Software and Community in the Early 21st Century
Plone Conference 2006,
INTRODUCTION - [Paul
This is day three of by far the best Plone/Zope/Python/whatever conference that any of us have ever been to, I know that we’ve said it a thousand times, but we love you, ONE/Northwest, thank you for making this happen, this is just special.
For this year’s 2006 conference, our keynoter is professor Eben Moglen, the long‐time counsel for Free Software Foundation, the founder of Software Freedom Law Center, and faculty member at Columbia University. I believe you’ve given 125,000 speeches, and so I’m sure that 124,000 of those introductions were better than anything my feeble mind can come up with, so instead of talking about you, I’m going to talk about us. I was going to talk about myself, but…
Some of us are the creators of software that we give away for the public good. Some of us, particularly at this conference, particularly in the non‐profit sector, use this software for the public good. For example, Oxfam Great Britain, great friends of ours, they have people who actually are on the ground in Africa doing good things for humanity.
Both of us, both the creators and the consumers, are bound together in this activity, in this community, based on a conversation and a set of ideas where we want to be, instead of rec… We don’t want you to be recipients of our software, we want you to be participants in our software. And that’s a very big change of ideas, a change of position, change of rights. What’s wonderful about this is that we’re only able to have this conversation and to do these kinds of things based on the people who came before us. We are the beneficiaries of people that have created this set of ideas, this system to put it into action.
We have, fortunately, we have someone today who has spent decades doing this, putting these thoughts into action, doing things, really getting real things done. So it is with great joy for us, that I introduce Professor Eben Moglen.
PRESENTATION: [Eben Moglen:]
I want to talk about the piece of our common lives that Paul is pointing at, these rules, these methods of living together around software, and I want to try and explain what I think their larger moral and economic meaning is.
It is both a moral and an economic analysis – it has to be. It began as a moral question, it remains a moral question, but it becomes along the way also a window into the economic organization of human society in the 21st century. If you think about the 20th century economy out of which we are passing, its primary underlying commodity was steel. The making of steel was the 20th century root activity. And societies measured themselves substantially by their success in producing steel. It was the first sign of the reawakening of Europe as an economic entity after the devastation of the second world war. What we now think of as the European Union and we thought of for a while as the European Economic Commission, and before that as the Common Market, began as you may recall under Jean Monnet as the Coal and Iron Union. to bring back the European industrial economy. The Asian Tigers began to claim for themselves rising importance in the world economy when they began producing noticeable amounts of steel. And when Máo Zédōng tried to imagine an alternative form of economic development for The People’s Republic of China in the Great Leap Forward, his best thought was backyard steel furnaces. So that was how the 20th century thought about collaboration in the economy: It made steel, and from steel it made the rest of what the 20th century possessed, for the exploration of the environment and the control of nature for human benefit.
The 21st century economy is not undergirded by steel. The 21st century economy is undergirded by software, which is as crucial as the underlying element in economic development in the 21st century as the the production of steel ingots was in the 20th. We have moved to a societal structure in this country, are moving elsewhere in the developed world, will continue to move, throughout the developing economies, towards economies whose primary underlying commodity of production is software. And the good news is that nobody owns it.
The reason that this is good news requires us to go back to a moment in the past in the development of the economies of the west, before steel. What was, after all, characteristic of the economy before steel, was the slow, persistent, motivated expansion of European societies and European economies out into the larger world – for both much evil and much good – built around the possession of a certain number of basic technological improvements, mostly to naval, transportation, and armament. All of which was undergirded by a control of mathematics, superior to the control of mathematics available in other cultures around the world. There are lots of ways we could conceive the great European expansion, which redescribed human beings’ relationship to the globe, but one way to put it is “They had the best math.”, and nobody owned that, either.
Imagine, if you will, for a moment, a society in which mathematics has become property, and it’s owned by people. Now, every time you want to do anything useful, build a house, make a boat, start a bridge, devise a market, move objects weighing certain numbers of kilos from one place to another, your first stop is at the mathematics store, to buy enough mathematics to complete the task which lies before you. You can only use as much arithmetic at a time as you can afford, and it is difficult to build a sufficient inventory of mathematics, given its price, to have any extra on hand. You can predict, of course, that the mathematics sellers will get rich. And you can predict that every other activity in society, whether undertaken for economic benefit or for the common good, will pay taxes in the form of mathematics payments.
