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[liberationtech] Transcript of Richard Stallman's Lecture on Oct 19
companys at stanford.edu
Wed Nov 23 08:02:18 PST 2011
Projects with the goal of digital inclusion are making a big assumption.
They are assuming that participating in a digital society is good; but
that’s not necessarily true. Being in a digital society can be good or bad,
depending on whether that digital society is just or unjust. There are many
ways in which our freedom is being attacked by digital technology. Digital
technology can make things worse, and it will, unless we fight to prevent
Therefore, if we have an unjust digital society, we should cancel these
projects for digital inclusion and launch projects for digital extraction.
We have to extract people from digital society if it doesn’t respect their
freedom; or we have to make it respect their freedom.
What are the threats? First, surveillance. Computers are Stalin’s dream:
they are ideal tools for surveillance, because anything we do with
computers, the computers can record. They can record the information in a
perfectly indexed searchable form in a central database, ideal for any
tyrant who wants to crush opposition.
Surveillance is sometimes done with our own computers. For instance, if you
have a computer that’s running Microsoft Windows, that system is doing
surveillance. There are features in Windows that send data to some server.
Data about the use of the computer. A surveillance feature was discovered
in the iPhone a few months ago, and people started calling it the
“spy-phone.” Flash player has a surveillance feature too, and so does the
Amazon “Swindle.” They call it the Kindle, but I call it the Swindle
(l’escroc) because it’s meant to swindle users out of their freedom. It
makes people identify themselves whenever they buy a book, and that means
Amazon has a giant list of all the books each user has read. Such a list
must not exist anywhere.
Most portable phones will transmit their location, computed using GPS, on
remote command. The phone company is accumulating a giant list of places
that the user has been. A German MP in the Green Party asked the phone
company to give him the data it had about where *he* was. He had to sue, he
had to go to court to get this information. And when he got it, he received
forty-four thousand location points for a period of six months! That’s more
than two hundred per day! What that means is someone could form a very good
picture of his activities just by looking at that data.
We can stop our own computers from doing surveillance on us if we have
control of the software that they run. But the software these people are
running, they don’t have control over. It’s non-free software, and that’s
why it has malicious features, such as surveillance. However, the
surveillance is not always done with our own computers, it’s also done at
one remove. For instance ISPs in Europe are required to keep data about the
user’s internet communications for a long time, in case the State decides
to investigate that person later for whatever imaginable reason.
With a portable phone — even if you can stop the phone from transmitting
your GPS location, the system can determine the phone’s location
approximately, by comparing the time when the signals arrive at different
towers. So the phone system can do surveillance even without special
cooperation from the phone itself.
Likewise, the bicycles that people rent in Paris. Of course the system
knows where you get the bicycle and it knows where you return the bicycle,
and I’ve heard reports that it tracks the bicycles as they are moving
around as well. So they are not something we can really trust.
But there are also systems that have nothing to do with us that exist only
for tracking. For instance, in the UK all car travel is monitored. Every
car’s movements are being recorded in real time and can be tracked by the
State in real time. This is done with cameras on the side of the road.
Now, the only way we can prevent surveillance that’s done at one remove or
by unrelated systems is through political action against increased
government power to track and monitor everyone, which means of course we
have to reject whatever excuse they come up with. For doing such systems,
no excuse is valid — to monitor everyone.
In a free society, when you go out in public, you are not guaranteed
anonymity. It’s possible for someone to recognize you and remember. And
later that person could say that he saw you at a certain place. But that
information is diffuse. It’s not conveniently assembled to track everybody
and investigate what they did. To collect that information is a lot of
work, so it’s only done in special cases when it’s necessary.
But computerized surveillance makes it possible to centralize and index all
this information so that an unjust regime can find it all, and find out all
about everyone. If a dictator takes power, which could happen anywhere,
people realize this and they recognize that they should not communicate
with other dissidents in a way that the State could find out about. But if
the dictator has several years of stored records, of who talks with whom,
it’s too late to take any precautions then. Because he already has
everything he needs to realize: “OK this guy is a dissident, and he spoke
with him. Maybe he is a dissident too. Maybe we should grab him and torture
So we need to campaign to put an end to digital surveillance now. You can’t
wait until there is a dictator and it would really matter. And besides, it
doesn’t take an outright dictatorship to start attacking human rights.
I wouldn’t quite call the government of the UK a dictatorship. It’s not
very democratic, and one way it crushes democracy is using surveillance. A
few years ago, people believed to be on their way to a protest; they were
going to protest. They were arrested before they could get there, because
their car was tracked through this universal car tracking system.
The second threat is censorship. Censorship is not new, it existed long
before computers. But 15 years ago, we thought that the Internet would
protect us from censorship, that it would defeat censorship. Then, China
and some other obvious tyrannies went to great lengths to impose censorship
on the Internet, and we said: “well that’s not surprising, what else would
governments like that do?”
But today we see censorship imposed in countries that are not normally
thought of as dictatorships, such as for instance the UK, France, Spain,
They all have systems of blocking access to some websites. Denmark
established a system that blocks access to a long list of webpages, which
was secret. The citizens were not supposed to know how the government was
censoring them, but the list was leaked, and posted on WikiLeaks. At that
point, Denmark added the WikiLeaks page to its censorship list.
So, the whole rest of the world can find out how Danes are being censored,
but Danes are not supposed to know.
