Richard Stallman über freie Software (OSP)

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Exzerpt aus "Free as in Freedom, not Gratis! Interview with Richard Stallman" in: How Open is the Future? S. 74ff.

You seem to regard software as a social product, while the rest of the world looks at it from an economic point of view. Can you elaborate on this?

RMS: I am not sure what the term "social product" would mean. Perhaps what you mean is that I think of the use of software in ethical and social terms rather than in economic terms.

People are usually taught to think of all questions in narrow economic terms, and they apply this to software. So they think the only questions are what software is available and how much it costs to use. I'm more concerned with the social conditions of using the software. In 1984, working at MIT, I could easily have used proprietary software legally without paying, without MIT's paying. (Companies like to be able to say their software is used at MIT.) Judged by most people's narrow economic terms, my situation was perfect. But I saw that computer users did not have freedom, and I wanted to change that.

Non free software keeps users divided and helpless: divided because they have promised not to share, and helpless because none of them can tell what the program really does, let alone change it. This social system is bad for everyone. If my neighbors have promised to refuse to share with me, that hurts me — it's not just their private business. When people are part of a community and they help each other, an effort to divide them is an attack on the community.

Vergleiche: Waffenproduktion, Weltwirtschafts-System, Umweltpolitik, Gesundheitswesen ...

People sometimes argue on economic grounds that a certain program won't be developed at all unless it is proprietary. I respond that we're better off without it than having it on those terms. If using a program means I'm helpless and dependent because what the program does inside is a secret, I don't want it. If using a program means I have to promise not to share it with you, I cannot ethically accept it.

So if you face the choice of developing a program as proprietary software or not at .all, please don't develop it. Sooner or later someone else will be in a position to develop such a program and make it free. Freedom is worth the wait.


In what ways is the open-source movement a threat to the principles of free software?

RMS: People began using the term "open source" in 1998 as a way to talk about free software without mentioning the ethical and social issues that are the basis of the free software movement. They regarded this as a way to present free software to executives without making them uncomfortable. So they have adopted the narrow economic values of business. They do not talk about the issue of whether users have freedom; instead, they appeal only to short-term practical values such as how to make powerful, reliable software.

Open source ideas have persuaded programmers and companies to develop free software, and this contributes to our community. However, they fail to teach people to value freedom, and that leaves our community weak.

Their values are so different from mine that we talk completely past each other. The things that matter to me - whether you and I are free to help ourselves and help each other - they don't see them as issues.

Sie kommen nicht im Titel vor. Sie kommen gezielt nicht im Titel vor.

For the breakthrough of software, do you need ideas of genius, a perfect system, or is it all about marketing?

RMS: Marketing never makes breakthroughs in anything. That's silly. Marketing just makes people use something that wasn't necessarily best for them. Marketing never has to do with progress in any sense. Progress comes from people having ideas. If there are programmers and they are engaged in programming they'll have ideas. Some of these ideas will be good, some will be bad. Where do ideas come from? They come from confronting problems. You confront a problem and it will make part of your brain think and you'll have an idea and the idea will enable you to make some part of the program better.

Writing a program is a matter of getting a lot of details correct and consistent. Getting a program to work is as much careful, rational thought as anything in the world ever is. But of course you will get ideas that will or won't work, and they come from where ideas come from for any area: you do something and you get ideas - if you've taught yourself to be open to them.

The difference between software and physical products is that physical products are rather simple, like that projector over there. Regardless of the number of people who designed that projector, how many parts are in there? Maybe a few hundred. And still it is real work to design, and to make sure that the design will really work. And that's not always so easy. So if a product is pretty simple in number of components, in terms of the size of its design, maybe there will only be one patent for that product. So it's like, one product, one patent. If it's a new product, the one who designed it will get the patent. That's how people assume it works, and in some fields it still does (more or less).

But writing a software program is different in that it is a very complicated product of which various parts or ideas already existed.

RMS: Yes, and you couldn't make it without the ideas that already existed, even if it is new.

Imagine that the German government decided in 1780: we are going to encourage the production of symphonic music and progress in symphonic music by having a patent system for musical ideas, and any composer who has a new musical idea will get a 20 year monopoly on using that idea. So they start having thousands and thousands of music patents. Then imagine that Beethoven comes along and he wants to write a symphony. He has a bunch of new ideas about things to do in symphonic music, but he is forced to use them with older ideas to write his symphony. It he had had to thread his way through this maze of patented ideas, he would have given up.

Is there a parallel between the idea of free music and free software?

RMS: Well, Napster showed that people should have the right to redistribute music non-commercially. Even to strangers. Because that is useful. And when something is useful to society, the idea of stamping it out for the sake of corporate profit is an outrage! Of course they come up with the excuse that it is for the musicians, but look at the facts and you see that the only ones making huge profits are the music factories (as I like to call them).

Since I like music and I'm a music amateur myself, the idea of a music industry simply disgusts me. Musicians making money is good, but that is not the same as having factories mass-producing hype, getting people to like crap. The music industry should get eliminated. We should look for new ways to enable musicians to make a living from playing music so that they can devote themselves to music.

Having a way to make a living is not the same as having the possibility of getting very rich. Most musicians don't even make a decent living. The current system is very bad. It gives a lot of money to a few musicians, making them rich. It enables a larger number to barely get by. And most musicians are in a horrible situation and they are getting nothing from the copyright system. Zero. Most bands that get a record contract don't get money from it. All they get is publicity. And overall, the music-industrial complex hype gives 4 %o of its (total) sales to the musicians. So it is a very, very inefficient system for supporting musicians.

What's the alternative?

RMS: It's not hard to find a better system. What I propose is this: we should have a convenient cash payment system on the internet, so you could easily send somebody a few euro, and then when you play a piece of music, on the screen there will be a box and by just clicking you send the musician - let's say about 50 cent. Who is going to say "no" to such a small amount? So I think in the developed parts of the world, where people have the money to pay, they will do so. It will become a cultural thing.

Some people always donate to street musicians, others don't. The point is that they won't get more money by selling the CD. But you as music lover have to pay a lot more than that! If you do it the official way, you pay 25 times that money. So fans of musicians, who really love these musicians, will pay a small fee. And if you have twice as much money people participating, you get twice as much money. I think the system will work once it is made available to enough people, once you have attained the critical mass.


The send-the-money scheme wouldn't work for software, though.

RMS: Software is different. Software is functional, not artistic primarily. In that it resembles other things, like recipes, dictionaries and textbooks. They are all functional. The main purpose or reason why people want them is to get something done. For functional works it is vital for people to have the freedom to have modified versions, even commercially. The result is that you look at a typical free software package, you see that many different people have contributed to it, so if you want to send money, whom tto you send it to? That becomes difficult, you see.

But with a piece of recorded music there is not much you can usefully do to modify It. Yes, people will find some things, they are going to do sampling, and I think we can handle those kinds of things. But modifying it the way we modify programs doesn't happen and isn't feasible. So it will be enough to give the public in general the permission only for verbatim copying, in which case it is obvious who to send the money to. The send-the-money scheme works in that case. It wouldn't work as well for software. Fortunately, in the case of free software we have a vibrant free software community already developing lots of software. So we don't have a problem, or you could say we are solving the problem in various different ways already, with different solutions all together.

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