The productization of knowledge about computers, the turning of software into a product, was for a short, crucial period of time at the end of the 20th century the dominant element in technological progress. Software was owned. You could do what you could afford, and you could accomplish what somebody else’s software made possible. To contain within your own organization a sufficient inventory of adaptable software to be able to meet new circumstances flexibly was more expensive than any but the largest organizations, seeking private benefit in the private economy, could afford to pay.
We are moving to a world in which, in the 21st century, the most important activities that produce occur not in factories, and not by individual initiative, but in communities held together by software. It is the infrastructural importance of software which is first important in the move to the post‐industrial economy. It isn’t that software is itself a thing of value, that’s true. It isn’t that applications produce useful end point activities or benefit real people in their real lives, though that’s true. It is that software provides alternate modes of infrastructure and transportation. That’s crucial, in economic history terms. Because the driving force in economic development is always improvement in transportation. When things move more easily and more flexibly and with less friction from place to place, economic growth results, welfare improvements occur. They occur most rapidly among those who have previously been unable to transport value into the market. In other words, infrastructure improvement has a tendency to improve matters for the poor more rapidly than most other forms of investment in economic development. Software is creating roadways that bring people who have been far from the center of human social life to the center of human social life. Software is making people adjacent to one another who have not been adjacent to one another. And with a little bit of work, software can be used to keep software from being owned. In other words, software itself can lift the software tax.
That’s where we now are. At that moment, on that cusp.
In this neighborhood, at this moment, the richest and most deeply funded monopoly in the history of the world is beginning to fail. Within another few months the causes of its failure will be apparent to everybody, as they are now largely apparent to the knowledgeable observers of the industry who expect trouble for Microsoft. The very engineering limits of trying to make software that you own work as well as software that the community produces, are becoming apparent.
It used to be suggested that eventually software produced without ownership relations might achieve superiority beyond that of software produced by proprietary producers. It used to be argued that that might eventually happen. When those of us who had some theoretical experience in this area said: “Why do you think it’s only going to happen eventually? It’s happened already.”, people had a tendency to point at the monopoly products and show the ways in which they are still, one way or another, better: “You see, you can’t do it.”. The browser, as we are all aware, is a pretty crummy piece of software, right? It’s commodity activity, nowadays, browsers. And Microsoft has written some browsers. And they have been working on the browser they just released for years. And now they have announced what their best browser at present levels of engineering investment can be. And on the day of its release, it is less good than the unowned competitor, produced by, who? What? Where? When? On the day of its release.
What is being seen this week, next week, the week after, about Internet Explorer version 7 will soon be seen about operating system kernels, file systems, desktop and window management, and all the other commoditized parts of a client side operating system at which we are now operating to produce superior software at infinitely lower price. We are still – only partially, of course, but we are still a capitalist society. And when someone entrenched, no matter how deeply, is producing overtly inferior goods at three orders of magnitude higher price, or infinitely higher price, the event, or the outcome of the event is obvious. Ownership of software as a way of producing software for general consumption is going out, for economic reasons. But as I said, the economic insight that we can get from watching the transition from steel to software is far less important than the moral analysis of the situation.
The moral analysis of the situation presents where we are now as, if I may borrow a phrase, a singularity in human affairs. One of the grave problems of human inequality for everyone who has attempted to ameliorate the problem of human inequality – which is most thinkers about the morality of social life – the gravest problem of human inequality is the extraordinary difficulty in prizing wealth away from the rich to give it to the poor, without employing levels of coercion or violence which are themselves utterly corrosive of social progress. And repeatedly in the course of the history of our human societies, well‐intentioned, enormously determined and courageous people, willing to sacrifice their lives for an improvement in the equality of human life, have had to face that problem. We cannot make meaningful redistribution fast enough to retain momentum politically without applying levels of coercion or violence which will destroy what we are attempting. And again and again, as Isaiah Berlin and other late 20th century political theorists pointed out, through hubris, through arrogance, through romanticism, through self‐deception, parties seeking permanent human benefit and an increase in the equality of human beings have failed that test, and watched as their movements of liberation spiraled downward from the poison of excess coercion.
We do not have to do that anymore.