A few months ago, Turkey, which claims to respect some human rights,
announced that every Internet user would have to choose between censorship
and more censorship. Four different levels of censorship they get to
choose! But freedom is not one of the options.
Australia wanted to impose filtering on the Internet, but that was blocked.
However Australia has a different kind of censorship: it has censorship of
links. That is, if a website in Australia has a link to some censored site
outside Australia, the one in Australia can be punished.
Electronic Frontier Australia, that is an organization that defends human
rights in the digital domain in Australia, posted a link to a foreign
political website. It was ordered to delete the link or face a penalty of
$11,000 a day. So they deleted it, what else could they do? This is a very
harsh system of censorship.
In Spain, the censorship that was adopted earlier this year allows
officials to arbitrarily shut down an Internet site in Spain, or impose
filtering to block access to a site outside of Spain. And they can do this
without any kind of trial. This was one of the motivations for the*
Indignados*, who have been protesting in the street.
There were protests in the street in Turkey as well, after that
announcement, but the government refused to change its policy.
We must recognize that a country that imposes censorship on the Internet is
not a free country. And is not a legitimate government either.
[Restricted data formats]
The next threat to our freedom comes from data formats that restrict the
Sometimes it’s because the format is secret. There are many application
programs that save the user’s data in a secret format, which is meant to
prevent the user from taking that data and using it with some other
program. The goal is to prevent interoperability.
Now, evidently, if the program implements a secret format, that’s because
the program is not free software. So this is another kind of malicious
feature. Surveillance is one kind of malicious feature that you find in
some non-free programs; using secret formats to restrict the users is
another kind of malicious feature that you also find in some non-free
But if you have a free program that handles a certain format, *ipso facto* that
format is not secret. This kind of malicious feature can only exist in a
non-free program. Surveillance features could theoretically exist in a free
program but you don’t find them happening. Because the users would fix it.
The users wouldn’t like this, so they would fix it.
In any case, we also find secret data formats in use for publication of
works. You find secret data formats in use for audio, such as music, for
video, for books… And these secret formats are known as Digital
Restrictions Management, or DRM, or digital handcuffs (les menottes
So, the works are published in secret formats so that only proprietary
programs can play them, so that these proprietary programs can have the
malicious feature of restricting the users, stopping them from doing
something that would be natural to do.
And this is used even by public entities to communicate with the people.
For instance Italian public television makes its programs available on the
net in a format called VC-1, which is a standard supposedly, but it’s a
Now I can’t imagine how any publicly supported entity could justify using a
secret format to communicate with the public. This should be illegal. In
fact I think all use of Digital Restrictions Management should be illegal.
No company should be allowed to do this.
There are also formats that are not secret but almost might as well be
secret, for instance Flash. Flash is not actually secret but Adobe keeps
making new versions, which are different, faster than anyone can keep up
and make free software to play those files; so it has almost the same
effect as being secret.
Then there are the patented formats, such as MP3 for audio. It’s bad to
distribute audio in MP3 format! There is free software to handle MP3
format, to play it and to generate it, but because it’s patented in many
countries, many distributors of free software don’t dare include those
programs; so if they distribute the GNU+Linux system, their system doesn’t
include a player for MP3.
As a result if anyone distributes some music in MP3 that’s putting pressure
on people not to use GNU/Linux. Sure, if you’re an expert you can find a
free software and install it, but there are lots of non experts, and they
might see that they installed a version of GNU/Linux which doesn’t have
that software, and it won’t play MP3 files, and they think it’s the
system’s fault. They don’t realize it’s MP3′s fault. But this is the fact.
Therefore, if you want to support freedom, don’t distribute MP3 files.
That’s why I say if you’re recording my speech and you want to distribute
copies, don’t do it in a patented format such as MPEG-2, or MPEG-4, or MP3.
Use a format friendly to free software, such as the Ogg format or WebM. And
by the way, if you are going to distribute copies of the recording, please
put on it the Creative Commons-No derivatives
This is a statement of my personal views. If it were a lecture for a
course, if it were didactic, then it ought to be free, but statements of
opinion are different.
[Software that isn't free]
Now this leads me to the next threat which comes from software that the
users don’t have control over. In other words: software that isn’t free,
that is not “libre”. In this particular point French is clearer than
English. The English word free means ‘libre’ and ‘gratuit’, but what I mean
when I say free software is ‘logiciel libre‘. I don’t mean ‘gratuit’. I’m
not talking about price. Price is a side issue, just a detail, because it
does’nt matter ethically. You know if i have a copy of a program and I sell
it to you for one euro or a hundred euros, who cares?Why should anyone
think that that’s good or bad? Or suppose I gave it to you ‘gratuitement’…
still, who cares? But whether this program respects your freedom, that’s
So free software is software that respects users’ freedom. What does this
mean? Ultimately there are just two possibilities with software: either the
users control the program or the program controls the users. If the users
have certain essential freedoms, then they control the program, and those
freedoms are the criterion for free software. But if the users don’t fully
have the essential freedoms, then the program controls the users. But
somebody controls that program and, through it, has *power* over the users.
So, a non-free program is an instrument to give somebody *power* over a lot
of other people and this is unjust power that nobody should ever have. This
is why non-free software (les logiciels privateurs, qui privent de la
liberté), why proprietary software is an injustice and should not exist;
because it leaves the users without freedom.
Now, the developer who has control of the program often feels tempted to
introduce malicious features to *further* exploit or abuse those users. He
feels a temptation because he knows he can get away with it: because his
program controls the users and the users do not have control of the
program, if he puts in a malicious feature, the users can’t fix it; they
can’t remove the malicious feature.
