Tuesday, May 4, 2021
#political #content warning #foss

I’ve long been a supporter of the GPL and use it for all that I write. I used to regularly donate to the organization behind that license, the FSF. Richard Stallman, the original author of that license, and founder of said organization was recently reinstated to their board of directors after being removed two years ago. I do not support his reinstatement.

I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops. – Stephen Jay Gould

I’m not going to go into extreme detail about why Richard Stallman was originally removed as it has been discussed by others who know him personally and have seen the harm of his actions first hand. In particular, I suggest reading both of these articles.

To summarize, he has a long history of harassing women and creating a generally disturbing and unwelcoming environment both at MIT and throughout the Free Software movement. I don’t give a fuck how brilliant he might be if it means the few women and minorities that join our movement in spite of him must suffer. Every person pushed away from FOSS represents the loss of great minds who could bring our movement forward (and back into relevancy). He must be removed along with all those in the FSF that defend his actions or support his reinstatement to send a clear message that his actions will not be tolerated. Currently, the opposite is happening.

However, that’s not my reason for writing this. I believe we must progress past several of Stallman’s ideas and approaches even if he hadn’t come out in favor of statutory rape. He has long been a supporter of the personal responsibility disease and, perhaps to your surprise, does not support the abolition of copyright law.

Clearly, instead of increasing copyright powers, we have to pull them back so as to give the general public a certain domain of freedom where they can make use of the benefits of digital technology, make use of their computer networks. But how far should that go? That’s an interesting question because I don’t think we should necessarily abolish copyright totally. - Richard Stallman

It has become increasingly clear to me that Stallman created the GPL, a powerful tool for fighting copyright, for largely personal reasons and lacks the ideological basis to lead a movement that has outgrown him. In his writings about copyright he often frames the argument by claiming the following:

The copyright system works by providing privileges and thus benefits to publishers and authors; but it does not do this for their sake. Rather, it does this to modify their behavior: to provide an incentive for authors to write more and publish more. In effect, the government spends the public’s natural rights, on the public’s behalf, as part of a deal to bring the public more published works. Legal scholars call this concept the “copyright bargain.” It is like a government purchase of a highway or an airplane using taxpayers' money, except that the government spends our freedom instead of our money. - Richard Stallman

Arguments are primarily won or lost based on their framing. In this example, he frames the copyright system as having been created “to provide an incentive for authors to write more and publish more”. Congrats Stallman! You managed to explain propaganda which was created to justify a system of stealing science and art from the common ownership of the masses into the hands of the rich. Do you also think the United States invaded Iraq because of “Weapons of Mass destruction”? Do you think the NSA exists to protect you?

There are two fundamentally opposed ways to analyze history. Materialism, which argues that historical progress does not happen because of great ideas, changes in ideals or principals, but instead because of changes in the material condition of a society. On the opposite side, we have Idealism which argues that historical progress happens as a result of changes in the ideas and ideals of a society. Idealism often represents itself with the great man theory of history. To give a quick example, consider the American Revolutionary War. When the colonists came to America, their culture began to diverge and develop a different set of ideals from England. This new culture was based around principals of Liberty, Justice for All, and of course FREEDOM.

scars of a slave

As a result, the colonists came into conflict with the authoritarian rule of the monarchy and rose up in defense of liberty and freedom. The revolution was thus motivated by a noble belief in these ideals. This Idealist view is what I was taught in school and what is still largely taught in schools across America.

The Materialist analysis looks a little different. The colonists came to America and engaged in forms of trade and commerce that competed with the British Monarchy. The needs of this young merchant class were in conflict with the monarchist class who had the right to prohibit free trade and enforce taxation. With this view, we see that the revolution arose because the king economically interfered with this developing class of merchants. This new class realized they needed a new form of government to regulate markets loosely – allowing them to grow rich. The republic was then constructed to ensure the dominance of this emerging class with laws and an economy that would favor them and allow them to develop. It also leads nicely into the invention of police, which arose out of slave patrols. One of the many contradictions in the Idealist view of America.

When we analyze copyright in this framework we can see that it was not created “to provide an incentive for authors to write more and publish more”, but to create a market for the merchant class where one did not previously exist. In this new capitalist system, the rate of diminishing returns shows us that the tendency of the rate of profit is to fall. People invest in order to make a profit. On average, companies must grow/increase their value. Crisis occurs when companies on average fail to grow – we call it a recession or even a great depression. To temporarily wane off the inevitable, we must not only use up every resource on earth, but also create markets and demand where they did not exist. Electronics and durable goods must be made into consumables, public services must be converted to markets, and markets must be created in new areas of life such as romance, creativity, and information. If an idea can now be owned, and the police budget can be increased enough to defend said ownership, it can be bought, sold, and traded to make profits for the rich.

This is the cause of copyright and the reason for it’s existence. You must understand this if you have any hope of fighting it. Stallman’s foolish begging to lift the boot of copyright does nothing to advance our cause.