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Exclusive: Richard Stallman, interviewed at GPLv3 Conference in Barcelona, by Sean Daly
Sunday, June 25 2006 @ 12:15 AM EDT

Groklaw's own Sean Daly was in Barcelona at the 3rd International GPLv3 Conference in Barcelona, Spain, this week, and while there, he had the opportunity to interview Richard Stallman [as Ogg (3.8 MB)] . He asked Mr. Stallman what programmers should focus on next, about DRM, binary drivers, proposed changes to the GPL, and what he feels he has yet to accomplish.

This is just the first of three interviews. Next will come an interview with Harald Welte of fame, and one with a panel made up of Fernanda Weiden of Associação, Brazil, Alexandre Oliva of Free Software Foundation Latin America, and Federico Heinz, president of the Free Software Foundation Latin America and of La Fundación Vía Libre in Argentina.

If you need a player for Ogg files, you can download Audacity, a free application that can play them, here. Thank you to all who coded Audacity for us. It works on Windows, MacOS, and GNU/Linux and is available under the GPL license; if you prefer to compile it from source, go here. You might find this information about MP3s of interest. Also, here's a review of something new, GeeXbox 1.0, for playing media files in Gnu/Linux.

I'll let Sean tell you a bit about this interview:

SEAN DALY: I had the opportunity to attend the 3rd International GPLv3 Conference in Barcelona this week and my contribution was to videotape the presentations; they should be online within ten days or so on the FSF Europe site.

Richard M. Stallman spoke on the morning of June 22nd and explained the reasons for this proposed new version of the General Public License, the first change since 1991, currently under review (see I asked him if he would sit down with me very briefly for Groklaw at the lunch break of the last day of the conference and he graciously accepted, despite being very pressed for time, before convening his next meeting and running for a train. In both his presentation and this interview, I was struck by the clarity of his thought and expression.

We have prepared a transcript of the interview for you also, in case you are deaf or simply prefer to read than to listen. If you are like me, you like to do both at the same time. So, enjoy!


Interview with Richard Stallman, by Sean Daly
Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2006


Q: If you could wave a magic wand, what would you ask GNU programmers to work on next?


rms: I can't think of any one answer, of course. Important areas include speech recognition, CAD, free drivers which may require reverse engineering for development; those are, I think, the priorities now. Flash was a high priority, but it's mostly done, and Java is -- well, a lot of people were working on it, and we're doing pretty well now, but I'd say it still qualifies as a priority.


Q: OK. Now, what do you think the community can do about the practice of bundling binary or proprietary drivers, such as Linspire does? What do you think about the --


rms: We can't do anything about them, except refuse to use or promote their software. What we need to do is organize more not to buy the hardware that doesn't cooperate with Free Software. Now, the FSF is trying to do something about this, but we don't have resources to do very much of it. We have a part of the site which is -- which describes which products work with Free Software and which don't, but unfortunately, there are only a couple of areas of hardware for which we have any information. We need a few more experts on a few more areas to contact us and give us the information about which products work.


Q: OK. You spoke yesterday about "Tivoization", the hardware problem. Do you feel that this is a problem that will appear more and more, with embedded --


rms: I can't predict the future. It's a mistake to try to answer questions like that. Regardless of whether it happens -- whether it will happen more or less without our efforts, the point is to stop it from happening. That's -- the issue is not -- it's not -- to approach these questions with the attitude of predicting essentially is to assume that we are passive victims. But the point is, we shouldn't be passive victims! We should decide that it will not happen! [pounds table] And the way we decide that is by activism. We have to do everything possible to make sure that those products are rejected, that they fail, that they give bad reputations to whoever makes them.


Q: Have you ever considered the possibility as a distribution clause of the GPL to create a central repository? I'll explain myself -- in copyright, for example, you send a copy to the Library of Congress.


rms: Well, you only do that if you register the copyright, in the US.


Q: Right. Right.


rms: No, absolutely not. It would not be Free Software if everybody had to send copies to a particular place. And we have in fact rejected licenses for that precise reason, such as the first version of the Apple Public - I can't remember the precise name now, Apple Public Source License? In any case, we rejected it because it required people who really used modified versions to send a copy to Apple. And later, they revised the license and it doesn't require that, so now it's a Free Software license.


Q: OK. Now, when we talk about Digital Restrictions Management, what kind of role do you see it playing in Free Software? In other words --


rms: Well, it can't play any.


Q: It can't play any.


rms: No. You see, when somebody's goal is to restrict the public, the first thing he does is, he writes software whose code restricts the public, refuses to function as the public would wish. The next thing he wants to do is make sure that the public can't remove that restriction. So, of course he's not going to want it to really be Free Software. His goal is that the public should not have Freedom Number 1 the freedom to change the program and make it do what you want. So they try various things to stop this, they -- well, the first step is, if they can, they just don't release the source code. But the next step is -- which they could try either way -- is Tivoization, that is designing a machine so that it won't run a modified version. Now, this is a way of turning Freedom Number 1 into a sham. And we've decided that we are going to defend Freedom 1 as a reality, not just as a theoretical construct. So there is no room for DRM in Free Software. You could write a Free program which refuses to do something, I think there are a few, but the point is, since users can change it, it won't really satisfy anyone who wishes to impose DRM on others.

Now, this is an interesting example of the difference between Free Software and Open Source. Some people promote what they call "Open Source DRM". Now, recall the difference in fundamental values between Free Software and Open Source. In Free Software, our values are freedom and community. We want to be part of a community of free people. Whereas, in Open Source, they talk about making powerful, reliable software and they promote a development model. Now, for us, the question of how a program is developed is a secondary issue. I mean, if some models work better than others, fine -- use them. But that's not what's really important to Free Software, to people who value -- who support the Free Software movement and value freedom.

So, there are people who say that they could apply that development model to developing software designed to restrict us. And maybe it's true; maybe if people study and share and collaborate in developing software designed to take away our freedom, it might become more powerful and reliable in taking away our freedom. But that's a bad thing. That's evil. It's -- in spirit, it's similar to collaborative development of a virus. If something is evil, we don't want it to be done well. We want it to be done as badly as possible.


Q: OK. I was listening closely to you yesterday when you talked about what I could call the "Patrick Henry" [GPL] clause, "Liberty or Death".


rms: Yeah.


Q: And you said, you know, we have to burn our boats, win or fail, and that it's key to not surrender others' freedom.


rms: Exactly.


Q: Could you talk about that for a moment?


rms: That clause in the GPL -- it's now Section 12, but it used to be Section 7, it's pretty much unchanged. What it says is, if you accept or have imposed on you a condition that won't let you distribute the program giving others all the freedoms that the GPL says, then you can't distribute it at all. So, what it means is that you either distribute it in a way that gives the others the freedoms that they're supposed to have, or you do nothing. And we've chosen the title for it now: "No surrendering others' freedom".


Q: OK. One last question: if you look at your life since your started the GNU project, what do you think still needs to be achieved, your mission?


rms: Oh, a lot! We -- the goal is to liberate everyone in cyberspace. And as you can see, we've come a long way and we have even further to go. We have now made a broad collection of Free Software. In a couple of months, the Free Software Directory will have five thousand packages listed. All of them run on GNU/Linux, and all -- with the exception of a few GNU packages that aren't finished yet -- all are mature and usable. And all will work in a completely Free system, unless we've made a mistake somewhere. So, this is a substantial achievement, but we need thousands more. We have provided Free operating systems used by perhaps a hundred million users, but there's hundreds of millions more who are still under the power of the feudal lords of software. That's not right. That shouldn't be. And our goal is to change that. Proprietary software is an antisocial practice. Our goal is to put an end to that practice.


Q: Thank you very much.


rms: Happy hacking!

Sean Daly is a Fellow of the Free Software Foundation Europe.

Copyright © 2006 Pamela Jones. Verbatim copying and distribution of this interview (audio and text) in its entirety is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

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