I’ve already told you about two kinds of malicious features: surveillance
features, such as are found in Windows, and the Iphone and Flash player,
and the “Swindle”. And there are also features to restrict users, which
work with secret data formats, and those are found in Windows, Macintosh,
the Iphone, Flash player, the Amazon “Swindle”, the Playstation 3 and lots
and lots of other programs.
The other kind of malicious feature is the backdoor. That means something
in that program is listening for remote commands and obeying them, and
those commands can mistreat the user. We know of backdoors in Windows, in
the Iphone, in the Amazon “Swindle”. The Amazon “Swindle” has a backdoor
that can remotely delete books. We know this by observation, because Amazon
did it: in 2009 Amazon remotely deleted thousands of copies of a particular
book. Those were authorized copies, people had obtain them directly from
Amazon, and thus Amazon knew exactly where they were, which is how Amazon
knew where to send the commands to delete those books. You know which book
Amazon deleted? *1984* by Georges Orwell. It’s a book everyone should read,
because it discusses a totalitarian state that did things like delete books
it didn’t like. Everybody should read it, but not on the Amazon “Swindle”.
Anyway, malicious features are present in the most widely used non-free
programs, but they are rare in free software, because with free software
the users have control: they can read the source code and they can change
it. So, if there were a malicious feature, somebody would sooner or later
spot it and fix it. This means that somebody who is considering introducing
a malicious feature does not find it so tempting, because he knows he might
get away with it for a while but somebody will spot it, will fix it, and
everybody will loose trust in the perpetrator. It’s not so tempting when
you know you’re going to fail. And that’s why we find that malicious
features are rare in free software, and common in proprietary software.
[The 4 freedoms of free software]
Now the essential freedoms are four:
- freedom 0 is the freedom to run the program as you wish.
- Freedom 1 is the freedom to study the source code and change it, so
the program does your computing the way you wish.
- Freedom 2 is the freedom to help others. That’s the freedom to make
exact copies and redistribute them when you wish.
- Freedom 3 is the freedom to contribute to your community. That’s the
freedom to make copies of your modified versions, if you have made any, and
then distribute them to others when you wish.
These freedoms, in order to be adequate, must apply to all activities of
life. For instance if it says: “This is free for academic use,” it’s not
free. Because that’s too limited. It doesn’t apply to all areas of life. In
particular, if a program is free, that means it can be modified and
distributed commercially, because commerce is an area of life, an activity
in life. And this freedom has to apply to all activities.
Now however, it’s not obligatory to do any of these things. The point is
you’re free to do them if you wish, when you wish. But you never have to do
them. You don’t have to do any of them. You don’t have to run the program.
You don’t have to study or change the source code. You don’t have to make
any copies. You don’t have to distribute your modified versions. The point
is you should be free to do those things if you wish.
Now, freedom number 1, the freedom to study and change the source code to
make the program do your computing as you wish, includes something that
might not be obvious at first. If the program comes in a product, and a
developer can provide an upgrade that will run, then you have to be able to
make your version run in that product. If the product would only run the
developer’s versions, and refuses to run yours, the executable in that
product is not free software. Even if it was compiled from free source
code, it’s not free because you don’t have the freedom to make the program
do your computing the way *you* wish. So, freedom 1 has to be real, not
just theoretical. It has to include the freedom to use your version, not
just the freedom to make some source code that won’t run.
[The GNU project and the free software movement]
I launched the free software movement in 1983, when I announced the plan to
develop a free software operating system whose name is GNU. Now GNU, the
name GNU, is a joke; because part of the hacker’s spirit is to have fun
even when you’re doing something very serious. Now I can’t think of
anything more seriously important than defending freedom.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t give my system a name that’s a joke. So GNU
is a joke because it’s a recursive acronym, it stands for “GNU is Not
Unix”, so G.N.U.: GNU’s Not Unix. So the G in GNU stands for GNU.
Now in fact that was a tradition at the time. The tradition was: if there
was an existing program and you wrote something similar to it, inspired by
it, you could give credit by giving your program a name that’s a recursive
acronym saying it’s not the other one.
So I gave credit to Unix for the technical ideas of Unix, but with the name
GNU, because I decided to make GNU a Unix-like system, with the same
commands, the same system calls, so that it would be compatible, so that
people who used Unix can switch over easily.
But the reason for developing GNU, that was unique. GNU is the only
operating system, as far as I know, ever developed for the purpose of
freedom. Not for technical motivations, not for commercial motivations. GNU
was written for *your* freedom. Because without a free operating system,
it’s impossible to have freedom and use a computer. And there were none,
and I wanted people to have freedom, so it was up to me to write one.
Nowadays there are millions of users of the GNU operating system and most
of them don’t*know* they are using the GNU operating system, because there
is a widespread practice which is not nice. People call the system “Linux”.
Many do, but some people don’t, and I hope you’ll be one of them. Please,
since we started this, since we wrote the biggest piece of the code, please
give us equal mention, please call the system GNU+Linux, or GNU/Linux. It’s
not much to ask!
