[Reader-list] Richard Stallman's lecture

V Ramaswamy hpp at vsnl.com
Fri Aug 18 14:30:45 IST 2006

Richard Stallman's lecture
Calcutta, 16 August '06

Transcribed by V Ramaswamy

There are a number of reasons why I'm not a communist. The first of them is
that I'm not against the idea of private business, as long as it does not
oppose people's human rights and the interests of society. Business is
legitimate as long as it treats the rest of society decently.

Computing is a new area of human life. So we have to think about the human
rights associated with this. What are the human rights software users are
entitled to? Four freedoms define Free Software. A programme is Free
Software for a user if:

Freedom 0: Run the software as you wish.
Freedom 1: Share the source code and change it.
Freedom 2: Help your neighbour and distribute and publish.
Freedom 3: Help you community and distribute your modified versions.

With these 4 Freedoms, you can live an upright life with your community.

If you use non-free, proprietary software, the developer has the power to
decide what you can do. He can use that power over you. Like Microsoft. That
game is evil. Nobody should play it. So its not a question of beating
Microsoft at its game. I set out to get away from that game.

Once GNU-Linux was ready in 1992, it began to catch on. It was rliable,
powerful, cheap and flexible. Thousands and millions of people began to use
GNU-Linux. But the ideals of freedom began to be forgotten though. In 1998,
people stopped talking about Free Software, Instead they said "open source".
That was a way of not saying "free" and not mentioning the ideas behind it.
I don't disagree with that, but that's not what I am interested in. What I'm
really interested in most of all is to teach people to value their freedoms
and to fight for them. In software, as in the US, our freedom is threatened.
So the basic things we need to do are: remember our freedom frequently,
value it and insist on it. When someone says they protect me from terrorism
by taking away my freedom - say No! Similarly, with software that threatens
our freedom, that might give us some temporary comparative advantage - we
should say No!

West Bengal should not follow the world trend. It should stand up for
freedom. That's different. No! I'm not going to let the world lead me where
it wants to go. I'm going where freedom is. If you're going elsewhere - I'm
not going there. It requires firmness, it requires a decision that says
freedom matters and hence it must be promoted. Even if that's inconvenient.
Freedom needs some sacrifices, some inconvenience, some price. But it's a
small price to pay.

By globalisation, people usually mean globalisation of the power of
business. Business should not have political power. Otherwise democracy
becomes sick. And with globalisation of business power, this political power
is enhanced. Free trade treaties are designed to attack democracy. For
instance, it explicitly allows any business to sue government if a law makes
its profit less than it has been. Companies have to be paid for the
permission to do anything of social or environmental importance. Not all
free trade treaties do this explicitly. They do it implicitly. Companies can
threaten to move away elsewhere. And they do use this threat. This actually
happened some years ago, with the EU software patents. The govt. of Denmark
was threatened that if they did not support this the company would move the
business elsewhere. This tiny threat was sufficient to blackmail the govt.
of Denmark. If you allow a foreign mega-corporation to buy a domestic
corporation, you are allowing it to buy a weapon pointed against your
country. The environment, public health, general standards of living - are
all important, and free trade treaties should be abolished. They are harmful
to freedom, health and the lives of people.

I do not accept the term "intellecutal property". The very term is biased
and confusing. It talks about useful techniques and works. It presumes they
are "property". It prejudges such questions. There's also a more subtle
problem. It lumps together all the diverse things and makes it look like you
can talk about all of them together. Copyright, patents, trade laws - are
all very different. It takes the geatest efforts of the best scholars to
overcome the confusion caused by the term "intellectual property" and to
discuss the details of these individual items. The GATT Treaty and the
TRIPS - actually it should be called Trade-related Impediments to Education
and Science. Free trade and enhancement of world trade harms democracy. When
you globalise something evil, it becomes a greater evil. And when you
globalise something good, it becomes a greater good. Human knowledge and
cooperation are such "goods". The Free Software Movement is a part of that.
It is the globalisation of one area of human knowledge, namely software.
Through global cooperation like this, you get freedom and independence for
every region and every country.