The gate that has held the movements for equalization of human beings strictly in a dilemma between ineffectiveness and violence has now been opened. The reason is that we have shifted to a zero marginal cost world. As steel is replaced by software, more and more of the value in society becomes non‐rivalrous – it can be held by many without costing anybody more than if it is held by a few.
In the English‐speaking world – and it was primarily in the English‐speaking world, in
America, at the outer edges of the
Empire – we moved towards a system of universal
public education in the course of the
Now we live in a different world, for the first time. All the basic knowledge, all the refined physics, all the deep mathematics, everything of beauty, in music, in the visual arts, all of literature, all of the video arts of the 20th century can be given to everybody, everywhere, at essentially no additional cost beyond the cost it required to make the first copy. And so we face in the 21st century a very basic moral question:
If you could make as many loaves of bread as it took to feed the world by baking one loaf and pressing a button, how could you justify charging more for bread than the poorest people could afford to pay? If the marginal cost of bread is zero, then the competitive market price should be zero too. But leaving aside any question of microeconomic theory, the moral question “What should be the price of what keeps someone else alive if it costs you nothing to provide it to him?” has only one unique answer: There is no moral justification for charging more for bread that costs nothing, than the starving can pay. Every death from too little bread, under those circumstances, is murder. We just don’t know who to charge for the crime.
We live there now.
This is both an extraordinary achievement and a very pressing challenge. There were good reasons after 1789 to be a little doubtful about the wisdom of revolution. Because revolution meant the coercive redistribution, likely to spiral downward in the well‐known way. In the economy of steel, people who make steel become workers. They have little individuality. They are reckoned as workers in an industrial army. And as Marx and others like him pointed out in the middle of the 19th century, that is largely likely to lead to the model, internally, of political progress through a clash of armies.
We don’t live there anymore.
We find ourselves now in a very different place. You live there, I live there, my other clients live there. It’s a place in which the primary infrastructure is produced by sharing. The primary technology of production is unowned. The effectiveness of that mode of production in the broader society is now established. Plus or minus the couple more years left before Microsoft fails entirely, we have now proven either the adequacy or the final superiority, in crass economic terms, of the way we make things. We have brought forward, now, the possibility of distributing everything that every public education system uses, freely, everywhere, to everyone; true universal public education for the first time.
We have shown how our software, plus commodity hardware, plus the electromagnetic spectrum that nobody owns, can build a robust, deep mesh structured communications network which can be built out in poor parts of the world far more rapidly than the 20th century infrastructures of broadcast technology and telephone.
We have begun proving the fabric of a 21st century society which is egalitarian in its nature, and which is structured to produce, for the common benefit, more effectively than it can produce for private, exclusive, proprietary benefit. We are solving epical problems.
We are introducing new possibilities based upon new technological arrangements to deal with the fundamental political difficulties that we have coped with and our predecessors, in seeking equality and justice, have coped with for generations.
We are very lucky. We live at a time when technological progress and the pressure for human justice are coming together in a way which can produce fundamental satisfactions that have eluded us for centuries, but in that luck there comes responsibility: We need to get it done.
There are other people with other views. We are not everybody. The other views assume that this technology, too, can be shaped to support hierarchy. That it can be shaped to support ownership. That it can be shaped not only to ignore the moral question I have put forward, but to make that moral question invisible to almost everybody, forever.
The folks on the other side are also very powerful. They look way more powerful than we. They are also quite clearsighted. They, also, understand that there is an epical openness here, and they have no more intention of giving up what they claim as theirs now, than they ever have had. The dystopic possibilities of where we live are nontrivial. If you imagine, right now, a flood of billions of dollars of consumer products moving towards you in containers from the east, containing devices that use all this software we have made, but lock it down so no one may tinker with it. So that if you try and exercise the freedoms that it gives you, your movies don’t play anymore, your music won’t sing, you books will erase themselves, your textbooks will go back to the warehouse unless you pay next semester’s tuition to the textbook publishers, and so on.
The magic of this technology is that it can be used for the great ideal of capitalist distribution: never actually give anybody anything, just as it can be used for our fundamental purpose, which is: Always give everybody everything.
And so, in fact, we now find ourselves in a more polarized place than usual. Not because Paris is starving. Not even because the lettres de cachet have grown so horrifying to the population. On the contrary, this population has never been less horrified by putting people in jail without charges and keeping them there forever than it ever has been in the past. The reason that we now face a more than usually polarized circumstance is that the sides that have confronted one another over equality and social justice for generations are now more evenly matched than they have ever been before.