But there is another reason to do this. It turns out that the person who
wrote Linux, which is one component of the system as we use it
today, doesn’t agree with the free software movement. And so if you call
the whole system Linux, in effect you’re steering people towards his ideas,
and away from our ideas. Because he’s not gonna say to them that they
deserve freedom. He’s going to say to them that he likes convenient,
reliable, powerful software. He’s going to tell people that those are the
But if you tell them the system is GNU+Linux — the GNU operating system
plus Linux the kernel — then they’ll know about us, and then they might
listen to what *we* say. You deserve freedom, and since freedom will be
lost if we don’t defend it — there’s always going to be a Sarkozy to take
it away — we need above all to teach people to demand freedom, to be ready
to stand up for their freedom the next time someone threatens to take it
Nowadays, you can tell who does’nt want to discuss these ideas of freedom
because they don’t say “logiciel libre”. They don’t say “libre”, they say
“open source”. That term was coined by the people like Mr Torvalds who
would prefer that these ethical issues don’t get raised. And so the way you
can help us raise them is by saying libre. You know, it’s up to you where
you stand, you’re free to say what you think. If you agree with them, you
can say open source. If you agree with us, show it: say libre!
Free software and education
Now the most important point about free software is that schools *must* teach
exclusively free software. All levels of schools from kindergarten to
university, it’s their *moral*responsibility to teach only free software in
their education, and all other educational activities as well, including
those that say that they’re spreading digital literacy. A lot of those
activities teach Windows, which means they’re teaching *dependence*. To
teach people the use proprietary software is to teach dependence, and
educational activities must never do that because it’s the opposite of
their mission. Educational activities have a social mission to educate good
citizens of a strong, capable, cooperating, independent and free society.
And in the area of computing, that means: teach free software. Never teach
a proprietary program because that’s inculcating dependence.
Why do you think some proprietary developers offer gratis copies to
schools? They want the schools to make the children dependent. And then,
when they graduate, they’re still dependent and you know the company is not
going to offer them gratis copies. And some of them get jobs and go to work
for companies. Not many of them anymore, but some of them. And those
companies are not going to be offered gratis copies. Oh no! The idea is if
the school directs the students down the path of permanent dependence, they
can drag the rest of society with them into dependence. That’s the plan!
It’s just like giving the school gratis needles full of addicting drugs,
saying “inject this into your students, the first dose is gratis.” Once
you’re dependent, then you have to pay. Well, the school would reject the
drugs because it isn’t right to teach the students to use addictive drugs
and it’s got to reject the proprietary software also.
Some people say “let’s have the school teach both proprietary software and
free software, so the students become familiar with both.” That’s like
saying “for the lunch lets give the kids spinach and tabacco, so that they
become accustomed to both.” No! The schools are only supposed to teach good
habits, not bad ones! So there should be no Windows in a school, no
Macintosh, nothing proprietary in the education.
But also, for the sake of educating the programmers. You see, some people
have a talent for programming. At ten to thirteen years old, typically,
they’re fascinated, and if they use a program, they want to know “how does
it do this?” But when they ask the teacher, if it’s proprietary, the
teacher has to say “I’m sorry, it’s a secret, we can’t find out.” Which
means education is forbidden. A proprietary program is the enemy of the
spirit of education. It’s knowledge withheld, so it should not be tolerated
in a school, even though there may be plenty of people in the school who
don’t care about programming, don’t want to learn this. Still, because it’s
the enemy of the spirit of education, it shouldn’t be there in the school.
But if the program is free, the teacher can explain what he knows, and then
give out copies of the source code, saying: “read it and you’ll understand
everything.” And those who are really fascinated, they will read it! And
this gives them an opportunity to start to learn how to be good programmers.
To learn to be a good programmer, you’ll need to recognize that certain
ways of writing code, even if they make sense to you and they are correct,
they’re not good because other people will have trouble understanding them.
Good code is clear code, that others will have an easy time working on when
they need to make further changes.
How do you learn to write good clear code? You do it by reading lots of
code, and writing lots of code. And only free software offers the chance to
*read* the code of large programs that we really use. And then you have to
write lots of code, which means you have to write changes in large programs.
How do you learn to write good code for the large programs? You have to
start small, which does not mean small program, oh no! The challenges of
the code for large programs don’t even begin to appear in small programs.
So the way you start small at writing code for large programs is by writing
small changes in large programs. And only free software gives you the
chance to do that!
So, if a school wants to offer the possibility of learning to be a good
programmer, it needs to be a free software school.
But there is an even deeper reason, and that is for the sake of moral
education, education in citizenship. It’s not enough for a school to teach
facts and skills, it has to teach the spirit of goodwill, the habit of
helping others. Therefore, every class should have this rule: “Students, if
you bring software to class, you may not keep it for yourself, you must
share copies with the rest of the class, including the source code in case
anyone here wants to learn! Because this class is a place where we share
our knowledge. Therefore, bringing a proprietary program to class is not
permitted.” The school must follow its own rule to set a good example.
Therefore, the school must bring only free software to class, and share
copies, including the source code, with anyone in the class that wants
Those of you who have a connection with a school, it’s your duty to
campaign and pressure that school to move to free software. And you have to
be firm. It may take years, but you can succeed as long as you never give
up. Keep seeking more allies among the students, the faculty, the staff,
the parents, anyone!
And always bring it up as an ethical issue. If someone else wants to
sidetrack the discussion into this practical advantage and this practical
disadvantage, which means they’re ignoring the most important question,
then you have to say: “this is not about how to do the best job of
educating, this is about how to do a good education instead of an evil one.
It’s how to do education right instead of wrong, not just how to make it a
little more effective, or less.” So don’t get distracted with those
secondary issues, and ignore what really matters!