Proprietary software is a colonial system. Its electronic colonialism. And
not by a country, but by a corporation. Electronic colonial powers keep
people divided and helpless. Look at the end-user licensing agreement. You
don't have the source code, you are helpless. You can't share, and so you
are kept divided. National colonial powers recruit local elites and pay them
and keep them above the rest of the people, working for the colonial
masters. Today we see electronic colonial powers recruit native zamindars to
keep the system intact. Microsoft sets up a research facility and in
exchange it keeps its grip firmly on everyone else. Govts and schools are in
their grip. They know how to do this. They know how to buy govt support. But
what's the govt buying? Dependency, not development. Only Free Software
constitutes development. It enables any activity to be fully under the
control of the people doing it. Free Software is appropriate technology.
Proprietary software is not appropriate for any use.

The West Bengal govt has an opportunity to adopt a policy of firm leadership
in this regard. This will give a boost to human resource development. Free
Software respects people's freedom. Govt has an influence on the future of
society. Choosing which software to teach students. If you teach them
Windows, they will be Windows users. For something else, they need to learn,
and make the effort to learn something else. Microsoft knows this. So it
donates Windows to schools. Addiction (through using unlicensed software)
only helps them. They didn't want to leave anything to choice, so they give
Windows free to schools. Like injecting a dose. The first dose is gratis.
Afterwards its not gratis, for them or their employers. This is a way to
impose their power on the rest of society and its future. Schools have a
mission to society. This missions requires teaching students to live in
freedom, teaching skills to make it easy to live in freedom. This means
using Free Software.

Free Software is good for computer science education, to maximise the
potential of natural programmers. It gives students the opportunity to
really learn. Its good for the natural programmers. If you have proprietary
software, the teacher says "I don't know", "You are not allowed to know, 
a secret." So the alternative is to give him the source codes and let him
read it all. They will then learn to be really good programmers. But the
most crucial reason is for the sake of moral education. Teaching them to be
good corporations and benevolent, helpful citizens. This has to be taught.
School has to teach by example. If you bring software to class, you must
share this with other kids. Or don't bring it. Schools must follow their own
rule, by bringing Free Software to class.

Schools should use 100% Free Software. No proprietary software should be
used in schools. Public agencies, after a migration period, should use Free
Software. All software development must run on Free Software platforms. And
if its released to the public, it must be Free Software. (Free as in free
speech, not free beer.)

One easy and useful way to put Free Software in schools - is to participate
in the "1 Laptop per Child" programme. India recently pulled out of this
programme, I'm told. I'm told the Indian govt is making lots of laws to make
multinational corporations happy. Maybe this was to male Microsoft happy.
Even if India is not, West Bengal can participate in the 1 Laptop per child
programme. I can put them in touch with the people developing that machine.

The Govt of India is considering a vicious new copyright law, imitating US
law, in favour of large businesses, and against its citizens. The only
emergency I can see that requires this being rushed through is catastrophic
shortfall in the drea profits of some businesses. Foreigners should not have
political power. In my case, I don't.


Stallman took questions from the audience. Some of the clarifications he
made were:

"I want to give people freedom, I don't want to make my programme popular."

"Piracy" is a propaganda word. Pirates attack ships. An unauthorised copy of
a proprietary software is not "free".

".if you call MS Dog an operating system."

"There is tendency to give Microsoft all the credit for all the things it

"I'm sure Microsoft would pay me to use their software, But I wouldn't take

"It would have been a lot easier not to develop my own operating system - if
I didn't care about freedom more than my income."

"Don't use web-based services to do the things you can do yourself, in your
own computer."

"You can't trust a corporation, corporations are like psychopaths. If the
corporation were an individual, its behaviour would be called psychopathic."

"I can't see the future - because it depends on you."

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