Following orders

Recently I’ve wrote about how freetards on OSNews and Slashdot condone piracy but are in arms about GPL violations. To the layman this behavior might be surprising, but actually they are just following the examples of their spiritual leader.

I’ve covered the hypocrisy of Richard Stallman and the FSF before, but the copyright situation is such a blatant case of astounding hypocrisy, that I feel this deserves one more post.

So, rms is pissed about recording companies enforcing their copyright:

http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/letters/articles
/2007/03/13/let_free_music_files_ring/

THE RECORD companies, seeking to bully people who share music, have demanded that colleges identify students who share (“Record firms crack down on campuses,” Business, March 8). They use smear terms such as “piracy” and “theft” that imply sharing is wrong. Don’t believe it. Sharing is friendship; to attack sharing is to attack the basis of society.

But how is the FSF acting if their copyright is infringed?

Well:

Under the license, if you distribute GPL software in a product, you must also distribute the software’s source code. And not just the GPL code, but also the code for any “derivative works” you’ve created–even if publishing that code means anyone can now make a knockoff of your product.

…..

And if they balk? Kuhn raises the threat of legal action. “We defend the rights protected by the GPL license,” he says. “We have legal teeth, so if someone does not share and share alike, we can make them obey the rules.”

….

In fact, the Free Software Foundation runs a lot of these “enforcement actions.” There are 30 to 40 going on right now, and there were 50 last year, Kuhn says. There have been hundreds since 1991, when the current version of the GPL was published, he says. Tracking down bad guys has become such a big operation that the Free Software Foundation has created a so-called Compliance Lab to snoop out violators and bust them.

Who pays for this? The 12-employee Free Software Foundation has limited resources. So it seeks donations. And sometimes it collects money from companies it has busted.

Last year, the foundation alleged that OpenTV, a San Francisco company that ships a set-top box containing Linux, was violating the GPL. The drama took months to resolve and ended with OpenTV writing a check for $65,000 to the Free Software Foundation. “They paid us a very substantial payment for our time and trouble,” Moglen says.

In some ways, these Free Software Foundation “enforcement actions” can be more dangerous than a typical copyright spat, because usually copyright holders seek money–say, royalties on the product that infringing companies are selling. But the Free Software Foundation doesn’t want royalties–it wants you to burn down your house, or at the very least share it with cloners.

Or maybe, as some suggest, the foundation wants GPL-covered code to creep into commercial products so it can use GPL to force open those products. Kuhn says that’s nuts–“pure propaganda rhetoric.” But he concedes that his foundation hates the way companies like Oracle and Microsoft generate billions of dollars by selling software licenses. “We’d like people to stop selling proprietary software. It’s bad for the world,” Kuhn says.

http://www.forbes.com/2003/10/14/cz_dl_1014linksys.html

This article is from 2003 but the situation today is basically the same

So, why is it moral for the FSF to enforce their copyright and immoral if others do it? Note that the FSF even encourages copyright infringement on their newspeak-page:

If you don’t believe that copying not approved by the publisher is just like kidnapping and murder, you might prefer not to use the word “piracy” to describe it. Neutral terms such as “unauthorized copying” (or “prohibited copying” for the situation where it is illegal) are available for use instead. Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term such as “sharing information with your neighbor.”

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Piracy

The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. The same organization, who persecutes copyright violators, ENDORSES copyright violation (!) of others out of sheer antipathy to traditional copyright holders.

I would say the policies of the FSF are in some cases even less moral than those of the recording companies. If file sharers are persecuted, well, at least you can say that they got busted for violating something that was completeley not their own work. But, let’s say I would create out of Gnumeric a killer application that would even make Excel look like outdated trash. Under the GPL, I would need to give away my whole application, even if my work exceeeds the original work by far.

I am not, in general, opposed to the actions carried out by the FSF. If you want to use/extend GPL’ed software, then it’s your own choice and you should live with the implications and honor the license. The problem is, Stallman and his goonies don’t have the same respect for others.

Stallman brings forth some justifications for his hypocrisy:

To stop people from sharing goes against human nature, and the Orwellian propaganda that “sharing is theft” usually falls on deaf ears.

Well, making money is pretty much human nature, too. How would the FSF react, if I would encourage people to violate the GPL?

Accumulating wealth is human nature. That’s why you should be able to create closed source software out of existing FOSS products. Don’t use the term “GPL violation”, Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term such as feeding your family

Stallman: Sharing continues despite these measures; the human impulse to cooperate is strong

The human impulse for committing crimes is pretty strong, too. And crime never stopped. Is this an argument? He also somehow never sees that the main impetus for many people in this case is not really “sharing”.

The real solution is to legalize sharing. This won’t affect the record companies much, but if they did go out of business, we could rejoice that they can no longer threaten anyone.

They pay zero cents of your CD purchase price to musicians (except for superstars), so the absence of these companies would be no loss to society.