So, moving on to the next menace. There are two issues that arise from the
use of internet services. One of them is that the server could abuse your
data, and another is that it could take control of your computing.
The first issue, people already know about. They are aware that, if you
upload data to an internet service, there is a question of what it will do
with that data. It might do things that mistreat you. What could it do? It
could lose the data, it could change the data, it could refuse to let you
get the data back. And it could also show the data to someone else you
don’t want to show it to. Four different possible things.
Now, here, I’m talking about the data that you knowingly gave to that site.
Of course, many of those services do *surveillance* as well.
For instance, consider Facebook. Users send lots of data to Facebook, and
one of the bad things about Facebook is that it shows a lot of that data to
lots of other people, and even if it offers them a setting to say “no!”,
that may not really work. After all, if you say “some other people can see
this piece of information,” one of them might publish it. Now, that’s not
Facebook’s fault, there is nothing they could do to prevent that, but it
ought to warn people. Instead of saying “mark this as only to your
so-called friends,” it should say “keep in mind that your so-called friends
are not really your friends, and if they want to make trouble for you, they
could publish this.” Every time, it should say that, if they want to deal
with people ethically.
As well as all the data users of Facebook voluntarily give to Facebook,
Facebook is collecting through data about people’s activities on the net
through various methods of surveillance. But for now I am talking about the
data that people *know* they are giving to these sites.
Losing data is something that could always happen by accident. That
possibility is always there, no matter how careful someone is. Therefore,
you need to keep multiple copies of data that matters. If you do that,
then, even if someone decided to delete your data intentionally, it
wouldn’t hurt you that much, because you’d have other copies of it.
So, as long as you are maintaining multiple copies, you don’t have to worry
too much about someone’s losing your data. What about whether you can get
it back. Well, some services make it possible to get back all the data that
you sent, and some don’t. Google services will let the user get back the
data the user has put into them. Facebook, famously, does not.
Of course in the case of Google, this only applies to the data the user *
knows* Google has. Google does lots of surveillance, too, and that data is
But in any case, if you can get the data back, then you could track whether
they have altered it. And they are not very likely to start altering
people’s data if the people can tell. So maybe we can keep a track on that
particular kind of abuse.
But the abuse of showing the data to someone you don’t want it to be shown
to is very common and almost impossible for you to prevent, especially if
it’s a US company. You see, the most hypocritically named law in US
history, the so-called USA Patriot Act, says that Big Brother’s police can
collect just about all the data that companies maintain about individuals.
Not just companies, but other organizations too, like public libraries. The
police can get this massively, without even going to court. Now, in a
country that was founded on an idea of freedom, there is nothing more
unpatriotic than this. But this is what they did. So you mustn’t ever trust
any of your data to a US company. And they say that foreign subsidiaries of
US companies are subject to this as well, so the company you are directly
dealing with may be in Europe, but if it’s owned by a US company, you got
the same problem to deal with.
However, this is mainly a concern when the data you are sending to the
service is not for publication. There are some services where you publish
things. Of course, if you publish something, you know everybody is gonna be
able to see it. So, there is no way they can hurt you by showing it to
somebody who wasn’t supposed to see it. There is nobody who wasn’t supposed
to see it if you publish it. So in that case the problem doesn’t exist.
So these are four sub-issues of this one threat of abusing our data. The
idea of theFreedom Box project <https://www.freedomboxfoundation.org/> is
you have your own server in your own home, and when you want to do
something remotely, you do it with your own server, and the police have to
get a court order in order to search your server. So you have the same
rights this way that you would have traditionally in the physical world.
The point here and in so many other issues is: as we start doing things
digitally instead of physically, we shouldn’t lose any of our rights,
because the general tendency is that we do lose rights.
Basically, Stallman’s law says that, in an epoch when governments work for
the mega-corporations instead of reporting to their citizens, every
technological change can be taken advantage of to reduce our freedom.
Because reducing our freedom is what these governments want to do. So the
question is: when do they get an opportunity? Well, any change that happens
for some other reason is a possible opportunity, and they will take
advantage of it if that’s their general desire.
But the other issue with internet services is that they can take control of
your computing, and that’s not so commonly known. But It’s becoming more
common. There are services that offer to do computing for you on data
supplied by you — things that you should do on your own computer but they
invite you to let somebody else’s computer do that computing work for you.
And the result is you lose control over it. It’s just as if you used a
Two different scenarios but they lead to the same problem. If you do your
computing with a non-free program — well, the users don’t control the
non-free program, it controls the users, which would include you. So you’ve
lost control of the computing that’s being done. But if you do your
computing in his server — well, the programs that are doing it are the ones
he chose. You can’t touch them or see them, so you have no control over
them. He has control over them — maybe.
If they are free software and he installs them, then he has control over
them. But even he might not have control. He might be running a proprietary
program in his server, in which case it’s somebody else who has control of
the computing being done in his server. He doesn’t control it and you don’t.
But suppose he installs a free program, then he has control over the
computing being done in his computer, but you don’t. So, either way, you
don’t! So the only way to have control over your computing is to do it with
*your copy* of a free program.
This practice is called « Software as a Service ». It means doing your
computing with your data in somebody else’s server. And I don’t know of
anything that can make this acceptable. It’s always something that takes
away your freedom, and the only solution I know of is to refuse. For
instance, there are servers that will do translation or voice recognition,
and you are letting them have control over this computing activity, which
we shouldn’t ever do.
