In 2009, Richard Stallman, President of the Free Software Foundation and founder of the GNU project which developed the free operating system GNU, visited New Zealand. By ‘free’ Stallman doesn’t mean ‘free of charge’; instead he means that the software is released under a licence that gives people the freedom to use it, examine and change its source code, redistribute it to others, and make their changed version available to others.

This is a very powerful idea, and Stallman’s work has had a significant impact on the way people view software and licensing. He has been a tireless activist promoting software freedom for over 25 years. As part of developing the GNU system, he wrote the GNU General Public License, which has been widely adopted by developers who want to share their software ethically.

The main purpose of his visit was the GNU Zealand 2009 speaking tour, which included a keynote address at the LIANZA 2009 conference. The topics of Stallman’s speeches were:

  • the conditions required for a free digital society,
  • copyright and community in the age of computer networks, and
  • the danger of software patents.

In addition to his formal speeches, Stallman was interviewed on Saturday Morning on Radio New Zealand National, on New IT Make on Community Radio Hamilton, by phone for the Frugal Tech Show, and for Newstalk ZB when he was in New Plymouth. News coverage included articles in the Taranaki Daily News and the Auckland Herald.

This collection of transcripts of his talks, plus the Frugal Tech Show interview, gives people who weren’t able to hear him an opportunity to find out what they missed.

The Tour Schedule contains a complete list of his 2009 New Zealand speeches, and shows which ones have been transcribed. They may be read online, or downloaded as a printable book in PDF, produced with the Wikipublisher software, which is of course free software! Individual chapters may also be downloaded in PDF.

All content on this site carries a Creative Commons Attribution–No Derivatives Licence, meaning that you are welcome to redistribute it under the same conditions.

The 2009 visit came at a critical time for New Zealand citizens interested in preserving traditional freedoms in an increasingly digital society.

At the beginning of the year, many people joined the Internet ‘blackout’ campaign to protest against the proposed 3-strikes disconnection policy that was part of the 2008 revisions to the Copyright Act; as a result, the government is now (i.e., late 2009) considering other options to deal with allegations of unauthorised downloading of copyright material.

People involved in the blackout campaign see this as a victory. However, it is not the end of the story.

The New Zealand government is presently taking part in the secret ACTA1 negotiations, which are rumoured to involve a requirement to reinstate the disconnection policy. If this goes ahead, it would severely restrict New Zealand citizens’ ability to share digital information freely.

Stallman raised the issue of ACTA at the end of his Radio New Zealand National interview; as a result Kim Hill interviewed Mark Harris, an independent IT consultant who has been raising concerns about ACTA for over a year, in late October (ogg file, 13.4 MB), making New Zealand one of the first countries to have a public discussion of the ACTA negotiations and the threat they pose to national sovereignty.

In the middle of the year, the Commerce Select Committee called for public submissions on the Patents Bill, and many people expressed their opposition to software patents. Because of this, Stallman’s speeches on the danger of software patents were particularly well-timed.

His visit wasn’t all work however, and even though the country had its coldest October since 1944, he was able to see and experience some of New Zealand’s tourist attractions while he was here. These included the train from Hamilton to Wellington, geothermal activity in Rotorua, a lovely view of Mount Taranaki while in New Plymouth, and a snowy Dawson Falls. The weather cleared just in time for him to have a relatively calm and sunny ferry crossing from Wellington to Picton, followed by the scenic TranzCoastal train to Christchurch. His photos from these, and other places he visited, are available in the travel photos section of his personal website.

Stallman’s reputation as a lover of fine food meant that we shared a number of good meals at interesting restaurants—all in all, it was a memorable visit for all concerned.

Brenda Chawner
School of Information Management
Victoria University of Wellington
brenda.chawner@vuw.ac.nz

 

1 The governments involved in ACTA call it the “Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement”, a misleading name designed to focus people’s attention on selected aspects of the agreement, while ignoring its provisions that relate to copyright. Leaked information suggests that powerful lobby organisations representing the movie and music industries are promoting the treaty as a new weapon in their War on Sharing. Because of this, Stallman suggests that a more accurate name would be the “Anti-Citizen Tyranny Alliance”. (↑)

Acknowledgments | Transcripts | Tour Schedule

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