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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 10:07 GMT
Software giants 'trample basic freedoms'
Richard Stallman, GNU
Stallman: Non-free software is wrong

Every time you buy software from companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Sun and Adobe you hand over much more than just money, you also give up basic freedoms and human rights.

So says Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, and long-time campaigner against the proprietary programs produced and owned by many software companies.

The assumed ownership of software by Microsoft and many others irks Mr Stallman and is something he wants stopped.

"Non-free software is wrong and we do not want it in our lives," he told BBC News Online.

Fighting force

He has been campaigning since 1984 for the end of proprietary software.

As an alternative the Free Software Foundation he heads is developing an operating system, called Gnu, that can be used without restriction.


A whole generation has grown up with the idea that it is normal for them to have no freedom

Richard Stallman
His tireless campaigning has inspired the open source movement which gives people more freedom to tinker with software, albeit not as much as Mr Stallman would like.

For him the FSF is the "militant wing" and open source advocates "spineless" because they forget that using software is a matter of ethics.

The Open Source movement owes a huge creative debt to Mr Stallman.


Linux, the operating system many people associate with Open Source, should properly be called Gnu/Linux to properly reflect its heritage.

Patent games

The Free Software Foundation stands in opposition to forces of software ownership. The sense of "free" it believes in does not mean that people cannot charge for their work to produce programs.

Person putting a CD in a computer, BBC
CD protection systems limit freedom
Instead "free" means the liberty to tinker with software, find out how it works and share it with other people without restriction.

Unlike many other countries the US has laws permitting the patenting of features in software. As a result, says Mr Stallman, the freedom that programmers have to tinker, experiment and innovate is gradually shrinking.

Often, he says, patents are used to protect markets software companies dominate and shut out competition.

So far almost 100,000 software patents have been granted in the US, he points out.

Patents protect Microsoft's ASF streaming file format and others protect colour separation techniques, widely used image and music formats and many other features and programming techniques.

Ethical effects

But the problem with proprietary software does not stop with its stunting of innovation or with helping maintain monopolies, says Mr Stallman.


If I cannot share it then I will not install it. If it requires me to mistreat others I would say no to it

Richard Stallman
The larger point, he believes, is that these companies trample over basic human freedoms and force people to trade cherished autonomy for convenience.

"Proprietary software is not designed to serve you but it is designed to control you," he says. "It is designed to serve someone else."

And it is not just software companies that are trying to limit rights to tinker and copy.

Record companies and film makers are joining in and stopping people freely copying music and movies.

"A whole generation has grown up with the idea that it is normal for them to have no freedom," says Mr Stallman.

"We should destroy the record companies and put an end to institutions that are this arrogant and trying to take away our freedom," he says.

All that musicians get from signing up with a record company is publicity, believes Mr Stallman. While agreeing that record companies are effective marketers of music, he says the social costs of this are very high.

"It's better if we have a little bit less effective publicity and freedom to share with each other," he says.

"The end point is that all published software should be free, you should always have the freedom to study, change and share software," he says. "These should be inalienable rights."

"If I cannot share it then I will not install it," he says, "if it requires me to mistreat others I would say no to it."

See also:

03 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
22 Nov 02 | Technology
02 Dec 02 | Technology
04 Nov 02 | Entertainment
26 Sep 02 | Entertainment
17 Sep 02 | Entertainment
30 Apr 01 | dot life
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