13 October 2009
University of Canterbury, Christchurch

[This talk is based on Is Digital Inclusion A Good Thing? How Can We Make Sure It Is?]

I’m best known for starting the free software movement, but this talk is not about the free software movement. This talk is a much broader one. I’ve considered the issues that affect whether a digital society is just or unjust—what makes a digital society that’s worthy of our inclusion.

You’ll find many people who try to campaign for “digital inclusion” on the premise that it’s unquestionably a good thing, regardless of how and what. I disagree.

There are six issues that determine whether digital inclusion is good or bad, and I might as well mention them all now. They are: surveillance, censorship, restricted data formats, proprietary software, software as a service, and the War on Sharing.

First, surveillance. Digital technology creates an opportunity for surveillance such as dictators of the past could only dream of. In some eastern European countries, a considerable fraction of the population was employed in taking notes on what other people did, but there were still limits to what they could observe and manage to write down.

But today, as more and more of the things people do are done through computers, it becomes easier and easier to record what people do and save those records forever and make them conveniently available for any future dictator, or even a mere policeman determined to destroy somebody’s life, to look up and use however he wishes.

Consider how many of you use EFT-POS to buy things, which essentially means that some large organisation has a record of what you bought and where you were. I don’t do that—as a matter of principle I don’t do that. I buy things anonymously using cash.

Many of you may carry a portable surveillance and tracking device, which is convenient for calling people, but that convenience has led you to accept a tremendous level of surveillance. That device sends out signals periodically saying where it is, and the telephone network can triangulate it to localize it even more. And it also very likely has a GPS in it. By using the GPS, which it can do whenever it likes whether you want it to or not, it can find out even more accurately where you are, and this information can be recorded permanently.

In addition, it records who you talk with. Tracking social networks is extremely useful to dictators. I’ve heard that when the Nazi armies conquered France, they went to the telephone exchanges and got the records of who had called whom. And this was very useful because whenever they suspected one person, they would see who that person’s acquaintances were and consider them suspects too—suspect, of course, of political opposition.

Now the phone calls they made were before the conquest. At the time, they may have thought that they were in no danger at all, just because the phone system was recording who talks to whom. But they learned better when a tyrant took over their country. Now of course a tyrant that wants to record this information can start recording it, but we don’t have to provide him with data about people for the past 20 or 50 years in a neat package for his new usage.

But data is also collected about us when we do other things that are not particularly digital, for instance when we travel by car. In England, all car travel is tracked by cameras and recorded automatically. Everywhere anyone goes they try and record. They can’t yet record where everyone goes on the street. But I think it won’t be long before they start paying people to put names to all of the people that they see in surveillance camera images, since they’ve already started a fairly similar activity. And they’re working on software to try to do it.

If we don’t want Big Brother to know everything about our lives, we have to take a firm stand and prohibit it. We have to restrict the systematic collection of information about what people do. We also have to learn to resist the temptation to tell Big Brother everything about our lives. And we have to warn people about the products that are designed to tell Big Brother all about our lives.

I once saw a satellite radio, and I thought about buying it until I discovered that in order to use it, I was going to have to subscribe to a service, which meant you couldn’t do that anonymously. Anything that you can’t do anonymously is a threat to your freedom.

One of the bad ones is airline travel, but I don’t see what to do about that. But there are a lot of others that are easy to avoid, and that’s why I don’t have a portable telephone. And that’s why I don’t buy things with credit cards or EFT-POS or anything that’s equivalent. I buy with cash, and if I don’t have cash, I’d rather go to a bank machine and get out some cash. That way the bank system knows where I was, but doesn’t know what I bought.

By the way, the UK’s systematic surveillance of all car travel has already been used against political dissidents. These systems tend to get used against political dissidents. Any additional power that we give to governments tends to be used against political dissidents. Police fabricate and exaggerate suspicion, as we’ve seen here, and if we tell Big Brother more about ourselves, that too will be used this way.

What I propose is a general limitation on all systematic surveillance, which is that the data cannot be shown to anyone unless there is a court order. And otherwise it has to be destroyed within a fairly short period of time. In addition, it shouldn’t even be collected in easily used form if that isn’t required by transactions that the people being recorded are engaged in. It can’t go beyond what is needed for those transactions.

Another danger is censorship. Censorship is facilitated when people are using computer networks, because the computer networks go through fairly small numbers of ISPs and backbone sites, and cables. And so this is enticing governments to set up censorship systems, which often go beyond censorship of printed media.

For instance, Denmark set up a system of censoring access to websites. A secret list of websites are blocked by Denmark. The list got leaked, and put up on Wikileaks. Australia also censors access to a certain list of web pages, one of which is the page which has Denmark’s censorship list. So among the things that they believe in censoring is information about censorship itself.

The first rule of censorship is ‘you don’t talk about censorship’. The first thing censored is discussion of the censorship itself. Australia’s government was unable to pass the law to impose filtering on the ’Net, so an agency simply decided to start fining anyone aud11,000 a day for having a link to any of these sites. These include not only Denmark’s censorship list, but other political sites.

For instance, there was an actual case involving links to an anti-abortion website. Now I disagree with that site completely, but I am aghast when they are forbidden to make their arguments. I suppose there are photos on that site which somebody thinks are disgusting, and maybe I’d agree—maybe you’d agree—but that doesn’t justify censorship. Censorship is much more dangerous than any of the things that they want to censor.

I’ve seen videos of violence that I’ve found obscene, for instance the movie Pulp Fiction. I hope I will be able to avoid ever seeing anything like that again in my life. But I do not believe it should be censored, because censorship is power that begs to be abused.

We can’t trust today’s governments to respect political disagreement. They’re more likely to push and twist every power that they’ve got in order to stretch it to the maximum.

I’ve heard that New Zealand has started to consider imposing censorship on the Internet as well. So if you don’t want your country to be in the same class as China, you have to demand that they not do this. Of course, they will find examples of utterly disgusting things; you have to have the maturity to recognize that censorship is more disgusting than anything else on the Net.

The next of these threats is restrictive data formats, data formats that people are not free to use. This happens for two reasons. Either the details of the format are a secret, or they’re patented, or both.

One example of a secret format is Microsoft Word format, which was designed to prevent interoperability. It was designed so that anyone making the mistake of using Microsoft Word (and in the next section I’ll explain why that was a fundamental mistake)—anyone making that mistake would be saving her own data in a format designed to restrict her, because it was kept secret so that no other word processor would be able to read those files. So it was designed to make the user a prisoner.

People figured out a lot of the details of the format, so most Word files you’ll encounter actually can currently be read with free software alternatives as well. But probably not absolutely all of them.

There are other formats that restrict the user in fairly similar ways. One of them is Flash. Now Flash is not actually a secret, but Adobe changes it so fast that nobody else has been able to catch up. And they have various ways of convincing sites to switch to using newer versions of the format, even if they haven’t really changed what they’re doing. The result is that, even if the site was accessible before with some other software, it becomes inaccessible. Part of the purpose of this is to restrict you. They want to restrict you to being able to only look at something and not save a copy. Now that’s an injustice, and they can only do this if they have control over your computer.

Similar problems are found in a number of audio and video formats used by programs such as RealPlayer, QuickTime, and Windows Media Player. At least two of them also perform surveillance. RealPlayer and Windows Media Player report what the user looks at; I don’t know about QuickTime.

There are also patented formats. For instance, MP3 is a patented format. It is [patented] in many countries, and many people are not allowed to develop and distribute software capable of playing or making MP3 files.

