Copyright versus community: questions and discussion

First of all, what time is the next talk? What time is it now?

Me: The time is quarter past three.

RMS: Oh really? So I'm late already? Well I hope Melanie will permit me to accept a few questions.

AM6 (Audience member 6): Who will decide in which of your three categories will a work fit?

RMS: I don't know. I'm sure there are various ways of deciding. You can probably tell a novel when you see one. I suspect judges can tell a novel when they see one too.

AM7: Any comment on encryption? And the interaction of encryption devices with copyrighted materials?

RMS: Well, encryption is being used as a means of controlling the public. The publishers are trying to impose various encryption systems on the public so that they can block the public from copying. Now they call these things technological methods, but really they all rest on laws prohibiting people from by-passing them, and without those laws none of these methods would accomplish its purpose, so they are all based on direct government intervention to stop people from copying and I object to them very strongly, and I will not accept those media. If as a practical matter the means to copy something are not available to me I won't buy it, and I hope you won't buy it either.

AM8: In France we have a law that says that even if the media is protected you have the right to copy again for backup purpose

RMS: Yes it used to be that way in the US as well until 2 years ago.

AM8: Very often you sign an agreement that is illegal in France... the contract you are supposed to sign with a mouse...

RMS: Well, maybe they're not.

AM8: How can we get it challenged?

RMS: [rhetorically] Well are you going to challenge them? It costs money, it takes trouble, and not only that, how would you do it? Well, you could either try to go to a court and say, ≥"They have no right to ask people to sign this contract because it is an invalid contract≤" but that might be difficult if the distributor is in the US. French law about what is a valid contract couldn't be used to stop them in the US. On the other hand you could also say ≥"I signed this contract but it;s not valid in France so I am publicly disobeying, and I challenge them to sue me.≤" Now that you might consider doing, and if you're right and the laws are not valid in France then the case would get thrown out. I don't know. Maybe that is a good idea to do, I don't know whether, what its effects politically would be. I know that there was just a couple of years ago a law was passed in Europe to prohibit some kind of private copying of music, and the record companies trotted out some famous very popular musicians to push for this law and they got it, so it's clear that they have a lot of influence here too, and it's possible that they will get more, just pass another law to change this. We have to think about the political strategy for building the constituency to resist such changes and the actions we take should be designed to accomplish that. Now, I'm no expert on how to accomplish that in Europe but that's what people should think about.

AM6: What about protection of private correspondence?

RMS: Well, if you're not [emphasis] publishing [/emphasis] it that's a completely different issue.

AM6: No, but if I send an email to somebody, that's automatically under my copyright.

RMS: [forcefully] That's entirely irrelevant actually.

AM6: No, I don't accept that. If they're going to publish it in a newspaper. At the moment my redress is my copyright.

RMS: Well, you can't make him keep secret the contents and I'm not sure actually. I mean to me, I think there's some injustice in that. If you for example, send a letter to somebody threatening to sue him and then you tell him you can't tell anbody I did this because my threat is copyrighted, that's pretty obnoxious, and I'm not sure that it would even be upheld.

AM6: Well, there are circumstances where I want to correspond with someone and keep my (and their) reply, entirely private.

RMS: Well if you and they agree to keep it private, then that's a different matter entirely. I'm sorry the two issues can not be linked, and I don't have time to consider that issue today. There's another talk scheduled to start soon. But I think it is a total mistake for copyright to apply to such situations. The ethics of those situations are completely different from the ethics of published works and so they should be treated in an appropriate way, which is completely different.

AM6: That's fair enough, but at the moment the only redress one has is copyright...

RMS: [interrupts] No you're wrong. If people have agreed to keep something private then you have other redress. In Europe there are privacy laws, and the other thing is, you don't have a right to force someone to keep secrets for you. At most, you could force him to paraphrase it, because he has a right to tell people what you did.

AM6: Yes, but I assuming that the two people at either end are both in reasonable agreement.

RMS: Well then, don't say that copyright is your only recourse. If he's in agreement he isn't going to give it to a newspaper is he?

AM6: No, er, you're sidestepping my question about interception.

RMS: Oh interception. That's a totally different... [heatedly] no you didn't ask about interception. This is the first time you mentioned interception...

AM6: No it's the second time.

AM9: [murmurs assent to AM6]

RMS: [still heated] Well I didn't hear you before... it's totally silly... it's like trying to... oh how can I compare?... it's like trying to kill an elephant with a waffle iron I mean they have nothing to do with each other.

[uninterpretable silence falls]

AM10: Have you thought about changes [inaudible, in trade secrets?]

RMS: Uh yes: Trade secrets has developed in a very ominous and menacing direction. It used to be that trade secrecy meant that you wanted to keep something secret so you didn't tell anybody, and later on it was something that was done within a business telling just a few people something and they would agree to keep it secret. But now, it's turning into something where the public in general is becoming conscripted into keeping secrets for business even if they have never agreed in any way to keep these secrets and that's a pressure. So those who pretend that trade secrecy is just carrying out some natural right of theirs; that's just not true any more. They're getting explicit government help in forcing other people to keep their secrets. And we might want to consider whether non-disclosure agreements should in general be considered legitimate contracts because of the anti-social nature of trade secrecy it shouldn't be considered automatic that just because somebody has promised to keep a secret that that means it's binding.

