Sunday, November 6, 2011


Richard Stallman came by to Oxford to give a talk ("A Free Digital Society") on Friday. As I was at another seminar, I didn't manage to attend even though it was relatively conveniently held at the physics department. As a result, I read up more about his life and work, after finding this very interesting piece that details his preferences and requests for anyone interested in getting him to speak.

The actual talk he gave was probably more or less along the lines of this earlier transcript. I agree that indeed, copyright and patents are relics of the past that now mainly benefit corporations only and stand in the way of progress. We do need to disentangle the issues to both encourage sharing and cooperation and also encourage content creation.

Reading up again about his life and cause reminded me of the ideals of freedom, choice and software. In many ways, universities embody the essence of freedom and cooperation - research published in open journals are analogous to "copyleft".

I'll end this post by pointing out that the story of his younger days is pretty interesting. He did physics at Harvard and spent weekends at the MIT Artificial Intelligence lab, where the "freedom" issue first reared its head in the form of a proprietary printer driver. He was a physics graduate student for a while and decided that he could make a greater contribution through computer code.

[On a slightly more technical/purist point, as I'm using Ubuntu GNU/Linux now with non-free drivers, I've sacrificed some "freedom" for the convenience of getting my laptop to work well. Just downloaded the fully free gNewSense which I'll test-drive.]

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