You and I, and the people who came before us, have been rolling a very large rock uphill a very long time. We wanted freedom of knowledge in a world which didn’t give it, which burned people for their religious or scientific beliefs. We wanted democracy, by which we meant, originally, the rule of the many by the many, and the subjection of today’s rulers to the force of law. And we wanted a world in which distinctions among persons were based not on the color of skin, or even the content of character, but just the choices that people make in their own lives. We wanted the poor to have enough, and the rich to cease to suffer from the diseases of too much. We wanted a world in which everybody had a roof, and everybody had enough to eat, and all the children went to school. And we were told, always, that it was impossible. And our efforts to make it happen turned violent on their side or on ours many more times than we can care to think for.
Now we’re in a different spot. Not because our aims have changed. Not because the objectives of what we do have changed, but because the nature of the world in which we inhabit technologically has altered so as to make our ideas functional in new and noncoercive ways. We have never in the history of free software, despite everything that has been said by lawyers and flacks and propagandists on the other side, we have never forced anybody to free any code. I have enforced the GPL since 1993. Over most of that time I was the only lawyer in the world enforcing the GPL. I did not sue, because the courts were not the place for the ragtag revolution, in its early stage, to win pitched battles against the other side. On the contrary, in the world we lived in only ten or fifteen years ago, to have been forceful in the presentation of our legal claims would have meant failure even if we won, because we would have been torn to pieces by the contending powers of the rich. On the contrary, we played very shrewdly, in my judgement now, as I look back on the decisions that my clients made – I never made them – we played very shrewdly. When I went to work for Richard Stallman in 1993, he said to me at the first instruction over enforcing the GPL: “I have a rule: You must never let a request for damages interfere with a settlement for compliance.”
I thought about that for a moment, and I decided that that instruction meant that I could begin every telephone conversation, with a violator of the GPL, with magic words: “We don’t want money.” When I spoke those words, life got simpler.
The next thing I said was: “We don’t want publicity.”
The third thing I said was: “We want compliance. We won’t settle for anything less than compliance, and that’s all we want. Now I will show you how to make that ice in the wintertime.” And so they gave me compliance, which had been defined mutually as ice in the wintertime. But as all of those of us who are about to live with less ice in the wintertime than we used to have will soon know, ice in the wintertime can be good if you collect enough of it.
And we did. We collected enough of it that people out there who had money to burn said: “Wait a minute, this software is good, we won’t have to burn money over it. And not only is this software good as software, these rules are good, because they’re not about ambulance chasing. They’re not about a quick score, they’re not about holding up deep pockets, they’re about real cooperation between people who have a lot and people who have an idea. Why don’t we go in for that?”
And within a very short period of time, they had gone in for that, and that’s where we live now. In a world in which the resources of the wealthy came to us not because we coerced them, not because we demanded, not because we taxed, but because we shared. Even with them, sharing worked better than suing or coercing. We were not afraid, we didn’t put up barbed wire, and so when they came to scoff, they remained to pray. And now the force of what we are is too strong for a really committed, really adversary, really cornered, really big monopoly to do anything about, at all. That’s pretty good work, in a short period of time that you all did. You changed the balance of power in a tiny way. But when you look at it against the long background of the history of who we are and what we want, it was an immense strategic victory, and not a small tactical engagement.