Maybe in some cases it should be and in some cases it should not be. If there's a clear public benefit from knowing then maybe that should invalidate the contract, or maybe it should be valid when it is signed with customers or maybe between a business and a, maybe when a business supplies secrets to its suppliers that should be legitimate, but to its customers, no.

There are various possibilities one can think of, but at the very start anybody who hasn't voluntarily agreed to keep the secrets should not be bound by trade secrecy. That's the way it was until not long ago. Maybe it still is that way in Europe, I'm not sure.

AM11: Is is OK for a company to ask say its...

RMS: employees?

AM11: No no

RMS: suppliers?

AM11: yes, suppliers. What if the customer is another supplier?

[gap as minidisk changed]

RMS: Let's start by not encouraging it.

AM12: I have a question regarding your opinion on the scientific work on journals and textbooks. In my profession at least one official journal and textbook are available on-line, but they retain copyright, but there is free access to the resources provided they have internet access.

RMS: Well, that's good. But there are many journals where it is not like that. For example, the ACM journals you can't access unless you are a subscriber: they're blocked. So I think journals should all start opening up access on the web.

AM12: So what impact does that have on the significance of copyright on the public when you basically don't interfere with providing free access on the web.

RMS: Well, first of all, I disagree. Mirror sites are essential, so the journal should only provide open access but they should also give everyone the freedom to set up mirror sites with verbatim copies of these papers. If not then there is a danger that they will get lost. Various kinds of calamities could cause them to be lost, you know, natural disasters, political disasters, technical disasters, bureaucratic disasters, fiscal disasters... All sorts of things could cause that one site to disappear. So really what the scholarly community should logically be doing is carefully arranging to have a wide network of mirror sites making sure that every paper is available on every continent, from places near the ocean to places that are far inland and you know this is exactly the kind of thing that major libraries will feel is their mission if only they were not being stopped.

So what should be done, is that these journals should go one step further. In addition to saying everybody can access the site they should be saying, everyone can set up a mirror site. Even if they said, you have to do the whole publication of this journal, together with our advertisements, now that would still at least do the job of making the availability redundant so that it's not in danger, and other institutions would set up mirror sites, and I predict that you would find ten years down the road, a very well organised unofficial system of co-ordinating the mirroring to make sure that nothing was getting left out. At this point the amount that it costs to set up the mirror site for years of a journal is so little that it doesn't require any special funding; nobody has to work very hard: just let librarians do it. Anyway, oh there was some other thing that this raised and I can't remember what it is. Oh well, I'll just have to let it go.

AM13: The financing problem for the aesthetical works... do you think the dynamics could be... [inaudible] although I understand the problems of... I mean who's contributing? and who will be rewarded? Does the spirit of free software [inaudible]

RMS: I don't know. It's certainly suggesting the idea to people. We'll see. I don't the answers, I don't know how we're going to get there, I'm trying to think about where we should get to. I know know how we can get there. The publishers are so powerful, and can get governments to do their bidding. How we're going to build up the kind of world where the public refuses to tolerate this any more I don't know. I think the first thing we have to do is to clearly reject the term pirate and the views that go with it. Every time we hear that we have to speak out and say this is propaganda, it's not wrong for people to share these published works with each other, it's sharing with you friend, it's good. And sharing with your friend is more important than how much money these companies get. The society shouldn't be shaped for the sake of these companies. We have to keep on... because you see the idea that they've spread--that anything that reduces their income is immoral and therefore people must be restricted in any way it takes to guarantee for them to be paid for everything... that is the fundamental thing that we have to start attacking directly. People have mostly tried tactics of concentrating on secondary issues, you know, to when people, you know when the publishers demand increased power usually people saying it will cause some secondary kind of harm and arguing based on that but you rarely find anybody (except me) saying that the whole point of the change is wrong, that it's wrong to restrict it in that way, that it's legitimate for people to want to change copies and that they should be allowed to. We have to have more of this. We have to start cutting the root of their dominion not just hacking away at a few leaves.

AM14: [inaudible] this is important is to concentrate on the donations system for music.

RMS: Yes. Unfortunately though there are patents covering the technique that seems most likely to be usable.

[laughs, cries of "no" from audience]

RMS: So it may take ten years before we can do it.

AM15: We only take French laws

RMS: I don't know. I think I'd better hand the floor over to Melanie whose talk was supposed to start at 3. and uh so

RMS stands in silence. There is a pause before the outbreak of applause. RMS turns to applaud the stuffed fabric gnu he placed on the overhead projector at the beginning of the talk.


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Transcription by Douglas Carnall 10 July 2000.


Copyright 2000 Richard Stallman

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