So people developed another audio format, called Ogg Vorbis, which is what you should use instead. Don’t produce MP3 files. If you distribute audio, distribute it in a format that doesn’t cause problems for the people receiving it and for the community using it.

There are also similar problems with video formats. I saw a list of more than 70 patents covering MPEG-2 video. Now those were from various different countries; I think there were 39 US patents in the list, and the rest were from elsewhere. So you can see that this problem is spreading around the world.

MPEG-4 is actually a container for various other formats, but they are patented too, so the problem is the same. So when a site such as YouTube distributes MPEG-4 wrapped in Flash, you’ve got two different problems.

Then Italian public television is distributing its programs on the ’Net in VC-1 format. VC-1 is secret—in fact the specs can only be rented, and I believe that means under a non-disclosure agreement. This, by the way, is being done through Microsoft Silverlight, so we have to think of Silverlight as a platform for the use of these secret formats. There’s a free software replacement for Silverlight called Moonlight. And I don’t know if it has any particular problem in and of itself, but what it recommends for people to watch that video is a non-free program. As currently distributed, it’s not acceptable. It recommends a non-free program which implements this secret VC-1 format, although people have figured out independently part of the format, but we don’t know if [they got it] all.

So when you make video, you shouldn’t put it in MPEG-2 or MPEG-4, or VC-1 (although I doubt that you’d be able to), you should put it in Ogg Theora format.

These are very important campaigns, because if you take the path of least resistance you are adding to the problem. We need people to make the effort of refusing to take the path of least resistance, and of saying “No, I don’t care what all the rest of you are doing already, I’m doing this the way that would be good if we all did it. If someone has to change first, I’ll be first.” Take a look at Playogg.Org for more information about this.

The next of these six threats comes from proprietary software, that is software that the users do not control. The other alternative is free software—software that respects the user’s freedom, software that the users do control. In the case of proprietary software the developer has control over it, not the users, which means that the developer has power over the user as well. That’s what makes it an injustice.

Proprietary software keeps the user divided and helpless. Divided because they’re forbidden to share it, and helpless because they don’t get the source code to change it. And they can’t even verify what it’s really doing to them. Often it’s doing something rather nasty—not always; the point is you can’t tell.

Sometimes by luck we find out about these hidden malicious features. And then there are all the other proprietary programs in which we don’t know of any malicious features. Maybe that’s because there aren’t any, or maybe it’s just because we can’t find out about them since we can’t see the source—there’s no way to tell, in general. It’s only once in a while that we happen to find out about these hidden malicious features.

There are also the malicious features that you can see because they’re designed to restrict you. Those you’ll notice—you’ll try to do something and it doesn’t work. But they’re still malicious and you still can’t take them out without the source code.

In general there are three kinds of malicious features:

  • there are the features for surveillance, to spy on the user;
  • there are the features to restrict the user; and
  • there are back doors which can be used to attack the user.

One example of a proprietary program that has all three is Microsoft Windows. People have found specific surveillance features in Windows. It’s well-known to have Digital Restrictions Management features to restrict people’s use of their own files in their own machines. And it has a back door with which Microsoft can forcibly install changes in anything—any program on the machine. This is without asking permission of the supposed owner of the computer. I say ‘supposed’ because if you make the mistake of having Windows running in the computer, Microsoft owns the computer. Microsoft has total control. Microsoft has even installed changes in non-Microsoft programs, specifically ones in Firefox. But Windows is not the only example of this.

Another product with all three of these kinds of features is the Amazon Swindle—well, they call it the Kindle, which is meant to indicate what it’s supposed to do to your books. [Burn them, that is.] The Kindle is designed so that if you want to buy a book you can only buy it from Amazon. And Amazon requires you to identify yourself, so that’s surveillance for you. I think that some of them at least have something like a cell phone in them, and if so, it’s doing surveillance of your movements as well. It has digital restrictions management (DRM) to stop you from copying your own files in any way that works, and it has a back door.

We found out about the back door a few months ago, when Amazon used it. Amazon sent commands to order the erasure of all copies of the book 1984 by George Orwell—that is, all the copies that people had purchased from Amazon. Now if somebody had an unauthorized copy, maybe that survived.

After Amazon used the back door, there was a lot of bad press, and Amazon promised it would never do this again. I don’t think our freedom to hold on to our copies of our books should depend on the goodwill of any company.

And then a week ago or so there was a court order saying that Amazon would not be allowed to do this unless it got a court order telling it to do this. That’s still something that is unacceptable. We shouldn’t be dependent on the goodwill of any court or any government to be able to hold on to copies of our books, especially if it involves making available the information of exactly who has a copy, which is what this does, so it’s surveillance.

It’s normal to find malicious features in proprietary software, because once the developer has power over the user, it’s a constant temptation to use that power to mistreat the user somehow. It’s profitable to do so, so what do you expect a business to do? Very few of them will resist the temptation to abuse the customer, given the power to do it and impose it such that the customer can’t escape. But why can’t the customer escape? Because it’s not free software.

Free software means that you have four essential freedoms, so that you can control your computing, and you can do so as part of a community with which you cooperate when you choose. These freedoms are:

  • Freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1 is the freedom to study the source code and then change it to make the program do what you wish. This way you decide what it’s going to do, instead of letting the developer decide and impose those decisions on you.
  • Freedom 2 is the freedom to help your neighbor. That’s the freedom to redistribute exact copies of the program, when you wish.
  • Freedom 3 is the freedom to contribute to your community. That’s the freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions, when you wish.

These freedoms are essential, each for its own reason. Since this is not a talk entirely about free software, I don’t have time to go into all the details. But I should explain that if you don’t have Freedom 0 and Freedom 1, then you don’t decide what to do on your computer, the developer decides what you can do. Without Freedom 0 that means he’s put a license on you to restrict you; without Freedom 1 that means he’s restricting you by controlling the source code of the program. So once you have these two freedoms, then you by yourself have control.

But we don’t live as isolated individuals, we live as part of a society, so we need to be free to share with each other. We need Freedom 2 so that we can cooperate with other people in our communities.

We need Freedom 3 because, if we’re limited to changing the program personally for ourselves, the work needed to adjust all the world’s software to our needs is too great for any one person to do. Besides, most computer users don’t know how to program at all, so they would be totally helpless. Freedom 1 alone is no use for him, but once we get Freedom 3—the freedom to contribute to your community, the freedom to redistribute copies of your modified versions—then we can work together, changing the programs to do what we want. And we can make the results available to everyone, so that even the non-programmers get the benefit of using software that’s controlled by its users.

A non-programmer who really wants a change made can pay a programmer to make it for him. This is most often used by business, but an individual in non-commercial life could do it also. So you find a programmer who wants to make the change—and this is a free market, so it could be anyone who’s willing that you choose.

So then you give him a copy of the version you are using. And when you do this you’re exercizing your Freedom 2 to redistribute exact copies. Then he studies the source code and changes it, exercizing his Freedom 1. You [as a non-programmer] don’t know how to exercise your Freedom 1, but he knows how, so he can exercise it on your behalf, to implement the changes that you ask him for.

Then he can give you a copy of his modified version, exercizing his Freedom 3; and then, if it works and you’re going to use it, you can pay him. There are plenty of companies in the free software world that operate in this way, so all the users get the benefit of the four freedoms.

What they give us together is democracy. A free program develops democratically under the control of its users. Any user can participate as much as he wishes, or as little as he wishes, in society’s decision about what to do with this program, because that is simply the sum total of all the decisions the various users make.