Of course, we are also giving them data about ourselves which they
shouldn’t have. Imagine if you had a conversation with somebody through a
voice-recognition translation system that was Software as as Service and
it’s really running on a server belonging to some company. That company
also gets to know what was said in the conversation, and if it’s a US
company that means Big Brother also gets to know. This is no good.
The next threat to our freedom in a digital society is using computers for
voting. You can’t trust computers for voting. Whoever controls the software
in those computers has the power to commit undetectable fraud. Elections
are special. Because there’s nobody involved that we dare trust fully.
Everybody has to be checked, crosschecked by others, so that nobody is in
the position to falsify the results by himself. Because if anybody is in a
position to do that, he might do it! So our traditional systems for voting
were designed so that nobody was fully trusted, everybody was being checked
by others. So that nobody could easily commit fraud. But once you introduce
a program, this is impossible! How can you tell if a voting machine would
honestly count the votes? You’d have to study the program that’s running in
it during the election, which of course nobody can do, and most people
wouldn’t even know how to do. But even the experts who might theoretically
be capable of studying the program, they can’t do it while people are
voting. They’d have to do it in advance, and then how do they know that the
program they studied is the one that’s running while pople vote? Maybe it’s
been changed. Now, if this program is proprietary, that means some company
controls it. The election authority can’t even tell what that program is
doing. Well, this company then could rig the election. There are
accusations that this was done in the US in the past ten years, that
election results were falsified this way.
But what if the program is free software? That means the election authority
who owns this voting machine has control over the software in it, so the
election authority could rig the election. You can’t trust them either. You
don’t dare trust *anybody* in voting, and the reason is, there’s no way
that the voters can verify for themselves that their votes were correctly
counted, nor that false votes were not added.
In other activities of life, you can usually tell if somebody is trying to
cheat you. Consider for instance buying something from a store. You order
something, maybe you give a credit card number. If the product doesn’t
come, you can complain and you can — of course if you got a good enough
memory you will — notice if that product doesn’t come. You’re not just
giving total blind trust to the store, because you can *check*. But in
elections you can’t check.
I saw once a paper where someone described a theoretical system for voting
which uses some sophisticated mathematics so that people could check that
their votes had been counted, even though everybody’s vote was secret, and
they could also verify that false votes hadn’t been added. It was very
exciting, powerful mathematics; but even if that mathematics is correct,
that doesn’t mean the system would be acceptable to use in practice,
because the vulnerabilities of a real system might be outside of that
mathematics. For instance, suppose you’re voting over the Internet and
suppose you’re using a machine that’s a zombie. It might tell you that the
vote was sent for A while actually sending a vote for B. Who knows whether
you’d ever find out? In practice, the only way to see if these systems work
and are honest is through years, in fact decades, of trying them and
checking in other ways what happened.
I wouldn’t want my country to be the pioneer in this. So, use paper for
voting. Make sure there are ballots that can be recounted.
The war on sharing
The next threat to our freedom in a digital society comes from the war on
One of the tremendous benefits of digital technology is that it is easy to
copy published works and share these copies with others. Sharing is good,
and with digital technology, sharing is easy. So, millions of people share.
Those who profit by having power over the distribution of these works don’t
want us to share. And since they are businesses, governments which have
betrayed their people and work for the empire of mega-corporations try to
serve those businesses, they are against their own people, they are for the
businesses, for the publishers.
Well, that’s not good. And with the help of these governments, the
companies have been waging *war* on sharing, and they’ve proposed a series
of cruel draconian measures. Why do they propose cruel draconian measures?
Because nothing less has a chance of success: when something is good and
easy, people do it. The only way to stop them is by being very nasty. So of
course, what they propose is nasty, nasty, and the next one is nastier. So
they tried suing teenagers for hundreds of thousands of dollars — that was
pretty nasty. And they tried turning our technology against us, Digital
Restrictions Management that means, digital handcuffs.
But among the people there were clever programmers too and they found ways
to break the handcuffs. For instance, DVDs were designed to have encrypted
movies in a secret encryption format, and the idea was that all the
programs to decrypt the video would be proprietary with digital handcuffs.
They would all be designed to restrict the users. And their scheme worked
okay for a while. But some people in Europe figured out the encryption and
they released a free program that could actually play the video on a DVD.
Well, the movie companies didn’t leave it there. They went to the US
congress and bought a law making that software illegal. The United States
invented censorship of software in 1998, with the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act [DMCA]. So the distribution of that free program was
forbidden in the United States. Unfortunately it didn’t stop with the
United States. The European Union adopted a directive in 2003 requiring
such laws. The directive only says that commercial distribution has to be
banned, but just about every country in the European Union has adopted a
nastier law. In France, the mere possession of a copy of that program is an
offense punished by imprisonment, thanks to Sarkozy. I believe that was
done by the law DADVSI. I guess he hoped that with an unpronounceable name,
people wouldn’t be able to criticize it.
So, elections are coming. Ask the candidates in the parties: will you
repeal the DADVSI? And if not, don’t support them. You mustn’t give up lost
moral territory forever. You’ve got to fight to win it back.
So, we still are fighting against digital handcuffs. The Amazon “Swindle”
has digital handcuffs to take away the traditional freedoms of readers to
do things such as: give a book to someone else, or lend a book to someone
else. That’s a vitally important social act. That is what builds society
among people who read: lending books. Amazon doesn’t want to let people
lend books freely. And then there is also selling a book, perhaps to a used
bookstore. You can’t do that either.
