I had the chance to see Richard Stallman speak the other day at the UC Berkeley School of Information, and it was quite an experience. In case you don’t know the name, Richard Stallman is the man behind GNU, and GNU is the software/philosophy that makes GNU/Linux what it is. Stallman’s belief is that all software, and indeed just about everything that you create should be freely available to anybody that wants it. This is in stark opposition to the Microsoftian or even the Apple perspective of software, and indeed Stallman has written a book about this called *Free Software, Free Society*. As you might expect, from a man with such beliefs, the book itself is free, and you can find it here.
If that doesn’t convince you of his awesomeness, allow me to roughly quote a part of his introduction:
Moderator: “…Richard Stallman has been awarded with four PhD’s — “
Stallman: “—That’s six now.”
Moderator: “I guess somebody needs to update Wikipedia…”
The speech he chose was “Copyright vs. Community in the Age of Computer Networks.” It was a real real eye-opener for me. I assumed that the recording and publishing companies were essentially screwing the artists, but I had no idea just how bad it really was. Imagine, if you will, that your garage band suddenly became really popular, and that you got signed with a big recording company. They publish your album, and they distribute it across the USA, where it sells well. You’d expect that your art would probably be making you some good money, would you not? I know I would, but apparently that’s not how it works.
The way Stallman tells it, the first place they nail you is by charging you for the distribution. So, until your album has sold some critical quantity, you’re still paying back the record company the loan they gave you to distribute your album (sounds vaguely like the mafia here, but it gets worse). The next place they nail you is by not giving you much of the album sales. I would think that you’d be given a good buck or two of each album sold, but apparently it’s more like a quarter, or maybe 50 cents. Not much profit there.
The third place they nail you is by owning your creativity. You created something from nothing, but if you want to make a copy of your album and give it to a friend, that’s just too bad, you’re going to have to buy the album for your friend just like everybody else. And you know what’s worse? Even many years later, after your album has pretty much stopped selling, and the record company has stopped pressing it, you still don’t own your creativity. In fact, as of 1998, the copyright they own for your creativity can last as long as 120 years, so even after you are long dead, they still own your music. It doesn’t stop there. You now have a schedule to produce more albums for them, each with the above problems.
Now, aren’t you glad you made it big, and that copyrights are there to protect you?
As you might expect, Stallman explains this a bit more thoroughly in his presentation, but that’s the basic gist of it. As is the case with just about everything related to Richard Stallman, this essay is available for free. In fact, if you’re interested in a bit of reading, it’s here.
I love getting feedback and comments. Make my day by making a comment.