This is a problem between the artists and the companies. What has this to do with file sharing as such?  Illegal file sharing exists since well over a decade now, and it has not improved the situation of musicians. How does it help the artists in any way, if the companies completely vanish? They get little now, they will get nothing at the end.

We could support musical artists with public funds distributed directly to them in proportion to the cube root of their popularity. Using the cube root means that if superstar A is 1000 times as popular as skilled artist B, A will get 10 times as much of the tax funds as B. This way of dividing the money is an efficient way to promote a broad diversity of music.

These funds could come from the general budget, or from a special tax on something vaguely correlated with listening to music, such as blank disks or Internet connectivity. Either way would do the job.

Or we could just buy the stuff we want! Ah, wait..

It’s questionable whether that will flawlessly work. And I doubt whether the general public will readily accept, to subsidy basically all entertainment that can be digitized on such a large scale. Movies, ebooks and games can be file-shared too, and thus would fall under this tax. Essentially,  most of the entertainment industry would be quasi state-run.

And if all this would be indeed financed by the general budget, then Stallman’s endless “ethical and moral” diatribes don’t hold water:

Buying entertainment products is entirely voluntary. You won’t get harmed in any way, if you don’t listen to the newest Britney Spears CD. We are not talking about food and medical drugs here.

Likewise, pirating them is entirely voluntary, too. No one is forcing you at knifepoint to do it.

So, financing pretty much the whole entertainment industry with taxes (take into account, how much modern games and movies cost to make ), just to legalize piracy, is not that “ethical”. If you want to go that route, then these vast sums of money would be far better invested in true social programs, like health care, public transportation, support for the poor and the like.

But anyway, enough. This is not about the pros and cons of file sharing.  The FSF and Stallman invent pseudo-moralistic arguments to deny the very same right they use with a vengeance.

I don’t agree with the recording companies on many things, and I think fining teenagers thousands of dollars is ridiculous and not appropriate, but this doesn’t change the fact that Stallman and the FSF are hypocrites. If you say it’s OK to circumvent copyright, then it’s OK to circumvent copyright. End. I can invent tons of excuses to breach the GPL, too.

Stallman and the FSF act in the dangerous delusion that everything they say and do is genuinely good and moral. And that’s why certain laws should only work for them. No other mindset is more dangerous than this one.

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5 responses to “Following orders

  1. I wouldn’t call it hypocrisy. The FSF’s motives are fairly clear. They want all the world’s software and all the world’s media (to a lesser extent) to respect the so called four freedoms. They are against copyright in cases it is used to violate the four freedoms, and they are for copyright in cases it is used to support the four freedoms.

  2. @Joe, that is exactly hypocrisy, the life is more than 4 freedoms, if I give you a software with no source, you have the freedom to use it, but if you want the source code, there is nothing you can do to get the sources until I’ll give it to you, because I’m free to do it, bitch! (sorry for that :P). This is a freedom that doesn’t exist in the GNU Manifesto, and there are a lot more of curse.

    But Stallman’s vision of the world simply doesn’t fit in this world, Stallman wants respect for their four freedoms, but where is the freedom of the musicians to choose a representative? Where is the freedom of the creators to use the tools that their nation, government and law give to them to control their creations? Where is the respect that nations and governments give to each other to follow this freedoms, according to each nation’s laws?

    Stallman is just Hugo Chavez, taking the IP of others just because he feels right and good, but also fucks anyone who steals their work. That’s hypocrisy.

  3. The GPL a Bill of Rights for software. The Bill of Rights (US) basically is a list of restrictions (mainly upon government), designed to make it such that they are unable to affect the personal lives on the citizenry. If I am the government, the Bill of Rights is a generally bad thing for me because it limits what I am allowed to do. It’s anti-freedom from my perspective.

    The GPL is a basically a list of restrictions (mainly upon authors), designed to make it such that they are unable to affect the personal use of end users. Basically it designed to turn copyright on it’s head, hence the word “copyleft”.

  4. Eh… that sounds pretty and romantic, but isn’t true. The GPL isn’t a contract nor a “bill of restrictions” but a licence, and all the licences are enforced under copyright law. The text on the GPL are also copyrighted.

    There is no such thing as a “copyleft”. Copyleft is a term created by RMS to denote the GPL or licences similar as the GPL.

    But more important, is that if we where talking about “software freedoms” (legally there is no such thing like that) the GPL isn’t free, because I don’t have the freedom to change the licence of the software that I copy.

  5. It’s very true. There is a balance between the ‘freedom’ of government and citizen, the author being something like the government (being the so called “sovereign” over the property in question) and the end user. The FSF pushes the freedom almost entirely on the end user.

    Just like it is with government. You will find that Western philosophy tends to side more with the citizen than the government, and Eastern philosophy (especially Chinese) tends to side more with the government than the citizen. There is much merit to either approach.

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