It looked for a while as if DRM had disappeared on music, but now they’re
bringing it back with streaming services such as Spotify. These services
all require proprietary client software, and the reason is so they can put
digital handcuffs on the users. So, reject them! They already showed quite
openly that you can’t trust them, because first they said: “you can listen
as much as you like.”, and then they said: “Oh, no! You can only listen a
certain number of hours a month.” The issue is not whether that particular
change was good or bad, just or unjust; the point is, they have the power
to impose any change in policies. So don’t let them have that power. You
should have your own copy of any music you want to listen to.
And then came the next assault on our freedom: HADOPI, basically punishment
on accusation. It was started in France but it’s been exported to many
other countries. The United States now demand such unjust policies in its
free exploitation treaties. A few months ago, Columbia adopted such a law
under orders from its masters in Washington. Of course, the ones in
Washington are not the real masters, they’re just the ones who control the
United States on behalf of the Empire. But they’re the ones who also
dictate to Columbia on behalf of the Empire.
In France, since the Constitutional Council objected to explicity giving
people punishment without trial, they invented a kind of trial which is not
a real trial, which is just a form of a trial, so they can *pretend* that
people have a trial before they’re punished. But in other countries they
don’t bother with that, it’s explicit punishment on accusation only. Which
means that for the sake of their war on sharing, they’re prepared to
abolish the basic principles of justice. It shows how thoroughly
anti-freedom anti-justice they are. These are not legitimate governments.
And I’m sure they’ll come up with more nasty ideas because they’re paid to
defeat the people no matter what it takes. Now, when they do this, they
always say that it’s for the sake of the artists, that they have “protect”
the “creators.” Now those are both propaganda terms. I ‘m convinced that
the reason they love the word “creators“ is because it is a comparison with
a deity. They want us to think of artists as super-human, and thus
deserving special privileges and power over us, which is something I
In fact , the only artists that benefit very much from this system are the
big stars. The other artists are getting crushed into the ground by the
heels of these same companies. But they treat the stars very well, because
the stars have a lot of clout. If a star threatens to move to another
company, the company says: “oh, we’ll give you what you want.” But for any
other artist they say: “you don’t matter, we can treat you any way we like.”
So the superstars have been corrupted by the millions of dollars or euros
that they get, to the point where they’ll do almost anything for more
money. For instance, J. K. Rowling is a good example. J. K. Rowling, a few
years ago, went to court in Canada and obtained an order that people who
had bought her books must not read them. She got an order telling people
not to read her books.
Here’s what happened. A bookstore put the books on display for sale too
early, before the day they were supposed to go on sale. And people came
into the store and said: “oh, I want that!” and they bought it and took
away their copies. Then, they discovered the mistake and took the copies
off of display. But Rowling wanted to crush any circulation of any
information from those books, so she went to court, and the court ordered
those people not to read the books that they now owned.
In response, I call for a total boycott of Harry Potter. But I don’t say
you shouldn’t read those books or watch the movies, I only say you
shouldn’t buy the books or pay for the movies. I leave it to Rowling to
tell people not to read the books. As far as I’m concerned, if you borrow
the book and read it, that’s okay. Just don’t give her any money! But this
happened with paper books. The court could make this order but it couldn’t
get the books back from the people who had bought them. Imagine if they
were ebooks. Imagine if they were ebooks on the “Swindle”. Amazon could
send commands to erase them.
So, I don’t have much respect for stars who will go to such lengths for
more money. But most artists aren’t like that, they never got enough money
to be corrupted. Because the current system of copyright supports most
artists very badly. And so, when these companies demand to expand the war
on sharing, supposedly for the sake of the artists, I’m against what they
want but I would like to support the artists better. I appreciate their
work and I realize if we want them to do more work we should support them.
[Supporting the arts]
I have two proposals for how to support artists, methods that are
compatible with sharing. That would allow us to end the war on sharing and
still support artists.
One method uses tax money. We get a certain amount of public funds to
distribute among artists. But, how much should each artist get? We have to
The current system supposedly supports artists based on their popularity.
So I’m saying let’s keep that, let’s continue on this system based on
popularity. We can measure the popularity of all the artists with some kind
of polling or sampling, so that we don’t have to do surveillance. We can
respect people’s anonymity.
We get a raw popularity figure for each artist, how do we convert that into
an amount of money? The obvious way is: distribute the money in proportion
to popularity. So if A is a thousand times as popular as B, A will get a
thousand times as much money as B. That’s not efficient distribution of the
money. It’s not putting the money to good use. It’s easy for a star A to be
a thousand times as popular as a fairly successful artist B. If we use
linear proportion, we’ll give A a thousand times as much money as we give
B. And that means that, either we have to make A tremendously rich, or we
are not supporting B enough.
The money we use to make A tremendously rich is failing to do an effective
job of supporting the arts; so, it’s inefficient. Therefore I say: let’s
use the cube root. Cube root looks sort of like this. The point is: if A is
a thousand times as popular as B, with the cube root A will get ten times
as much as B, not a thousand times as much, just ten times as much. The use
of the cube root shifts a lot of the money from the stars to the artists of
moderate popularity. And that means, with less money we can adequately
support a much larger number of artists.
There are two reasons why this system would use less money than we pay now.
First of all because it would be supporting artists but not companies,
second because it would shift the money from the stars to the artists of
moderate popularity. Now, it would remain the case that the more popular
you are, the more money you get. So the star A would still get more than B,
but not astronomically more.
