair and wore a suit, he would be the Ralph Nader of software.

If you watch his interviews, he is very calm, precise, and careful to explain his ideas.

Maybe I'm radical, but he seems a very reasonable person to me.

I think that, on the whole, his eccentricity and out-there image has helped his cause and not hurt it. He's far more instantly-relatable to both geeks and normal people, whereas someone like Bruce Schneier really only relates to geeks.

Stallman as the Walter Sobchak of the Internet?

Ralph Nader is crazy and wrong.

I remember reading this in the 90's and thinking it was yet another piece of dystopian speculative science fiction. Once or twice a decade I reread it to refresh my memory or when I cite it. Each time I'm struck by how it's gotten closer and closer to truth; and yet the story has not changed.

You should try watching "The Running Man" from 1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. At the time, it was a somewhat silly dystopian movie, extremely loosely based on some Stephen King story, with a really unique cast including Jesse Ventura, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, and Richard Dawson from "Family Feud".

Now, 30 years later, it seems remarkably prescient.

Here's another good one about self driving cars and the right to modify its code - "Car Wars" by Cory Doctorow : http://this.deakin.edu.au/culture/car-wars

Whenever Cory Doctorow is mentioned in this context I feel obligated to post these articles of his:



Funny, as time goes on, that story is gaining in popularity and relevance.

Went straight from SF to Contemporary in a decade.

FWIW it's 20 years old now

I am perplexed: is the author against DRM itself or only against the ways it is being misused?

Should everyone have the right to read Harry Potter without paying Rowling a dime? Because overpriced textbooks is a problem of US' universities, not of the fact that you should not use someone else's work for free.

The author is Richard Stallman [0]. Yes, he is against DRM itself. Consider this FAQ: https://defectivebydesign.org/faq

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Stallman

There is a false dichotomy. It's not either DRM or poverty. The only way to make sure Rowling gets paid isn't to DRM e-books. In fact, I'd venture that the vast majority of her fortune isn't due to DRM.

The issue at hand is not one-sided. The side most often heard is the side in favor of copyright and DRM.

This is a cautionary tale. Not only does it eloquently explain the potential problems with copyright enforcement, it poignantly predicted the ones that exist today.

>Should everyone have the right to read Harry Potter without paying Rowling a dime?

If they get a library card at their local library, they can do just that. Are you in favor of banning libraries?

Next let's talk about the right to live on a piece of land without paying someone else for the privilege.

Step 1. Get the biggest, baddest gun

Step 2. Plant a flag[0]

Step 3. Declare the land now belongs to you and a descendants.

0. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTduy7Qkvk8

I have a lot of sympathy for that argument, but what if the land was bought, not inherited?

Recently? They can be compensated, up to a point. We can change this mess.

The difficulty of transition seems to be one of the main reasons why Georgism rarely gets implemented in practice. It's having a bit of internet revival lately though, I hope more people become aware of it.

I very much agree, I think that the concept of property, the concept of possession, and the abolishment of the former should be discussed more, though it's strange that it's often taken for a given in political discussions, despite the work of Proudhon (What is Property?) and further by Bakunin, Kropotkin and Marx (who was very much in admiration of and inspired by Proudhon's book).

If anyone is interested in reading the book, which I can only describe as captivating and cutting, you can read it here: https://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/economics/proudho...

Thank you for mentioning this, I hope more people become interested in the idea.

So do I - I hope they study the history of countries that were the victims of Marxist revolutions, and come to recognise it for the monstrous evil that it is.

Communists killed an order of magnitude more people than the Fascists did. The Khmer Rouge killed around a quarter of their entire population.

As well as Marx, interested people should read Mises as well, and decide for themselves which approach is the moral one:


They should also study the history of Communist thinkers during these regimes. I mentioned in another comment a while ago:

>Socialist critics [during the time of the USSR and others] include George Orwell (known for his criticism of totalitarian Socialism in Animal Farm), economist I.I Rubin, the anarchists which the USSR suppressed, Luxemburg, Bordiga, Bookchin, and later on Hobsbawm, Trotsky (to some extent), Sylvia Pankhurt (and various other feminists) etc.

Furthermore, Communism does not necessarily entail Marxism-Leninism or even Marxism. Do you not think it should be the responsibility of modern day Marxists to find problems with previous attempted implementations, and find ways to fix those problems? Marxism is after all a method of analysis, and can be recursively applied to itself.

Mises is an interesting choice for a 'moral' theory, given the theory of primitive accumulation, property acquired through barbarism, and the exploitative and environmentally damaging nature of capitalism itself, regardless of application. Marx's theory does not rely upon notions of morality, though - it posits merely what is in the interest of the workers themselves. This is why Marx and Engels hoped to advance a scientific theory of Socialism.