This is why we don’t generally find any malicious features in free software. Because with free software, since every user has freedom, nobody has power. Nobody has power over anybody else in the use of this free program, so nobody’s in a position to put in a malicious feature and impose it on the users. Anybody else can study the source code and may or may not notice the malicious feature, but some day somebody will. And then he can modify the program to remove the malicious feature, and publish his modified version, and say, “Look at this nasty thing I found in such-and-such”, and everyone will switch to his version.

With proprietary software we—the users—can’t do that. I shouldn’t say “we” because I’m not going to be a user of that proprietary software. I reject it on ethical grounds, because it’s an injustice. I value my freedom, so I won’t take the proprietary programs.

But those who do take it are helpless. They’re prisoners of the software they use, which are the chains that the developer puts on them, and then has power over them. So if we want to live in freedom in a digital society, we’ve got to do it with free software. We’ve got to reject proprietary software.

That’s why I started developing the GNU operating system in 1984. In 1992 the last gap in the GNU system was filled by the kernel Linux, and the GNU+Linux combination is now used by millions of people. But that’s not enough, because there are other threats to our freedom, as well.

For instance, Software as a Service. Software as a Service means that instead of doing your computing on your computer with your copy of a program, you send the data to somebody else, and he does your computing with his copy of who-knows-what program, and sends the results back to you, which means that you are even further away from having control of your computing than you would be with proprietary software.

With proprietary software, typically you get an executable, which is just a series of numbers that’s very hard for even a good programmer to understand. You don’t get the source code, which is like algebra, and a person who knows how to program could understand what it says. So [when] you only get the executable, it’s hard for you to change it.

With Software as a Service (“SaaS”) you don’t get either one [i.e., not the executable or the source], so you’re even further away from having control over your computing. Your computing is done in someone else’s machine by whatever software he chooses. He has control.

Or maybe he has control. Maybe even he doesn’t—if part of the software he is using is proprietary software, then he doesn’t have have control either. He has lost control over his computing.

Let’s assume he’s wise enough to reject that trap, so he’s running only free software on his computer. That means that he has control over the computing that he’s doing on his computer. But it’s your computing, and you don’t have control over it. And you can’t have control over it, because he can’t let each one of his users change the software on his computer—it’s unreasonable to ask him to. But the result is that there’s no way that the users can control their computing if they’re doing it using SaaS. The only solution is, don’t use it.

I wrote a paper on the topic of this speech, which is what I’m now giving, for a conference that happened at the end of August. They asked me to provide them with a pdf file that incorporated all of the fonts, and they told me a way to produce such a file. They said “send it to that site” (it was a site run by the IEEE), “and log in on that site”—with information that I didn’t have, because I was writing an invited paper—“and then upload this file and it will send you back a file in which this has been done.”

The first thing I said was “I don’t have credentials to log in on that—I never went through your review process. It says to use the same information I used in that. I can’t do it.” And then, I realized this was Software as a Service, and that reminded me I should write in this paper that Software as a Service is one of threats, and also I shouldn’t use their site. I didn’t—I said “This is Software as a Service—I’m not going to use this.”

I found out that there is actually an easily available free program that does the same job. They didn’t tell people about that program; they were steering people towards SaaS. They could just as easily have steered people towards this free software package, but gratuitously they invited people to give up their freedom. Using that site not only means that whoever runs that site (the IEEE I guess) controls whatever computation is done, but it’s gratuitously doing surveillance on people by making them log in. If I get that free program and I run it on my computer, I’m not telling anybody what I did.

Now, in this particular case, I suppose there’s not much scope for actual harm. After all, the paper is published, so it’s out there with my name on it—that was the whole idea. It’s not something I was really trying to keep secret, or trying at all to keep secret, although at the time I didn’t want it published until it was done. But still, if we don’t resist pervasive surveillance until the day we have a secret that we really want to keep, there’s going to be no way to keep one. We’ve got to resist now.

I don’t have a lot of secrets in my life. Almost all of what I do is state my views to the public. And I travel a lot, mostly to give speeches to which I invite the public. So when I refuse to do [other] things because of surveillance, it’s not to keep my secrets—it’s to keep your secrets.

I’ve never seen anything that solves the problem of Software as a Service, that makes Software as a Service acceptable. Maybe some day somebody will come up with an idea, but the only solution I see is never use it. Spread the idea that software as a service is a trap, that it separates you from your freedom. And to prevent the pressure from becoming hard to resist, we’ve got to resist it from the tip of the wedge.

The sixth of these threats to our freedom in the digital society is the War on Sharing. Printing press technology (and not just literally the printing press, but other similar technologies for mass producing copies of various kinds of works) made it easy to set up a system of copyright which gave authors some power over publishers.

This was non-controversial, because it didn’t restrict what the general reading or listening public could do. It only restricted copying and publishing, and it was only the publishers who could do that, so it was only the publishers who were being restricted. It operated as an industrial regulation.

With digital technology, copyright is transformed into a restriction on all the citizens in general, prohibiting us from doing something that’s tremendously useful and good for society, namely sharing copies of published works. Because sharing is so useful, people do it—hundreds of millions of people do it. The publishers don’t like this, because they think the purpose of all published works is for them to make money. They are lobbying governments around the world to adopt ever more harsh measures to try to stop people from sharing. They accompany this by [with] vicious propaganda, saying that sharing is theft—that if you share, you are a pirate. In other words, helping your neighbor is, according to them, the moral equivalent of attacking a ship. I don’t believe it, and you shouldn’t believe it either, and you shouldn’t say it. Don’t accept terms like ‘theft’ or ‘piracy’ as ways of describing sharing with other people.

The War on Sharing is an injustice, not only because the measures that they propose violate our basic ideas of justice, but because the goal is wrong. Sharing is good. Sharing unites people in a society, so we should encourage sharing. Sharing copies of any published work noncommercially must be legal.

We can stand copyright regulations on commercial redistribution, and when the works are not things that we use to do practical jobs with, we can live with limitations on modifying the works. But to forbid noncommercial sharing of exact copies is an attack on the society that sharing builds. It can only be carried out with draconian, cruel measures.

It’s no accident that they have recourse to such measures, because they’re trying to stop people from doing something which is both very useful and good. It takes a big threat, or a lot of force, to succeed in stopping people from sharing. But they shouldn’t even try, because sharing makes people good, and that’s something society needs to encourage more than anything else—the spirit of good will, the habit of helping others. We need to inculcate this, and that’s the exact opposite of the War on Sharing.

To prosecute the War on Sharing, they will go to almost any lengths. For instance, various countries have adopted or proposed laws to punish people for sharing without giving them a real trial. New Zealand adopted one, and it was withdrawn after widespread, popular hostility. The government of France is harsher, and doesn’t care how much popular hostility it produces, so in France it was adopted. But then the Constitutional Council said it’s unconstitutional to punish anybody without a trial. So now they recently voted a modified version, in which people get a trial limited to 15 minutes in which no evidence is to be considered except the accusation. There’s no opportunity to really challenge anything in this trial—it’s a faux trial, and people are going to have to fight.

But that’s not the only thing that they’ve done to prosecute the War on Sharing. Another method is Digital Restrictions Management. That means designing products to restrict us. I mentioned this kind of malicious feature when talking about proprietary software. In order to impose Digital Restrictions Management, and make it such that it’s not easy for us to escape from, it has to be done in proprietary software. If we can change the software that’s designed to restrict us, we will—we’ll change it so it doesn’t restrict us any more.

So in order to succeed in imposing those restrictions, they have to offer us only proprietary software. But even that doesn’t necessarily get the job done, because if people can figure out the format, they will write free software to do the same job. So there’s a wave of laws going around the world prohibiting this free software.

