I had the pleasure of going to a public meeting to hear Richard Stallman speak about ‘Copyright vs community in the age of computer networks’. Stallman is the founder and president of the Free Software Foundation (fsf.com).
Ostensibly Stallman’s talk was on how copyright was developed in the age of the printing press and was designed to fit with the system of centralised copying imposed by the printing press as an industry standard and not a legal process. But after settling us in with a few jokes it became clear that Stallman is an advocate for free software and quite good at the politics of expressing these ideals. He was very convincing. It took a while before people realised they were being preached to in a sense but eventually people started to peel off (generally well dressed software engineers who didn’t like being told they should be giving their work away for free I imagine ;)
Stallman had some great ideas about the egalitarian distribution of software and I began to wonder who he was to speak on the matter with such authority.
Stallman is himself a software engineer and in fact created an alternative operating system called GNU. He is also quite famous in the ICT world for creating a program called ‘Emax’ in the 80’s as I was later told by a fellow attendee.
Stallman’s talk ended with a question time that he further used to expound his own philosophies rather than engaging on an equal footing with his admiring public. Just when we thought we were free to go he instigated an auction for a small plush toy – an “adorable GNU”. I watched in amazement as the bids went up from $10 to $100 and were still coming in thick and fast. I must admit, I did not understand the cause behind the auction though Stallman told us it was for ‘charity’. In a way he was right I suppose – what if we did all have access to free software of every description? Would it be a Utopian world?
Later I interviewed the winner of the precious GNU toy which sold for $170 to a software engineer. “If you think about all the free software I’ve gotten from them [fsf] over the years, $170 is nothing really. It was worth every cent”.
My advice is, if you’re a hungry student, go to all the public lectures you can! You might learn something, meet people of varying degrees of celebrity but best of all, you can enjoy free triangle sandwiches and fruit platters!!!
WHAT IS GNU?
"Dr Stallman launched the development of the GNU operating system in 1984 which is free software -- everyone has the freedom to copy it and redistribute it, as well as to make changes either large or small.
The GNU/Linux system, basically the GNU operating system with Linux added, is used on tens of millions of computers today.
Dr Stallman has received the ACM Grace Hopper Award, a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer award, and the Takeda Award for Social/Economic Betterment, as well as several honorary doctorates" UOW website, accessed: 12/10/2010 http://media.uow.edu.au/news/UOW088113.html