Now, as usual, when you win a small tactical engagement that turns out to be a large strategic victory, you have to consolidate the gains, or the other side will take them back. So we are now moving into a period in which what we have to do is to consolidate the gains. We have to strengthen our own understanding about what our community can do. I want to go back to the thing I said at the beginning – In the 21st economy, production occurs not in factories or by people, but in communities. eBay is a pretty decent way of organizing a community to sell and buy stuff and empty garages. And it is doing a pretty fair job of that. MySpace, Friendster – nevermind who owns, nevermind what’s indended, nevermind the pedophiles – it’s a pretty good way of dealing with an extraordinary deep and important problem that most societies have to cope with, which is how to give old children becoming young adults some way of experiencing their independent identity in the world. How to give them a way to say: “Here I am, this is what I am, this is what I feel, this is what is going on in my life.” It has produced a lot of bad adolescent poetry, it has produced a lot of risqué photography and self‐portraits in states of deshabille . But it is also dealing with a thing which has sometimes been known to cause suicide, and which shouldn’t be taken quite so lightly. It is not a small thing if you feel yourself to be a really isolated teenager living and working in a part of the world that doesn’t understand you at all, to know that you can have tens of thousands of people around the world immediately available to you who know what you’re feeling and who can provide the kind of support that you need. That’s actually social service work of a very deep and important kind. We are making communities that produce good outputs, and other people are looking at them as business models where eyeballs are located. Up to a point, that’s acceptable, and when the tipping point is reached it isn’t anymore, and that’s the kind of activity which is now our political challenge. To understand how to manipulate those processes – as we all can, because we make the technology – how to manipulate those processes so as to gain the social benefit and reduce the possibility of power discrepancies developing that neutralize the very kinds of social justice outcomes we are looking for. This is possible to do.
It not only work for lawyers. Mary Lou Jepsen’s inventions in connection with the display of the One Laptop Per Child box will turn out to be of enormous importance to the world. The One Laptop Per Child box – which I’ve spent a lot of time helping with this past year, and which everybody in this room ought to be thinking about hard, because it’s a great moment in human technological history – the One Laptop Per Child box has a few requirements that are really important for computers in the 21st century: One, a child has to be able to take it apart safely. Two, you have to be able to generate electricity for it by pulling a string. Three, it has to be culturally accessible to people who live in a whole lot of different places around the world, speak different languages, have different world views, have different understandings of what a computer is, or might be, or could be, or what this thing is that their children are holding. It has to be discoverable. It has to be a place for a child to explore indefinitely and learn new things in all the time.
I just want to concentrate on the first parts: It has to be something you can pull a string to power, and it has to be something a child can take apart safely. No existing LCD panel meets those needs, because every existing LCD panel in the world uses a mercury backlight, which runs on high voltage, which is dangerous, and which contains toxic chemicals – the mercury itself, of course. So how about a display which gives you transmissive color, beautiful color, indoors, and high contrast black and white in full sunlight, so that it can be used in every natural environment, and which consumes per unit area one tenth of the electricity used by standard current LCD panel displays. How about that it doesn’t have any harmful substances in it, can be safely disassembled and reassembled by a child, down to its components, so that field replacement of almost anything can occur, and is, in addition, cheap to manufacture.
So, we’re going to give an enormous gift to all the cell phone and gadget manufacturers of the world out of OLPC, which is why Quanta, the largest manufacturer of laptops in the world, and the display manufacturers throughout the pacific rim are screaming to be first or second sources of the OLPC display. Because the patents in there are worth sharing.
In other words, the free world now produces technology whose ability to reorient power in the larger traditional economy is very great. We have magnets, we can move the iron filings around. We can also change the infrastructure of social life – that OLPC is every textbook on earth, that OLPC is a free MIT education, that OLPC is a hand powered thick mesh router. When you close the lid, as a kid, and put it on the shelf at night, the main CPU shuts down, but the 802.11 gear stays running all night long on that last few pulls of the string, and it routes packets, all night long – it keeps the mesh. The village is a mesh when the kids have green, or purple or orange boxes. And all you need is a downspout somewhere, and the village is on the net. And when the village is on the net, everybody in the village is a producer, of something: Services, knowledge, culture, art, YouTube TV?
The week that
King was beaten in
Los Angeles, I was on the telephone
with a friend of mine who does police brutality cases in
and he said to me: “You know what the difference is between
That was a long time ago.
There’s no place on earth with too few video cameras anymore. Right? The gadget makers took care of that.
Now, what is journalism like when every village has a video camera and is on the net? What is diplomacy like? What’s it mean if the next time somebody starts some nasty little genocide in some little corner of the earth the United States Government would prefer to ignore, that there’s video all over the place, all the time, in every living room? What’s is mean when children around the world are networking with one another over the issues that concern them directly, without intermediation – everybody to everybody – saying: “Do you have what we need? How come you have what we need? How come we can’t do what you can do? Because your father’s rich? Because we’re dark? Because we live down here?”