The US started it in 1998 with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that established censorship of software that can be used to break these digital handcuffs. The distribution of that software in the US is forbidden. In France, possessing a copy of that software is a crime that people can be imprisoned for. New Zealand is the latest country, I believe, to impose restrictions on the distribution of this software. That’s an injustice too. The protests against the new Copyright Law focused on the punishment by disconnection provision, and ignored the [software] censorship provision, but they’re both injustices, and they’re both forms of oppression that are part of the War on Sharing. They’re both designed to try to divide people.

The supposed reason for the War on Sharing is to make sure the artists get paid. Now this is bullshit, because usually when you buy the authorized copy the artists don’t get paid, it’s the companies that do. It’s the exception when they give any of that money to the artists, but nonetheless some artists do get some money.

It’s useful to support the arts, so I’m in favour of measures to support the arts when they do not violate our freedom. In the age of the printing press, copyright was such a measure. It didn’t violate the reader’s freedom in any significant way. It regulated things that readers were not in in a position to do, so it was a way of supporting the artist without harming the freedom of the general public. But that’s not true anymore, because digital technology enables us to do the things we couldn’t do back then. And now copyright is an intolerable restriction on each and every citizen.

We’ve got to reject the War on Sharing, but it’s still useful to support the arts. However we’ve got to look for different ways to do it—ways that avoid the harmful by-products of copyright as it is today.

That doesn’t mean we have to get rid of copyright entirely. I propose legalizing non-commercial sharing of exact copies, but copyright can still cover commercial use. And for works of art or opinion, it can still cover modified versions. Works that serve a practical purpose have to be free, because if you use the work in order to do jobs of a practical nature in your life, if you don’t control the work, you don’t control your life.

Freedom is having control of your own life, so you must be free to change the work. And once you’ve changed it, you must be able to publish your version, because there might be others whose needs are similar to yours. Once you’ve gone through the work to make a version that suits your needs, you’ve got to be free to make it available for those others who find it suitable as well.

But these arguments don’t apply to the other works whose contribution does not lie in helping people do practical jobs. So for them I say only that we have to end the War on Sharing and legalise non-commercial sharing of exact copies of published works.

What are better ways to support the artists? We can do a much better job of supporting artists than the existing system, which is basically lousy. There are a tiny fraction who are superstars who get rich from the existing system, and a slightly larger fraction who get a living income. And then all the rest get very, very little, because the companies have a lot more clout, and they have muscled in in ways that make sure that they will get the income in most cases. The superstar artists, they have enough clout that they can get contracts that don’t exploit them—the others can’t. You’ve got to realize that in most cases, copyright is mostly supporting businesses, and very little supporting artists. It’s a rather lousy system, and it’s not hard to do better.

One proposal that’s better is using tax money. That could be from general revenue, or it could be a specific tax on something relating to use of the Internet, or blank media, or whatever. But it doesn’t matter too much, because if the money is used efficiently we don’t need a lot of money. Less money than we’re spending now to support the publishers would be sufficient.

What I mean by efficiently is:

We should distribute the money to artists (and only to artists), and based on their popularity, so that we don’t have bureaucrats deciding that they like this artist and they don’t like that one. What I’m proposing has no arbitrary discretion for anybody to decide who’s going to get the money. It will be determined by measurements of popularity, which we can do with polling, samples that is, in which nobody is ever required to participate, so nobody’s privacy is violated.

Once we get these popularity figures for all the artists, then what do we do? We distribute the money based on that artist’s popularity, but not in linear proportion. Here’s why.

A superstar can be tremendously more popular than the other fairly successful artists. If we distribute the money in [linear] proportion, the superstar will get tremendously more money, which means that if we want to adequately support those other successful artists, we’re going to have to make the superstar very, very rich. This is wasteful—it means a large fraction of all the money will be going to making the superstars rich, who don’t need it, because they get plenty in other ways.

If we want to make the system efficient, I recommend that we feed the popularity figures through a function like cube root. I’m not saying that’s the one and only right one—there are many you could try. But this is an example to show what I mean.

If A is 1000 times as popular as B, then when we apply the cube root, it means that A will get 10 times as much money as B. If we do it in linear proportion, A will get a thousand times as much as B, which means that if B is going to get a living wage, A is going to have to get tremendously rich. This means that of the money we give out, most of it will be going to a tiny fraction of superstars, and thus not doing any good for society’s purpose, which is to support the arts.

But if we use the cube root, then each superstar will still get considerably more. But the total going to all the superstars will be a small fraction of the total, which means that most of the money will be being used in an efficient way to adequately support a larger number of fairly popular artists. That’s after all the goal—what copyright is supposed to do is promote diversity. This will support a diversity of artists too, but efficiently.

However, some people hate taxes—they hate having the government fund anything. There are people who don’t even think there should be a national health system, they’re so horrified by taxes. I’ve got a proposal for them too, another way to support artists, which is by voluntary payments.

Suppose every player had a button you could push to send a dollar to the artist who made the work you are currently playing, or the last one that you played. You could push it if you like, but you don’t have to. This way, people could send voluntary payments to artists. A dollar is not a lot of money. I’m sure every one of you here could push this button once a week and you wouldn’t miss it. I think most of you could push it every day, which would mean paying three hundred sixty five and a quarter dollars on average each year. And I think you wouldn’t miss that either. Of course, there are poor people who really couldn’t afford that, and they wouldn’t do it, and that’s fine. We don’t have to squeeze money out of poor people to support artists, because there are enough non-poor people who can easily afford it.

Now voluntary payments are already starting to support artists, but what holds it back is that it’s a pain in the neck. You have to have a credit card, which means identifying yourself, which is not fair. And you’ve got to find how to send money to these people, which is a lot of work. For sending small amounts of money like that, the payment systems are not efficient. The artists will almost certainly not get more than half of what you send, the other half will go to the payment system. So if we set up this painless, automatic, easy payment system, we would remove most of the reason not to do it. At that point I think we would see lots of people sending money voluntarily to artists.

To give some examples: Stephen King started publishing a book, saying people could download it and they could pay if they wish. When it was half done, he had only gotten a few hundred thousand dollars, so he decided it was a failure, but I’d say it was a success. I saw somebody saying that he started reading that book and he decided it was not as good as King’s usual work, and so he wasn’t interested. I haven’t read his books, so I can’t judge.

We’ve seen some very famous musical groups effectively release albums on the Internet and invite people to pay if they wish, and they got hundreds of thousands of dollars too. Monty Python put its videos up for downloading and saw its income—its sales basically—go up more than a factor of ten.

It’s not just for the tremendously famous. There is a Canadian singer named Jane Siberry, whom I had never heard of, but someone told me that she had a website where she had put up her recordings, and she was letting people download them and pay whatever amount they wished. She was getting on the average more than a dollar (I believe it’s a US dollar), per download, which was interesting because the major record companies were charging only a dollar per download. So by letting people choose how much to pay she was getting more per download, but it’s also quite likely that the total number of downloads was bigger because of this policy.

It can work, but it’s held back by the inconvenience of what you have to do to pay. So that’s why I suggest removing the inconvenience. If the the only thing to make you hesitate to send a dollar, or the only obstacle were that you would have one dollar less, I think that would not discourage most of us.

If we wanted people to support artists more, we could have warm, friendly PR campaigns, encouraging people to push the button: “Did you send a dollar to an artist today? Why not? It’s just a dollar, you’ll never miss it, and didn’t you love what you listened to or watched? Push the button!” People would do it, because it feels good to do that. This is working with the good side of human nature, instead of trying to spread moral bullshit by shutting people down.