That’s one method, and because it won’t be so much money it doesn’t matter
so much how we get the money. It could be from a special tax on Internet
connectivity, it could just be some of the general budget that gets
allocated to this purpose. We won’t care because it won’t be so much money;
much less than we’re paying now.
The other method I’ve proposed is voluntary payments. Suppose each player
had a button you could use to send one euro. A lot of people would send it,
after all it’s not that much money. I think a lot of you might push that
button every day, to give one euro to some artist who had made a work that
you liked. But nothing would demand this, you wouldn’t be required or
ordered or pressured to send the money; you would do it because you felt
like it. But there are some people who wouldn’t do it because they’re poor
and they can’t afford to give one euro. And it’s good that they won’t give
it, we don’t have to squeeze money out of poor people to support the
artists. There are enough non poor people who’ll be happy to do it. Why
wouldn’t you give one euro to some artists today, if you appreciated their
work? It’s too inconvenient to give it to them. So my proposal is to remove
the inconvenience. If the only reason not to give that euro is [that ] you
would have one euro less, you would do it fairly often.
So these are my two proposals for how to support artists, while encouraging
sharing because sharing is good. Let’s put an end to the war on sharing,
laws like DADVSI and HADOPI, it’s not just the methods that they propose
that are evil, their purpose is evil. That’s why they propose cruel and
draconian measures. They’re trying to do something that’s nasty by nature.
So let’s support artists in other ways.
[Rights in cyberspace]
The last threat to our freedom in digital society is the fact that we don’t
have a firm right to do the things we do, in cyberspace. In the physical
world, if you have certain views and you want to give people copies of a
text that defends those views, you’re free to do so. You could even buy a
printer to print them, and you’re free to hand them out on the street, or
you’re free to rent a store and hand them out there. If you want to collect
money to support your cause, you can just have a can and people could put
money into the can. You don’t need to get somebody else’s approval or
cooperation to do these things.
But, in the Internet, you do need that. For instance if want to distribute
a text on the Internet, you need companies to help you do it. You can’t do
it by yourself. So if you want to have a website, you need the support of
an ISP or a hosting company, and you need a domain name registrar. You need
them to continue to let you do what you’re doing. So you’re doing it
effectively on sufferance, not by right.
And if you want to receive money, you can’t just hold out a can. You need
the cooperation of a payment company. And we saw that this makes all of our
digital activities vulnerable to suppression. We learned this when the
United States government launched a “distributed denial of service attack” [
against WikiLeaks. Now I’m making a bit of joke because the words
“distributed denial of service attack” usually refer to a different kind of
attack. But they fit perfectly with what the United States did. The United
States went to the various kinds of network services that WikiLeaks
depended on, and told them to cut off service to WikiLeaks. And they did.
For instance, WikiLeaks had rented a virtual Amazon server, and the US
government told Amazon: “cut off service for WikiLeaks.” And it did,
arbitrarily. And then, Amazon had certain domain names such as as
wikileaks.org, the US government tried to get all those domains shut off.
But it didn’t succeed, some of them were outside its control and were not
Then, there were the payment companies. The US went to PayPal, and said:
“Stop transferring money to WikiLeaks or we’ll make life difficult for
you.” And PayPal shut off payments to WikiLeaks. And then it went to Visa
and Mastercard and got them to shut off payments to WikiLeaks. Others
started collecting money on WikiLeaks behalf and their account were shut
off too. But in this case, maybe something can be done. There’s a company
in Iceland which began collecting money on behalf of WikiLeaks, and so Visa
and Mastercard shut off its account; it couldn’t receive money from its
customers either. Now, that business is suing Visa and Mastercard
apparently, under European Union law, because Visa and Mastercard together
have a near-monopoly. They’re not allowed to arbitrarily deny service to
Well, this is an example of how things need to be for all kinds of services
that we use in the Internet. If you rented a store to hand out statements
of what you think, or any other kind of information that you can lawfully
distribute, the landlord couldn’t kick you out just because he didn’t like
what you were saying. As long as you keep paying the rent, you have the
right to continue in that store for a certain agreed-on period of time that
you signed. So you have some rights that you can enforce. And they couldn’t
shut off your telephone line because the phone company doesn’t like what
you said or because some powerful entity didn’t like what you said and
threatened the phone company. No! As long as you pay the bills and obey
certain basic rules, they can’t shut off your phone line. This is what it’s
like to have some rights!
Well, if we move our activities from the physical world to the virtual
world, then either we have the same rights in the virtual world, or we have
been harmed. So, the precarity of all our Internet activities is the last
of the menaces I wanted to mention.
Now I’d like to say that for more information about free software, look at
GNU.org <http://www.gnu.org/>. Also look at fsf.org <http://www.fsf.org/>,
which is the website of the Free Software Foundation. You can go there and
find many ways you can help us, for instance. You can also become a member
of the Free Software Foundation through that site. […] There is also the
Free Software Foundation of Europe fsfe.org <http://www.fsfe.org/>. You can
join FSF Europe also. […]
[Auction of an “adorable GNU.” Highest bid was €420!]
This transcription was done <http://etherpad.fsfe.org/Mh8Fateg0a> by: Loki,
Thérèse, duthils, regisrob, mrMuggles, Moonwalker, Hugo …and 1 unnamed
author. A *big thanks* to them! The transcription of Richard Stallman’s
lecture, as well as the video, are licensed under the
3.0 license <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0/>.
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