Globalization has been treated up ’til now as a force which primarily puts ownership in the saddle. Maybe. Maybe. But the One Laptop Per Child seems to me to consolidate some of our strategic gains, which is why I’m in favor of pressing hard for it, and things like it. Now let me come back to the stuff we have in common in this room. Community, I have said – not an original thought – is powerful. The network makes community out of software, but some software is better at producing community than other software. GCC is a really useful thing, but it doesn’t produce community. In fact, if anything, GCC has been known to produce the opposite of community. And this is not a joke about compiler guys either, right? The Perl interpreter, which is a fine thing, produces rather little community too, and the community it produces is, what shall we say, a little inward looking. [Laughter]
There are other kinds of software which produce community in a very different way and you know what that’s like, ’cause you work on one of those corners. Right? The problem that I have with things called Content management systems is that they’re systems for managing content, which is not very important. Community building software, however, is very important. I’m trying to do a little thing this year called making GPL3, which is actually more about having a lot of discussions with a lot of very different people around the world, about what they think free software licensing ought to be like and why they don’t like Stallman. The latter is not the subject I go out to talk about, it’s just what they talk about no matter what I do about it. It’s an attempt to create a kind of broad global community of people who care about a thing that they all take very seriously, and they do take it very seriously, you understand, right? When guys fly from Germany to India to participate in their second international conference on GPL3, you know they really care.
So, I’ve been talking to a lot of different people in a lot of different forms, some of them like IRC, some of them produce formal documents, some of them are telephone types. That’s all held together by Plone. That’s many different overlapping communities held together by software for making communities. It’s related to Voice over IP through Asterisk, which changes my life as a lawyer completely. Those of you who haven’t discovered what free software can do to IP telephony, you have a great discovery headed your way. And we made a little bit of software of our own for for dealing with a thing that, it turned out, there was no existing tool for that we really liked, namely some austere simple interface for marking up one document in a very, very, very multiplicitous way, with tens of thousands of possible commentators. So that everybody participating can see what everybody else has done in some manageable way, and can intervene in the process in a thoughtful fashion, tied to some particular phrase, or word, or piece of a document that concerns them.
Before we started this activity, I read lots and lots of commentary that said: “As soon as FSF tries to do this it’s going to dissolve into a flamewar. As soon as anybody attempts to do this, it’s just going to become Slashdot all the time.” It wasn’t like that. it hasn’t been like that. Even Slashdot hasn’t been like that. That’s not the way it went. Of course there was lots of stuff said that I regret, some of it was said by very big people, much of it was said by Forbes. But that wasn’t the problem, right? The coherence of the community, a community which includes Ubuntu users in Soweto as well as IBM, includes developers in Kazakhstan as well as Hewlett‐Packard, includes people who have thousands of patents as well as people who don’t know what a patent is, that conversation has gone, I think, remarkably peaceably and quite constructively, for a period now of about ten months.
Twenty years from now, the scale of our consultation over GPL is going to seem tiny, the tools we used are going to seem primitive. The community we built to discuss the license is going to look like a thing a six year old could put together without taking more than a couple of breathers around it. And yet, that’s only going to be because our sophistication in global coordination of massive social movements is going to be so good. You do not see Microsoft out conducting a global negotiation over what the EULA for Vista should say. And even if they were minded to do it, they couldn’t. Because they’re not organized for community, they’re organized for hierarchical production an selling. I have heard a lot of stuff from people who thought that Richard Stallman was a problem, but ask yourself this: “If the GPL process had been run by Steve Ballmer…” Right? So, we are learning, in very primitive ways, within our community, how to build large globegirdling organizations for a special purpose for a short period of time to engage people constructively in deliberation, and we are learning how to do that despite vast cultural and economic discrepancies in the assets of the participants. That’s 21st century politics – Plone makes it.
But it isn’t what you have, it’s what you do with it.
So we have some remarkable opportunities, all of us. We have a very special place in the history of the campaign for social justice. We have some very special infrastructure. We have new means of economic development available to us. We have got proof of concept, we have got running code. That’s all we ever need. But we need prudence. We need good judgment. We need a willingness to take risks at the right places in the right time. We need to be uncompromising about principle, even as we are very flexible about modes of communication. We need to be very good at making deals, and we need to be very clear, absolutely clear, without any ability of variance at the bottom line about what the deals are for, where we are going, what the objective is. If we know that what we are trying to accomplish is the spread of justice and social equality through the universalization of access to knowledge, if we know that what we are trying to do is to build an economy of sharing which will rival the economies of ownership at every point where they directly compete, if we know that we are doing this as an alternative to coercive redistribution, that we have a third way in our hands for dealing with long and deep and painful problems of human injustice, if we are conscious of what we have, and know what we are trying to accomplish, this is the moment when, for the first time in lifetimes, we can get it done.
We do not need revolutions in which the have‐nots dispossess the haves right now. But we are under pressure. There are a lot of people in the world, there is not a lot extra to eat, there is not a lot of excess clean water to drink. Minds are being thrown away by hundreds of millions in a world where people are trapped in subsistence crisis that is now avoidable, and their ability to think, and create, and be is stunted forever. The climate is changing beneath our feet, the air is changing above our heads, and as the fossil fuel system decays, the inequalities and power discrepancies and authoritarianisms that grew up around the oil business in the 20th century are going to do us real harm. So we have great opportunities, we have great challenges, the upside is the highest it has been in generations and the downside is not too pleasant. That means there’s a great deal of work to be done.
Oddly enough, it’s not painful. It consists of doing neat stuff and sharing it. You’ve been successful at it already, beyond anybody’s expectations and beyond most people’s dreams. “More of the same” is a good prescription here. But a little more political consciousness about it, and a little more attempt to get other people to understand not just what, but why, would help a lot. Because people are getting used to the what: “Oh yeah, Firefox, I use it all the time.” “Why?” “Why, ’cause the Internet…” “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, not why do you use it, why does it exist?” “Oh, I don’t know, some… people did it.”
OK. That’s the moment, all right, that’s the moment, that’s the one where that annoying Stallman voice should enter the mind, OK: “Free as in freedom”, “Free as in freedom”. Tell people it’s free as in freedom. Tell them that if you don’t tell them anything else, because they need to know. We’ve spent a long time hunting for freedom. Many of us lost our lives trying to get it, more than once. We have sacrificed a great deal for generations, and the people who have sacrificed most, we honor most, when we can remember them. And some of them have been entirely forgotten. Some of us are likely to be forgotten too. And the sacrifices that we make aren’t all going to go with monuments and honors, but they’re all going to contribute to the end; the end is a good end if we do it right. We have been looking for freedom for a very long time, the difference is: this time, we win. Thank you very much.
I need to go back to New York City, but I would like to take some questions. I’ve talked too long and heard too little. So I want to spend a little time. Questions? Yes. I’ll repeat them so that they can be heard.
Well, the usual way of dealing with that question is through what we call licenses, which are statements of rights and obligations concerning creative works. And whatever you may think about ownership structures, copyright exclusivities, it’s a good idea to attach permissions and restrictions or requirements to works of creation so that people know how to deal with them respectfully. This is why my dear friend Larry Lessig has spent so much time attempting to evolve a social structure which could form an umbrella for a series of instructions that people can usefully give about works of their creation. The Creative Commons idea is an attempt to face the question you are asking. If we are going to move to a world in which content is created by community, rather than hierarchicly, through ownership and work for hire structures, we’re going to have to have a system for giving and explaining creators’ understandings about their works, in a defined clear operable, administrable fashion. And it was that insight which led Lessig to go where he went.
Now there are lots of controversies surrounding the particulars of the Creative Commons’ implementation of that idea – Larry would say: “And there should be, because it’s a new thing, politically, and it should be heavily discussed.”. In the long run, though, that’s where we are going, towards an evolution of a series of free licenses that allow people to share all the things that they create with the same degree of effectiveness that some licenses have allowed software to be shared. I think that work is but years from completion now, maybe even less than that, because so much force is behind the question. So I think that’s how we solve it.
It could conceivably be the case that those who enhance shared software and never distribute their enhanced versions but merely provide services over it, maybe, those people are playing fair. Maybe that’s OK, maybe it isn’t, right? So the first question is, have we reached consensus on the underlying policy goal? I think the answer is “No”.
I have believed for about five years, since this this particular point began to become obviously important, I have believed that there might be an evolution towards a consensus; I still see none. There is a, I would say, predominant view, even in the developer community, let alone in the user community, that that’s a perfectly OK thing to have happen. The reason is that developers take the right of private modification very seriously. And the Free Software Foundation does, too; the right of private modification’s an important right. Compelling people to disclose work that they do on software is not a good outcome, even if the software they start from is shared.