Edit: it's also rather comical that the term 'libertarian' was transformed to be about some narrow form of property ownership rather than freedom itself, ironically not realising the tyranny of property and its contrast with the ideas of equality, freedom and justice (Proudhon talks about this in the link in my previous comment). Bookchin and Chomsky have talked about this change, too.

Relevant: Nick Middleton - An Atlas of Countries That Don't Exist: A Compendium of Fifty Unrecognized and Largely Unnoticed States

Agreed. One day owning land in perpetuity will be seen in the same way as owning a slave.

It's an absurd context, you own a wedge of the earth because your great-granddad took it.

No. You are advocating for a communist/anarchist idea, which has no relevance to this topic.

Many of the people discussing it do think it is directly relevant, myself included. Consider downvoting and moving along if you find it off-topic?

And by the way, communism isn't exactly a word you have to be afraid of, and accusing someone of opposing capitalism doesn't shut down the conversation nor mean they are incorrect.

It was not my intention to use “communist/anarchist” as something people ought to be afraid of; it is merely completely irrelevant to this issue.

I doubt that Stallman himself would consider them relevant since he, in my experience, takes every opportunity to disassociate himself from communism and anarchism; he is instead concerned with copyright, software patents, and other impediments to scientific progress. Therefore, to try to drag those former kinds of ideas into a thread specifically about the latter is to deliberately cause inflammatory and irrelevant discussion, and also to cause opponents of these former ideologies to connect the two in their minds, creating FUD about the latter.

> I doubt that Stallman himself would consider them relevant since he, in my experience, takes every opportunity to disassociate himself from communism and anarchism; he is instead concerned with copyright, software patents, and other impediments to scientific progress.

His solution to that is a limited form of anarcho-communism—abolishing private intellectual property (while the FSF leveraged existing private intellectual property regimed to effect that goal) in favor of free public use.

Whether he approves of the label is pretty much irrelevant to whether what he advocates is in line with it.

Why must the bounds of our discourse be drawn by the interests of the author of a piece? I don't see any reason to do that and it certainly isn't the determinant of what is 'relevant'

Ultimately, of course, the decision falls to the moderators.

In the mean time, however, we are all of us allowed to express our opinions on what is relevant and what is not.

Given the nearly hundred million people murdered by their own communist governments, people would be wise to be afraid of that word.

Please keep generic ideological arguments off Hacker News. They're always the same, which is the opposite of gratifying intellectual curiosity, which is what this site is for.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14333800 and marked it off-topic.

So someone can say "You shouldn't in general be afraid of communism" but if I give a reason why they might be afraid, I'm being generally ideological? That is an interesting double standard you have there.

That's not what he said, actually.

You can't conclude a double standard from an isolated comment, though (for transparent reasons) people often try. Anyone who cares to look at the history will find plenty of users on all sides being chided or banned for breaking the rules. Does it all add up equally? I have no idea.


Each one of those governments were dictatorships with communism as a name.

If they were communist, then there would no political party, no "more equal" military apparatus, and egalitarian spread of goods. It would also be a democracy, given that all are equal and have equal right to the means of production.

Robots could be the shifting value for this, when looking at this and Universal Basic Income. It too is a form of communist thought which many economists believe to be necessary.

Edit Those pesky Communists, like the USSR - United States of Socialist Republics..

Except perfect communism has always been the motto and the rallying point for every communist government in the world.

"""""True"""""" Communism will never come to pass because humans don't work like that,

Communism has been implemented, and has failed, multiple times. It's use as a system of any kind has been thoroughly negated by real-world examples.

The definition of communism that you cite is for useful idiots, who are there to do the bidding of yet another dictator who "rules in peace".

Nazi Germany was very close to communism, too.

The idea that atrocity is aligned with ideology, rather than orthogonal to it, needs significant defense before being trotted out like that.

But it seems to work out that way, doesn't it. It's not a matter of logic, but of human experience.

No, not really. Genghis Khan killed more people than Stalin did, for example. Famines in British India did as well. The conquest of America by Europe exterminated millions of native Americans.

As our population grows, we have more opportunities to kill massive numbers of people. And at various times throughout history, atrocity has been directed both inwards and outwards. The fact that you learned about more recent upheavals in school, or even lived through them, doesn't make them definitive.

Common definitions of atrocity associate it with intention. That leaves Genghis Khan, another totalitarian.

Ahh, but now we're talking about totalitarianism. That probably is better supported, historically, than what had been posited.

(Also, I'd argue, totalitarianism is largely orthogonal to political organization.)

In terms of data points for drawing these sorts of conclusions, our history as a species isn't all that long.

There's a very strong correlation, isn't there? Unlike communism, you don't have to hold a gun to peoples' heads to get them to practice capitalism.

Well, try NOT to practice capitalism or protesting it. You're in for a lot of nuisances at best and to jail at worst.

