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Philosophy of Software Freedom Series

Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman

Free Software, Free Society book cover image
Author: Richard M. Stallman
Introduction: Lawrence Lessig
Editor: Joshua Gay
ISBN 1-882114-98-1
Hard Cover Edition with dust jacket
224 Pages
Publication Date: October 2002
Category: Ethics, Law, Computer Software

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Book Contents

The intersection of ethics, law, business and computer software is the subject of these essays and speeches by MacArthur Foundation Grant winner, Richard M. Stallman. This collection includes historical writings such as The GNU Manifesto, which defined and launched the activist Free Software Movement, along with new writings on hot topics in copyright, patent law, and the controversial issue of "trusted computing." Stallman takes a critical look at common abuses of copyright law and patents when applied to computer software programs, and how these abuses damage our entire society and remove our existing freedoms. He also discusses the social aspects of software and how free software can create community and social justice.

Given the current turmoil in copyright and patent laws, including the DMCA and proposed CBDTPA, these essays are more relevant than ever. Stallman tackles head-on the essential issues driving the current changes in copyright law. He argues that for creativity to flourish, software must be free of inappropriate and overly-broad legal constraints. Over the past twenty years his arguments and actions have changed the course of software history; this new book is sure to impact the future of software and legal policies in the years to come.

Lawrence Lessig, the author of two well-known books on similar topics, writes the introduction. He is a noted legal expert on copyright law and a Stanford Law School professor.

Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this book provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.

The texinfo source for the book is available at Savannah in the rms-essays project through CVS. The command to check out all of the files and put them in an rms-essays subdirectory in your current working directory is:
cvs -z3 co rms-essays


Richard Stallman is the prophet of the free software movement. He understood the dangers of software patents years ago. Now that this has become a crucial issue in the world, buy this book and read what he said.

- Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World-Wide Web.

For the first time this book collects the writing and lectures of Richard Stallman in a manner that will make their subtlety and power clear. The essays span a wide range, from copyright to the history of the free software movement. They include many arguments not well known, and...will serve as a resource for those who seek to understand the thought of this most powerful man. . .

- Lawrence Lessig, Stanford University Law School professor and expert on Cyberlaw.

Every IT-policy maker and IT-procurement officer should read this book. However, the book touches on subjects affecting a much larger audience and everyone who ever thought of the architecture that regulates the Internet and our computers will have plenty of defining moments with Free Software, Free Society. You will, however, run the risk of becoming religious.

- Mikael Pawlo, lawyer in Sweden and contributing editor to the Harvard Berkman Center publication on Internet law issues,

Richard Stallman is the philosopher king of software. He single-handedly ignited what has become world-wide movement to create software that is Free, with a capital F. He has toiled for years at a project that many once considered a fool's errand, and now that is widely seen as "inevitable." We stand today not at the brink of the Free Software revolution, but in the middle. From today's perspective it is hard to remember a time when free software was not widely available and the concept of Free Software was not widely understood. Yet this was not always the case. Fifteen years ago, Stallman was widely seen as a person tilting at windmills; people jeered at him and told him to "move to Russia." Today Stallman's views on the usefulness and role of Free Software are understood and, to a great extent, accepted. On the other hand, Stallman's views on Copyright (and Copyleft), Digital Restrictions Management, and the poisonous role of patents are only beginning to meet with acceptance.

- Simson L. Garfinkel, computer science author and columnist

By his hugely successful efforts to establish the idea of ``free software'' Stallman has made a massive contribution to the human condition. His contribution combines elements that have technical, social, political, and economic consequences.

- Gerald Jay Sussman, Matsushita Professor of Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

RMS is the leading philosopher of software. You may dislike some of his attitudes, but you cannot avoid his ideas. This slim volume will make those ideas readily accessible to those who are confused by the buzzwords of rampant commercialism. This book needs to be widely circulated and widely read.

- Peter H. Salus, computer science writer, book reviewer, and Unix historian

It isn't that RMS is an idealist, we've plenty of those. And it isn't that he's a brilliant programmer, we have those too. It's rather that he mixes those two with a well thought-out philosophical basis and a pragmatic understanding of the world and people. He takes ideas about freedom and cooperation that many of us share and shows how they can form a consistent world view that has room for the realities of money and business.

He talks about the perversion of the original intent of patent and copyright law. For those of us in the US, our constitution states clearly that these are granted for the benefit of society. Most other countries say something similar. But for there is big money to be made (generally by big companies) by redefining these laws to benefit the holders. We're not the ones saying "Down with the system!". We're the ones crying "Restore it to what it was intended for!"

Richard feels that software should be free, but he doesn't propose jailing those who disagree. He doesn't propose forcing others to free their work. He proposes making them obsolescent by working together and doing better work that is more widely available. And he doesn't propose that we should work for nothing. He shows how we can write free software and make a profit too. Indeed, he does it.

I guess the ultimate complement to his quest is the staunch opposition it has from the richest person in the country. The most powerful software company in the world is more vocal in its opposition to the free software movement than it is to its direct competitors!

The entire history of the human race has been a struggle between the powerful few who thrive on monopoly and coercion, and the many who gain most from freedom and free competition. Today software lies at the forefront of this battle, and those of us who program are the warriors. It is our responsibility to carry forward the banner of freedom and make a better world for our progeny.

- Bil Lewis, computer scientist, multithreaded programming expert.

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Updated: $Date: 2007/02/07 02:34:56 $ $Author: mattl $