There are many things we have to do to prevent these threats to freedom in a digital society. Some of them we can do ourselves.

We can reject products that do surveillance. We can’t eliminate all surveillance, though, because it’s also done at the ISP level in some countries. An individual can’t do much in the UK to stop the UK from watching wherever he drives. There’s some kinds of surveillance that you can’t stop by your own choices, which we have to organize to stop.

Censorship also usually requires political action. When there’s a system of censorship, sometimes you can get around it, but really we need to eliminate the system.

Restrictive data formats we can make a difference on individually. When we make audio and video recordings, when we distribute text to people, we can make sure not to use the restrictive data formats. Don’t distribute Word files. Don’t distribute MP3. Don’t distribute MPEG-2 or MPEG-4. Don’t put things on YouTube where they’re distributed in Flash.

Proprietary software, we can escape from now; we can decide not to use it. The free software community has been working since the 80s to create a free world—a world of software that respects users’ freedom. It’s available for you now. Once in a while you will come across something that free software doesn’t do, and if you value your freedom, you’ll say “OK, I’m not going to do that. If I can’t do it and keep my freedom I won’t do it.” That’s the attitude of a person who really values freedom.

Software as a Service is not very hard to reject. There are lots of people who are hyping it. It’s not hard to stay away from. If we reject it now, it will never be hard to stay away from.

The War on Sharing is something that we need to end through political action. I was really thrilled to see public anger make the government of New Zealand withdraw one of the nasty measures. But they didn’t withdraw it permanently; they just said that they’re going to change around some details, and see if they can get people to suffer it. It means you haven’t won the war, you’ve just won a battle. It’s good to win a battle, and that shows you you can win. So get out there and fight!

You’ve got to win the next battle, and the next, and the next, because those companies are doing this for profit, and they can afford to pay people to keep on looking for ways to take away your freedom. Until we reinvigorate democracy to the point where wealthy companies have no more influence than you or I, we’re going to have to keep fighting them off. The purpose of democracy, after all, was to make sure that rich people would not have political influence proportionate to their wealth. If it doesn’t achieve that goal, it’s not functioning democracy.


At this point I will answer questions.

Q Money is proprietary.

Proprietary? When I say proprietary software, I am talking about a very specific thing. That question doesn’t even make sense for money. I don’t know what you mean.

Q How do you send one dollar of money over the Internet? How can you do that without sending some information?

You’d have to send some kind of code, I suppose. There are systems of digital cash that have been implemented. This is not a technical problem, it’s a social problem—a social engineering problem. How could you establish this system and get it going so that everyone participated in it—that’s the obstacle. But the technology as such is not a problem.

Q But that brings it back to the first thing you said. You want to buy stuff anonymously, so how do you buy that?

I don’t know; I don’t remember those details. I learned about them 20 years ago, at least one method. It’s not that hard. There are things you can do. Even today, you can buy phone cards, you go to a store, you pay cash, you get this phone card, you scratch of the thing that covers up the number, and that number enables you to make some phone calls. This is not a technical issue.

Q Three things. Yesterday’s [Nobel] prize in Economics was essentially awarded for exactly what you were talking about. She was looking at non-digital examples of where Creative Commons overcame the tragedy of the commons.

I don’t think it’s Creative Commons in particular, but I read that she studied how groups of people could organize things and protect their commons better than a private owner could, which doesn’t surprise me. After all, if you want some resource to be destroyed and stripped in a short time, put a corporation in charge.

Q The other two quick things if you could comment on. You talked about the Kindle getting rid of 1984. When do you think the the first examples of text changes to books will happen?

Who knows? The point is that we don’t know what their back door is capable of doing.

(interjection) The Library of Alexandria, perhaps?

I don’t understand you? What’s your point?

(interjection) Burning a whole lot of books at once?

That was probably an accident. My memory is vague, but I think I heard that it was when Octavian was fighting Marc Anthony, that accidentally a fire started in the battle and burnt the library. And in any case, what I read was that he was rather ashamed of this and tried to downplay discussion of it. But that wasn’t changing the text.

I don’t know any of [the secrets] of what Amazon’s proprietary software is set up to let them do to you.

But what is clear is that you mustn’t accept products like that. In general, the reason publishers are hyping ebooks is as a tool to take away our freedom. They want to create a pay-per-view universe, in which the practice of lending books to your friends no longer exists. So spread the words to your friends that to use the Swindle is to break off all your friendships.

Q How do you feel about Google? There’s a considerable potential there for gathering information about you, at the same time that’s the world sharing information?

Yes and no. First of all, Google does many different things, and it seems they have to be examined independently. First of all, there’s Google’s search engine, which is the only thing it does that I’ve ever used. When I use it, Google can’t identify me.

On the other hand, there are many Google services that you can’t use at all without proprietary software, because it sends proprietary software written in JavaScript to your browser. And your browser temporarily installs it, and runs it, without even letting you know. Some Google services can be used without this, for instance Gmail. The normal way of using it is with the proprietary JavaScript program, but you can turn off JavaScript, so you can eliminate that problem.

The next question is to you trust Google with your email? I would hesitate to. Part of the reason is you never know what they might do with all the messages you deleted. They don’t necessarily delete it, they just tell you that it’s deleted. They might keep it to show to Big Brother.

Q You were saying that some restrictions can apply in a corporate situation, for example, with software. Can you give me an example?

I’m not sure that’s what I said. I don’t know what you’re referring to; I’d have to guess.

My guess is that I was talking the freedom to noncommercially share exact copies of any published work, but then I’m not talking about software. Software is a work of practical use. There are some programs that were written just for programmers to look at them and say “How interesting, how beautiful, how funny”, but normally a program is written to be run, to do a job. So those are works of practical use, and I believe that those should all be free, which means that every user, including businesses, is free under the four freedoms to change the software, republish it, publish modified versions, and so on.

But it’s for the things such as statements of opinion, or testimony, like memoirs, scientific papers, and for art, that I say that it is sufficient, in my opinion, to permit noncommercial sharing of exact copies. Because these works contribute to society in different ways, not by being used to do practical jobs.

But I should further explain that there’s a practice called remix, which consists of taking snippets out of various works and putting them together to make a whole which is overall totally different from any of those works. That should simply be legal, because the purpose of copyright is to promote the arts, not obstruct them. It’s foolish to interpret copyright as restricting remix. It’s the kind of folly that you’d only get when the legal system [of copyright] has been taken over and turned to the purpose of supporting the businesses, rather than the stated purpose of the law.

I believe that copyright should not last terribly long.

Q Something to suggest with respect to surveillance was that the government or police should be allowed to put cameras in places if they think it’s going to prevent crime, but only on the condition that the all video from those cameras should be on the Internet and publicly available.

That doesn’t really help. [Or rather] maybe it helps someone, but it doesn’t solve the problem, and the reason is the disparities in power. If your boss can see what you’re doing when you’re not at work, and you can see what your boss is doing when he’s not at work, any time he sees you doing something he doesn’t like, he can threaten to fire you. But when you see something you don’t like, you can’t threaten to fire him.

This is the main reason why this kind of “let’s just openly do whatever we do and as long as we’re proud of it, why should we need to hide it” is a fallacy. Whether or not we’re ashamed of it, for many of us we don’t dare. I’m happy that my life isn’t that way. I have very few secrets, but many people are not in a position to do that.

I’m self-employed, many people are not. I get paid because of a special skill. My income these days comes from about half of the speeches I give. Before that I sometimes got paid to develop software. I was paid to make improvements in free software, at least a few times. But I got a considerable amount of money from it. That was an unusual skill; I didn’t have to be afraid that I would lose a job.