The point is, capitalism seems to do a wonderful job of looking like "the good system", as soon as you stay within the boundaries. And I'm not talking about rioting. I'm talking about groups doing perfectly legal stuff getting infiltated (if they're doing nothing wrong why would you try to entrap them?) or peaceful protests broke out by force by the police.

The fact that you're not stepping out of the boundaries is what gives you the impression that no-one is pointing a gun at you to practice capitalism. I'm sure plenty of people in a communist, fascist or whatever regime stayed within those boundaries and lived a happy life without guns pointed at their heads. Just witness how many people in Italy (for example) want a fascist government to come back.

Well, not exactly. Two of the examples above still hold; some others include the US Civil War, the Crusades and other religious conflicts, and genocides such as those in Pakistan, Armenia, and Rwanda. Sorry to be inconvenient, but I keep coming back to this: you need a better theory than these ham-fisted ones.

What word?

This thing reads like FSF for kindergarteners.

Stallman would make more headway with his politics if he had a little less contempt for his audience.

I think you're reading too much into it. He's just not a very good novelist.

How is it contemptible to describe a problem as simply and comprehensibly as possible?

You would learn more if you had a little less contempt for good writing.

Shallow Response:

Why couldn't Dan just create a new user account for Lissa? It would allow her to use his computer without giving her access to his books.

Deeper Response:

I'm not really convinced by Richard Stallman's argument here. When a movie studio sells Blu-ray discs, the studio can place restrictions on how you use that disc: the studio will charge you much more to play the movie in a cinema than at home. This is a good thing because it allows the studio to receive an income much closer to the total value that people receive from watching the movie. If the the studio was unable to place restrictions on how people watch the movie, maybe the movie would not get made in the first place and everyone loses.

Books are in the same category. If the writer can sell you the right to read a book but not to share it with other people then the writer will receive a larger income in total. Without that larger income the book may not get written at all.

If I buy a book it is MINE. Or, more broadly, when I buy something, I insist on it being mine. And once a thing is legally mine, I don't want any interference whatsoever from anybody in how I use it or whom I give it to or share it with. If I buy a Blu-Ray disc, the magnetic dents physically present in the matter that represent the ones and zeroes that make up the sights on my abyss belong to me. If a movie company want to restrict the use of their magnetic dents they better screen at theatres only as when I have the magnetic dents, I have the moral rights and the technology to reproduce and redistribute them. Also, in this day and age, disc sales probably mostly benefit disc sellers, and the best idea is to put your movie on YouTube/Vimeo/sth. after theatrical releases. Spinning disx with magnetic dents are by now primitive, and their use is to limit the consumption and sell peripherals.

WRT books, I'm among those who prefer dead tree, because that's part of how I work, and I believe digital can't replace print books, but that does not mean no innovation is possible: Printing-press-on-demand should be introduced where I can order a printed copy of a book and then the seller prints one from a digital copy and sends me that. If book shops want to continue, they can just bulk-order print copies and put them on their shelves. Lots of money goes to intermediaries in book business and if you're not a world-wide best-seller, as an author you don't earn much if anything at all. And you're worse off if you want to be like Kafka or Calvino instead of J. K. Rowling.

Well, it's not yours. It belongs to the person (or voluntary group) that created it.They set a price on it and terms. You can either whine about the terms and refuse to buy it or accept the terms and buy it. Anything else is fraud.

When you buy it and accept the conditions, it is yours but only if you follow those conditions. Otherwise, you're committing fraud.

As a conservative, your story does not obligate me to ensure other's right to read

Are you honestly not concerned in the slightest about a future in which people have to go into debt in order to read textbooks?

They have freedom! They have "access" to books and reading in that they can pay for it if they can afford to do so. Not reading, whether due to disinterest or lack of financies, is simply a life choice.

Hm, It sounds similar to a contemporary debate, I just can't place it... /s

No one ever remained illiterate because they didn't have access to books! /s

Yeah, we should have "free" books. Government should produce and distribute books. It saves us the time and effort from having to think for ourselves too!

Are you opposed to the public school system and public libraries in general, or just for the purposes of this joke?

I don't like the idea of any government controlling how I think. Also I feel that governments are not very good at their jobs. If those problems can be addressed I am OK with the policies you put forward. But my main problem was you caricaturing an entire political spectrum of opinions to make a point

Have you found the government trying to control how you think via the long history of the public library system? I recall it was started by one Benjamin Franklin. Surely the liberals would have won by now.

As for caricaturing a point, there is of course a vast difference between the right to read what one wants and the government taking over the entire publishing industry and controlling what ideas are published.

> Have you found the government trying to control how you think via the long history of the public library system?

I was talking about government controlled education system.

> As for caricaturing a point, there is of course a vast difference between the right to read what one wants and the government taking over the entire publishing industry and controlling what ideas are published.

I was trying to point out the absurdity of caricatures with one of my own

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact