Richard Stallman, Live and Unplugged: Page 3

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Q: There’s disagreement in the GNU/Linux community about the GPL, with some developers – notably Linus Torvalds – opting for Version 2, and others moving ahead with Version 3. Do you have a sense of where this impasse is headed?

No, I can’t predict. I see a lot of people have switched to GPLv3 so it seems to be a success in that sense. But the purpose of GPLv3 is to defend users’ freedom better. And in that sense, every time a program moves to GPLv3 it gets the benefit of our improved defense of a user’s freedom. And when a program doesn’t move to GPLv3, then users don’t get that benefit.

So it’s unfortunate for those who use Linux the kernel, that their freedom will not be defended by GPLv3. In particular, they may become victims of Tivoisation. And there will be no way to stop it. Except that they themselves will have to understand that should reject those systems.

Richard Stallman, GNU/Linux

More autograph signing

Q: Are you happy with the GPLv3 adoption to date? Is it proceeding as you hoped?

That question would make sense if this were a business trying to be a success. But that’s not what it is. GPLv3 is not something we did because we hoped it would be a success, it’s something we did to do something about problems that had arisen in the use of free software. Therefore, as long as some important programs are still under GPLv2, we can’t protect their freedom better.

So we need to convince the developers of Linux to move to GPLv3. That is, it needs to be done, but we in the GNU Project can’t convince them because they don’t agree with us and don’t listen to us. So someone else will have to convince them.

Q: Is there any area in which proprietary software and GNU/Linux software can meet in the middle, and work together or–

I don’t know what you mean by “can.” Practically speaking, various proprietary programs run on GNU/Linux – it’s not ethical. Proprietary software shouldn’t exist. So yes, free and non-free software can co-exist the same way that free people and slaves can co-exist. But that’s not a desirable state of affairs.

Q: You once said "the prospect of charging money for software was a crime against humanity.” Do you still believe this?

Well, I was not distinguishing the two meanings of free. It took me a few years after I started the Free Software movement to clearly, without exception, distinguish those two meanings. Even in 1985 I still hadn’t seen that.

Q: Which two meanings?

Free, in regard to freedom, and free, meaning gratis. So I see nothing wrong with charging money for a copy of a program. However, I do see something wrong with denying the user of a program the essential freedoms, after he’s gotten his copy, whether he’s gotten it by paying for it, gratis, or however he got it. Once he’s got his copy, he should have his four freedoms.

So the way I put it back then was a result of not seeing clearly the distinction of the two meanings of the word free. And I think now that it was a mistaken way to put it. What I should have said is, ‘Making a program proprietary is an injustice.’

Q: As you look back on your advocacy for Free Software, is there anything you would have changed?

Yeah, there are some things I would have done differently. I would have worked more closely with Debian in the early years. And I would have compromised on certain technical issues which turn out to not to have been so important. And I would have tried to keep a closer relationship, and I hope that way they would have never started non-free software.

With hindsight you can sometimes see it would have better to have done something differently. But that doesn’t mean it would have been possible for me to have seen it before.

Q: One of my favorite quotes of yours is, “I’m always happy when I’m protesting.” Why do you think this is?

Being at a protest is like being at a party. It’s tremendously exhilarating.

(Richard Stallman's appearance was sponsored by Students for Free Culture at Virginia Tech and the Association for Computing Machinery at Virginia Tech)

Richard Stallman, GNU/Linux

With a group of admirers. (All photos by David Lehn)


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