But a lot of people don’t have a special skill, and they’re really afraid that if the people that hire them disapprove of them for any reason, they’ll lose their jobs. For these people that’s not a solution.

Q I really liked your second solution to the problem of helping the arts, or giving to artists, because people are free to push a button, but if you feel you’re too poor, or you don’t like the artists you’re free not to, but I don’t understand how your first solution fits with freedom, because I’m being forced to pay taxes.

What’s wrong with that? I don’t think anything’s wrong with taxes. We’re being forced to pay taxes anyway.

Q That’s correct, but for this purpose, I’m being forced to essentially support artists I may not like.

So we’re also being forced to pay taxes for maintaining the roads, and there may be some people here who live near their work, and walk to their work, and might say “It’s not fair that taxes should go to support roads I don’t use”. That’s just part of living in a society. The thing is, making you pay some money is not anywhere near forbidding you to do a particular thing.

Q The second option, there’s a business case if you withhold the money from artists for 30 or 60 days, once you have a critical mass, you’ve essentially got a lot of money you could invest and save the interest before paying it out to artists. For the second option, you could actually have a business case for it, once you’re getting through a million dollars a month, or several hundred thousand a month. It would cost a lot to set up, but you have a business case as well, which means you could actually be possible, but a government’s not likely to go for the tax option.

Actually, governments are doing something very similar. It’s been proposed in France, and in the UK, a global license, where they would collect money from Internet subscribers each month, and divide this money among companies in linear proportion to the success of works.

They say they’re going to “compensate the rights holders”. When they say ‘compensate’, they’re endorsing a twisted theory of copyright, which says every time you enjoy a work, you have a debt. You are required to ‘compensate someone’ for your having used the work. This is something that was not accepted by copyright law in the age of the printing press, that’s not what it’s about.

I’m happy to support measures to support the arts, but I reject any of this supposed debt, which goes along with the idea that if you share you’re a thief.

The other assumption which we have to doubt is in the term ‘rights holders’. It’s supposed to make us imagine that this is a way of supporting the artists. But what it really will support is the publishers, because they have their clout to impose on the artists contracts that exploit the artists such that the money would go to the publishers instead (with the exception of some superstars who have so much clout that they can’t be exploited).

[Thus] in fact, there is a real consideration of schemes that are quite similar in terms of the way they collect the money, but lousy in terms of what they do with the money.

Q You emphasize the human community in sharing, pieces of art, for example. Where do you see the human community in today’s practice in peer-to-peer sharing, like when you search for something, you put in a program anonymously and then just get it. Where is the human community in that?

It is a community. People are putting things in there because they want to share with others.

Q But you don’t get in touch with the community.

It’s not only with people you know, it’s with anyone. But it’s still very useful.

Q But is that a community, or is it maybe a random bunch of people?

I don’t see that there’s such a big difference between them; I think they’re on a scale. When you know the people, the more you know them, bonds are being built. But when you have people intentionally making something available for others to share, that’s already an act of goodwill. It is encouraging goodwill. If it involved more interaction with those other people, then it would build more goodwill and more community. You’ll note that the pressure is on these systems to be as anonymous as possible [due to legal threats]. If that pressure were taken off, maybe it would give people a way to establish additional bonds with each other if they choose.

Q I’m just wondering where you see the scorecard on these six menaces to freedom.

I don’t know what that means. Could you say it another way?

Q In that, do you think that these things are, sharing is obviously taking off, but what about the others? They seem to be things that are growing.

They’re all growing, these menaces. Despite the fact that free software is also growing, I’d have to say that use of proprietary software is spreading. Proprietary software through society is growing also. Surveillance is increasing, censorship is spreading to more countries, software as a service is as yet fairly small, but threatens to grow. They keep coming up with new restrictive data formats.

We’re making some progress in some fronts; for instance Open Document Format, ODF, is making some progress in parts of the world. Governments are adopting it as their standard. So in that area I’d say on some of the fronts we’re gaining, but others we’re not. You can see from things like the recent adoption of VC-1. In the War on Sharing, there’s a lot of sharing, but the enemy is escalating.

Q Richard, I have two questions for you about licensing. Arguably your greatest contribution to humanity is the creation of legalized sharing, copyleft

I’d say that’s a misunderstanding—a total misunderstanding. I’ll let you finish, but [first] I’ve got to correct this.

Copyleft does not mean a license that lets people share. In fact, there are many free software licenses, and most of them are not copyleft licenses, but they all give people the four freedoms.

What’s special about copyleft is it says “every copy of every version of this work must be released under the same license, once we distribute it under [this] license”, which means that it actively defends freedom for all users.

But if you just want to ask, does the license grant you these [four] freedoms, all the free licenses do that. So the two BSD licenses both are free software licenses. The X11 license, which some people confusingly call the MIT license (you shouldn’t call it that), that’s a free license. There are lots of free licenses, and only some of them do copyleft.

I must disagree with you also about your estimation, because I wrote the GNU General Public License as part of developing a free software operating system, because the system, in order to be free, needed a free software license. I hope I did a good job.

But what’s important is not just that we have a license, but that we’ve got free software that’s available under that license, or other free software licenses, so that we can use our computers in freedom. The people who say that my greatest contribution is writing the GNU GPL are overlooking the much bigger project that this was a part of.

Q The first question is does it matter that the Wikipedia has gone from the GNU Free Documentation license to a Creative Commons License?

It’s a copyleft license, so it probably doesn’t matter all that much. It makes me sad, but it’s still there as free reference material.

Q The second question is about the Linux kernel, and which version of the GPL is applied to that.

That matters, yes. There are many changes in GPL version 3. The one that Torvalds doesn’t like is one particular provision which is important, which protects the users from Tivoization, which is a new method of making a program non-free, a method that I hadn’t imagined in 1991, when I wrote version 2 of the GPL. If I had imagined it—if I’d thought it was likely—I’d have done something about it then. I wish I had, but I wasn’t prescient enough.

Tivoization consists of building a physical product to use a particular program which you obtain under the GNU GPL version 2 (probably), and the idea is you want to stop users from effectively changing it as is their right. The sneaky way you do this is by building the device so that if a modified program is installed in it, it detects the modifications and it refuses to run at all. Theoretically the user is free to change the program and install her modified version, but practically speaking it’s impossible because the modified version won’t run.

So GPL version 3 says when you distribute free software under such circumstances, and there’s any way that you can install a modified version (because the manufacturer always retains some way to do this), you must make available to the user the information she needs so she can install her modified version and have it really work. Looking at it from her point of view, when you buy the product, the seller has to give you the necessary information so you really can change the software and install it in the product you bought. This is what’s in GPL version 3 that Torvalds doesn’t like. He is against GPL version 3 because he doesn’t want to protect the user’s freedom in this way.

Q Why?

You’ll have to ask him. He’s never been in favour of the user’s freedom; he’s never been a supporter of the free software movement. That’s why he prefers to talk about “open source”, which is the way you talk about free software without raising the ethical issue at all.

Q I’m not quite sure I understand why proprietary software is unjust. I’ll ask the question in this way. When I bought my motorbike, I expected to get a user manual with it, I didn’t expect to get the plans.

The plans are not analogous to source code. We don’t have compilers that we can feed the plan for something [a physical object] to and get an object coming out. Maybe someday that will be normal.

(interjection) We do—it’s called China.

No we don’t. We as individuals don’t, no. There are people who will set up a factory and build things, but we don’t have a way to compile plans into an object that’s feasible to use one off. We also don’t have copiers for objects.

