If you don't know who Richard Stallman is, you probably haven't written much software. But that's okay, since the csclub does. They hosted a talk at the University of Waterloo on "Copyright and Community" June 6, 2007.
He first gave an introduction to the FSF, and free software in general. He then went over the four freedoms he uses to define if software is truly free. The supplied link definitely goes over it in more depth, but simply stated, they are:
- freedom 0: The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
- freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
Stallman then went on to go through the history of copyright and copying technologies. His main emphasis was that we've gone full circle, with copying individually via pen and paper, to copying individually with a computer. The differences between these two periods is the expansion of copyright law. However, I will not summarize his summary of the history. If you want a good basis for this, I'd suggest a book that Jay just lent me Free Culture, which goes over this rather well. I'm sure the other usual sources would work well.
Stallman sees copyright law as a bargain between the public and the class of all potential authors, as negotiated by the government. Which, would work, if the large IP holders didn't have so much influence in the systems. It seems likely that, in the States, copyright terms are tending towards being infinitely long. No new works have entered American public domain since 1923 due to copyright expiration. Moreover, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), basically allows publishers to write their own copyright laws for each individual work, since it makes it illegal to break or bypass encrypted works. Thus, if something isn't allowed by the original software, then it broke the DMCA, and was illegal, even if it was "fair use".
He then continued on how he should see copyright re-negotiated. First, he outlined three categories of copyrightable works.
- practical works, that is works that have a functional purpose and are used to do jobs (software, recipes, educational materials)
- expressions of thought, such as memoirs, scientific journals and essays
- arts and entertainment, for more typical copyrightable items, such as books, movies and music
So, for each category, there is a unique play between what the public needs and wants to do with the work, and protections the author should receive for making it.
For practical works, Stallman sees that all four freedoms must apply. In order to be in control of our own life actions, we need to be in control of the tools we use in our lives, thus all software should be open source, all recipes should be freely distributable, and educational materials should be redistributable to your neighbour. In general, I agree that having these freedoms are important, in the general sense. I'm less sold on the fact that the freedom to redistribute copies is necessary for my freedom of software use. But I think that would be debate for a whole other post.
For things where creating derivatives is less important, expressions of thought, (as direct derivatives of, say a journal gives only negative value), concessions to these freedoms must be made. So here, freedoms zero and two should apply.
Lastly, Stallman considered creative works. Books, movies and the like. Here a specific term of copyright, he argued, should be given. This term should be no more than 10 years. According to Stallman, this term should be as short as possible. He also argued that you should still have the freedom to redistribute unchanged copies to your neighbour. He depicted a gift economy for music in particular. Let individuals copy music (non-commercially) as much as they like from whomever they like, and if you could build a button into every media player that would give a dollar. His logic was that since the average person spends 20-40 dollars a year on buying music, and about 1 dollar of that 20 goes to the artist directly people would only need to press the donate button once or twice per year for as much music as they want to listen to. Since this system cuts out the middleman of distribution and promotion, it can also cut out the margins they receive. Then the monies could be redistributed to the artists from this pool of donations based on, say the cube root of their popularity, so that there's an effective cap that the popular artists hit.
I'm not entirely convinced that gift economies work, so I'm not sure how I feel on this. Likely, I'd see redistributions being handled much like our blank media royalties are here in Canada, with all the governmental efficiency we can muster. I also would see this as an almost impossible undertaking to become pervasive in the laws of large countries, making the system pretty much lip service. Assuming such a system for music compensation doesn't exist, however, was no point made upon. Otherwise, though, a shorter copyright term is a good thing to the public. Stallman noted that the average book is out of print in 2-3 years. So why does it need 120 years of copyright?
The talk was interesting. If you want to watch the whole thing, it will be available on the CSClub's media page. At the very least, I got to meet the man who wrote so many of the commands I use on a daily basis.