So the question becomes less, I think, “Are the people who provide services over privately modified software doing something wrong?”; the question becomes: “What is the right of a user of a service enabled by software, and is that different from the right of someone who has received a copy of her own of a computer program?” I think it is reasonable to draw an ethical distinction between somebody who walks up to an ATM, and somebody who receives a copy of a program which could be used to run an ATM. How far that ethical difference extends and what the ruleset ought to be, I think is still unclear.
GPL3 offers a compromise: It offers to be compatible with a license which is like the GPL but which contains the opposite rule, that is to say, services provided over modified versions lead to a requirement to release the modifications. I suspect that if that proposal becomes part of the final GPL3, as it is currently slated to do, that there will be a fairly small number of developers who will write programs which are marked in the relevant way: “If you modify this and provide services you have to release the mod’s.” I think those programs will get very small commercial use, because commercial users will by and large not like that rule and avoid software published under it, and so we will in effect wind up with a certain amount of remote service provision software under that rule with very little technical uptake in commercial life. That would not result in much additional rights for users, because most of the software users will be interacting with from day to day won’t be covered by those rules. That doesn’t seem to me an outcome that is bad in itself, but it also doesn’t seem to me an outcome that it’s very important to shed blood for.
So I have entered into the GPL3 process thinking that either outcome might eventuate. Linus Torvalds, if I might just say so for a moment, says this is a very bad idea and it shouldn’t be done, and it’s part of the reason he doesn’t like the license. We are listening, carefully, to everybody, including Linus Torvalds.
Yes, that’s right. Let me take one intermediate step, Jon, before I get to the end that you reached. As you may have noticed, Internet Explorer 7 “solves” the phishing problem. No more phishing! Every time you type a URL into the location bar of the browser, it sends it to a Microsoft server, and says: “Is this phishing?”.
And you’ve got to admit that this is a new solution to that problem, right? I hadn’t thought of it before. Maybe Google had thought of it and Microsoft wanted to get there first. Right, it’s correct, software is really good at one thing, software is really good at saying “This data is mine.”. Software does that by branding data all the time with whose it is and where it came from and what we did with it, and lots of the data that other peoples’ software brands is about us and concerns us and even identifies us in the deepest and most intimate ways. Dealing with that without disturbing the freedom of software to operate is a tricky problem. Almost everybody’s solutions, not coincidentally, hurt the freedom of software because they are largely solutions which offer either security or privacy through a proprietary solution which hurts the freedom of software. And that is the dialog that we have at the moment.
So there are corporate parties participating in the GPL3 dialog who deeply disagree with FSF about the importance of Disney, and Sony, and other entertainment manufacturers in the anti‐DRM part of the GPL3. They say “We think you with the Free Software Foundation are wrong, Disney and Sony are never going to lock down the entire net to protect entertainment; They want to but they can’t. And if that were the only reason for having anti‐DRM components in GPLv3, we’d be as hostile to it as they are. But we – gadget manufacturers, mostly – we think that you’re right, that pervasive lockdown is a worry, it’s just that we think you’ve identified the source of it wrong. It’s not the entertainment industries, it’s the security establishment. We think that the reason everything is going to be locked down is because people are going to rush to implement security, and the only way they can think of is to lock down the whole stack, and we worry about that too, because locked down stacks are bad for us as gadget manufacturers, they interfere with porting our stuff around, and they reduce flexibility, and so we don’t like that, and we would therefore be prepared” – they say, quietly – “to work with you on anti‐DRM if you’d only stop kicking Disney’s shins quite so much.”
Do you’ve time for one more?
Yeah, sure. Yes.
That’s beautiful. There was an introduction that wasn’t about me when I came in, there’s a question that is not about me so I can go out, and I think that’s the right question to ask.
Thanks very much.
One thing… One more thing I need to add on this
I neglected in the introduction. During your talk you mentioned that these
rules are good. And “good” as in “just”, as well as “good” as in
“effective”. And you’ve been working on these rules in the larger
historical sense, but you also worked on these rule in a very local sense for
us: Eben helped us bootstrap the Plone Foundation, conceive the
software conservancy idea, that became our grande idée that
Chris was just mentioning. Not only that, but his