Q So if we did it would be unjust.

Yes, if we did, then attempts to restrict you from using that ability merely for the sake of ensuring that someone else had more gain would be unjust.

Q Why is it not unjust anyway?

Because to stop you from doing something which you can’t feasibly do is a no-op. That’s why copyright law restricting copying in the age of the printing press was not a problem for the readers—because they had no way of copying [a book] other than to write it by hand, and no one tried to stop them from doing that.

Q If everyone stopped using proprietary software namely Final Cut Studio and Logic,

I don’t know these programs, but what…

Q They’re video and sound editing programs. Do you think that anything would happen to the general quality of the artwork that’s around?

I’m sure that free software would be soon be developed that could do these jobs.

Q Why hasn’t it yet?

Some has. There is free software for animation and video editing. I never have done animation or video editing, so I can’t judge. ([Well], actually I did a little bit of video editing in the ’70s just for fun, but that wasn’t with a computer.) But if people want the free programs to do more—if the companies that use such software, and the individuals that do, were against proprietary software and demanded freedom—they would organize to fund the improvements to these free programs.

Q Just two quick questions related to that. If the software was all free, and under contract a proportion of the developers were getting paid, do you think that this would discourage the free work, the free development?

Maybe it sometimes does, it’s hard for me to say. All I can say is there are a lot of paid developers, and a larger number of volunteer developers in the free software community.

Q Can the payment model that you are proposing for artwork and music, could that work to pay developers?

Software developers? I don’t think so. The reason is that there are so many contributors to one work that there is no way to figure out how to divide that money up. That has to do with the fact that first of all, people have to be free to publish their modified version, which is something we don’t need in the case of art.

But the fact is that it’s common for so many people to work together in making some useful work, and then how do you judge what’s the right way to divide up that money? If you look at one page of Wikipedia, it might have hundreds of people working on it. Some of them may have made important contributions, and others minor contributions, but how do you judge it? If they had to negotiate some sort of decision about this, maybe they could. But the amount of money that people would send to one page is not enough to be worth the trouble of negotiating. Fortunately, we see people willing to work on that gratis anyway. We don’t need to do this.

Q You mentioned the paradox of surveillance, which is, like in Eastern Europe you just end up with lots of people to surveil society, and in China they’ve used lots of people to surveil society even in the digital age. We hide behind dumb luck. It’s just dumb luck if you get pinged and actually go to court, even in France for doing software, a bit like car accidents. Now you’ve provided the first best option, or the best option, and we’ve kind of got the worst best option…

I don’t know what that means; you’re losing me. It’s too abstract.

Q How, apart from doing your talks, do we convince people not just to rely on ‘it’s going to be dumb luck that you don’t get caught’ for abusing

I don’t understand what you mean by ‘get caught’. Surveillance is usually not a matter of getting caught. If your cell phone says that you were here in this building just now, it’s not a matter of getting caught. But it’s part of the information about what you have done—about who you have spoken to—which would be awfully convenient to anyone who wants to assault you.

Q People at the end of the day are worried about the consequences which is, me talking to someone dangerous and ending up in prison. So we are taking our chances with surveillance. We seem to be prepared to take our chances.

I’m sorry, a lot of people use cell phones and EFT-POS, but that’s neither here nor there. We know that people are not concerned about this issue. But that doesn’t tell us anything about what we should try to do. So forget that. Is there a question other than that?

Q The question is why do you think we are stuck in this trap at the moment?

It’s convenient for people to set up systems that do surveillance and nobody organises to say “no, you can’t”, although we do see some efforts.

For instance, in some places there have been campaigns against surveillance cameras. The city where I live, Cambridge, Massachusetts, voted not to install surveillance cameras when the government gave it money to do so. That’s good. And in Brookline, the voters are mostly against it, but the part of the government that wants it is not listening to them, so there’s actually a dispute between the two branches of the town government. In Paris there’s a plan to put up a lot of surveillance cameras and people have organized a campaign against that.

So you do see some opposition, but it’s partly a matter of to what extent you notice it. People aren’t used to thinking every time they go anywhere—every time they physically meet anyone—“my cell phone is reporting on me.”

Not only that, the cell phone can be turned on to listen to the sound around you. It can be turned on remotely, without your making a call. It’s not just the phone company and Big Brother that can do this when they wish; others can do this through cell phone viruses. If your phone has been infected with a cell phone virus, and someone knows the keys to that virus, that someone can decide to listen to you also.

Q That’s not really a problem, because we’re getting open source cell phones anyway.

Open source is not something I’m in favour of. But we hope to get free software cell phones; there is a kind called Open Moko, but it doesn’t work all that well, unfortunately.

Q It’s early days.

Indeed. Today a cell phone is a fairly powerful computer in which software can be installed, so obviously you should refuse to have proprietary software in it. You should insist on totally free software for the same reasons that apply to this (holds up laptop). That wasn’t the case with the original cell phones. They couldn’t install software, they were just fixed appliances; but now they’re not.

Indeed, if your cell phone is running only free software, then you’re in somewhat of a position to defend it from those attacks, whereas with proprietary software you’re basically at the mercy of the developer (at least). Cell phones that are tied to a particular phone network typically allow the operator of that network to forcibly install software changes—the same kind of back door that Windows has. So you’re totally at their mercy.

But I don’t want to claim that free software has perfect security and that there will never be a virus. I just want to point out that this is typical for today’s cell phones, that there are viruses and people with no authority whatsoever might be listening to the sound around you.

Q I think that the problems with trying to enforce open cell phones, it would be nice for me to have one and for everyone in this room to have one, but the largest growing markets are in countries like China that may say you can’t take your Neo, which is an Open Moko one with you into that country, and you can’t do business there, etc.,

[That question changes the subject when it uses the word “open”, since I did not not advocate making anything “open”. I advocate free, freedom-respecting software. See www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html.]

I don’t know—but they don’t stop me from taking this computer, which is all free software, into China. In fact it was made in China. I don’t see that particular danger; I don’t see a threat there. In fact, China doesn’t even stop people from bringing in really strong encryption software that they can use to communicate with home, and not let the Chinese authorities see what they’re saying to each other. And part of the reason is that there are too many foreign businessmen who wouldn’t do business with them if they prevented that.

So censorship is mostly not trying to censor what two particular parties are privately saying to each other; they don’t try that. They’ve basically given up on that. Although in France I believe the use of encryption is illegal, but they don’t really enforce it in general, so lots and lots of people are using encryption, even in France.

Q For the surveillance, bringing it at bit closer to home, recently a lecturer here at this university has had to step down from a public board of the Arts Center, that’s a heritage site in Christchurch, this university was surveilling his email correspondence to other members of the board. It publicly stated that’s what it was doing, saying every lecturer uses our IT services

I’m having trouble understanding you. Did the University say it was surveilling him?

Q Yes. And because of the content of his emails, he was pressured to step off of the Board.

What excuse did they give for reading his email?

Q They had a vested interest in building a building in the Arts Centre, and he was against that building, so he’s got a conflict of interest, because he’s associated with the university, he’s employed by the university, he can’t be on that board, so that’s …

They don’t need to do surveillance on his email to say that he has a conflict of interest.

Q His interest isn’t really a conflict…

I don’t follow what you’re saying, it doesn’t hang together. Maybe you could explain what it means to me.

Q I think that it’s just a bit odd that a university can surveil its lecturers’ email content.

How do they do that?

Q I don’t know.

(from audience) Exactly. I work with the university’s email system, and I can tell you that I have no idea what you’re talking about.

Q I just know that the Chancellor said on CTV that every lecturer uses the email system and correspondence

(from audience) We get two million emails a day, to look at, the problem

If you wanted to look at a particular person—please listen for a second—the total number of emails that the university receives for anyone is not an obstacle to reading all the emails received or sent by one particular person. That’s not going to be two million, even with the worst spam problem you could imagine. So that’s beside the point.

(from audience) The problem of reading someone’s email is trivial; IT has administrative rights to the email server, so we can read their mailbox.

What I don’t understand is how the university claimed to justify reading his email.

(from audience) That’s the whole problem. That hasn’t happened. I know the people that have the administrative rights, and they have not been asked by anybody to go and look at anybody’s mailbox.

So what you’re saying is that what she’s saying is mistaken?

(from audience) Yes, I think it’s hearsay.

Q It’s maybe that it was a slip of the tongue by the Vice-Chancellor. It was an odd comment.

When you quote him it doesn’t make sense. You say he boasts that “even lecturers use our email system”. Maybe they do, but that’s neither here nor there, unless there’s some part you’ve left out.

Q I don’t know why. He was corresponding with a member of my family who had, about the Arts Centre, and he had concerns that he was being surveilled.

So he was concerned he might be being surveilled, but he didn’t know. You’re not asserting he was.

Q No.

You’re saying he worried that he might be.

Q Yes.

We don’t know he was; maybe it never happened, but I can understand being concerned in general about the possibility.

(from audience—new voice) I think that the point of the Vice-Chancellor was that the university owns the email system, and has the right to access people’s email.

Yes. If you see a possible dispute of any kind between you and the university, as happening at any time, then you probably shouldn’t send unencrypted emails about anything sensitive through the university’s email server. Encrypt the mail on your own computer and then you can send it out through the university’s server. You could receive encrypted responses through the university’s server, but the university won’t be able to read either one. They will know who you’re talking to if they choose to look.

A lot of surveillance is about who talks to whom. There are countries where ISPs are required to keep records of who has sent email to whom, for instance, and they don’t keep the text of the mail. But simply knowing who knows whom is very useful, for instance, to a government that seeks to destroy political opposition. The police are inclined to try to get away with as much as they can.

A few years ago in New Zealand the police lied to a judge to get invalid search warrants and then arrested a bunch of people claiming that they were preparing to be terrorists. And the judge threw this out, saying that the police had lied, and that the search warrants were invalid, and the evidence was invalid, and the newspapers have been forbidden to report this.

Q How did you find out about it?

I found out about it privately, from someone who told me this.

Q What’s his email address?

I don’t want to tell you. But he said this was stated in open court, but the newspapers are still not allowed to report it.

Q You mentioned earlier about it being against the law in France to send encrypted email. Actually a certain level of encryption is illegal because it’s classed under the military stuff.

Basically it’s encryption good enough that they can’t break it, which is what we normally use everywhere in the world.

Q I know that that the head of the customs department went to the United States on a holiday, and on his way back he bought the Eudora software at the time when Eudora was very popular and it had the high level encryption built into it. There was no customs check about him taking it out of the United States because he bought it at the airport as duty-free. He brought it into France without realizing he was breaking one of the fundamental laws that he was head of the Customs department, which brought about the change.

I was told by French people in the last few months that this law was still in effect.

Q There are still some laws to do with hardware encryption and things like that.

They told me that this applies to encryption software as well. After all, who has any hardware encryption except when it’s part of treacherous computing and is designed to restrict us? They do encryption with software, like GNU Privacy Guard.

Q The question I was trying to raise, the scenario demonstrated, tried to illustrate, is that the laws became, practices in fact became obsolete because they were completely being ignored by the public. Is that going to happen to any of your six principles?

I can’t fit the six threats into that question. Maybe there is a way, but I just can’t see it. Can you explain?

Q For example, sharing of software. The laws for getting past, or trying to enforce software sharing are just getting completely ignored

Yes and no. You see, indeed people are ignoring laws. Not just about software, but sharing music and books and videos. People are sharing them.

What you see is attempts to escalate the War on Sharing—new methods to try to stop people from sharing. I think it’s a mistake to underestimate the enemy. I’m not willing to say confidently that they must fail. I don’t know.

What I see is that there’s a real danger and we need to defend our freedom. First of all, we need to legally establish the freedom to share copies of published works. We need to oppose these attempts to stop and punish sharing, because I don’t know whether they might win. Even if they can’t ultimately win, they can make a lot of people suffer along the way.

Q You talk about the spirit of goodwill and sharing communities, but couldn’t it equally be greed that motivates that kind of sharing?

No, I don’t think so. You can’t make much profit from non-commercial activities. If you look at today’s peer-to-peer sharing networks, nobody’s profiting much. Now if you look at the Pirate Bay, which was one thing that was recently shut down, now it was making some money from advertising, but I don’t think advertising on that site was going to make them tremendously rich, and advertising is the only way it was making any money.

Q What are you referring to?

The Pirate Bay.

Q Greed doesn’t have to involve money. If someone wants to see a movie but doesn’t want to pay to go and see it, someone who

That’s not greed. Greed is the desire for riches.

Q Arguably it’s a desire for anything.

No, no. If it’s the desire for saving a little money, that’s not greed. To qualify as greed it has to be the desire for a lot of wealth.

Q It’s unlimited wealth for free software.

No, sorry, you’re twisting the words. All the free software in the world, you are free to use if you get a copy, and most of it is on the Net so you can easily get a copy. The people who develop it are putting it there so you can get a copy. And if that’s a tremendous wealth of software, it’s available to you and to everyone else here, but that has nothing to do with greed. That’s the common good of humanity.

Q Someone who creates a product, like a movie or a song, they have the right to put whatever price they want to on that.

No, I don’t think so. When they’re selling a copy, they have a right to put a price on that. I don’t dispute that. And if they give a performance, they have a right to charge for tickets. I don’t dispute that. But when they want to restrict someone else’s sharing of a recording that that person legitimately has, that I dispute.

You see, you’re trying to generalize from the right to sell copies for a price; you’re starting from that—which as far as I know nobody here disagrees with—and you’re taking a leap, saying they should be able put a price on your getting a copy no matter how. That is something that copyright law never endorsed.

That’s a new thing—that’s the entitlement they are trying to claim with their propaganda that says sharing is theft. When they say if you’ve looked at the work now you have a debt. You don’t have a debt, because they’re not entitled to demand payment because you saw the work. When they’re selling you a copy they’re entitled to sell it to you only if you pay. That’s a different thing.

Q Regarding the spirit of goodwill as well, on a slightly different tack though, recently there was a bit of a brouhaha here in New Zealand because Microsoft made a major press release describing how generous they were being to a charity called Barnardos. They made a big press release with one of the big guns from Redmond who came down to New Zealand, and he did a big ceremony providing a cheque to Barnardos for a claimed $1.4 million donation. It turned out that it was actually $1.4 million of Microsoft software based on the retail value.

Right, which they often do. Barnardos shouldn’t even use it because it’s unethical. What are they going to use it for?

Q No idea.

What is Barnardos?

Q It’s child advocacy, and they provide services for children at risk.

At least they’re not teaching the children to run Windows. [Which would be like teaching them to smoke tobacco; inculcating dependence on a harmful product.]

Q What happened is a lot of people who were promoting this as being a great thing, well the Computer Society specifically, the New Zealand Computer Society, a number of us in the free and open source software community questioned the wisdom of promoting this or even giving any kudos or goodwill to Microsoft.

Absolutely.

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