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Technocrat.net: Bootlegging of Music With Napster Hurts Free Software

May 04, 2000, 16:06 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bruce Perens)

"When Free Software authors wanted an operating system that they could modify and share without the usual hassles of proprietary software, they wrote a new system from scratch. Many of the same programmers who wrote the free GNU/Linux system had access to the source code of proprietary operating systems like the old ATT Unix, and Sun Microsystems SunOS. They did not bootleg those systems and form a widespread underground of people hacking on a stolen OS. They respected other people's property rights, even when they might not have supported them. Free Software authors worked a peaceful revolution, within the law."

"That's not what we're seeing now with Napster, and the widespread bootlegging of music by Napster users justifies, in many people's eyes, the way we're being prosecuted over our free software DVD players. There are lots of casual music thieves who are taking advantage just because it's suddenly become physically possible for them to do so. What's going to happen before net bandwidth and bigger disk drives make it possible to pass around movies as we do music today? I compare it to Tiananmen square. We are enjoying the short dance of freedom before governments come in with heavy weapons. And the worst thing about it is that we are giving them a good reason to do so."

"I am a follower of Richard Stallman, the creator of the GNU project and pioneer of the free software movement, but Richard and I don't agree on one thing: Richard doesn't believe in ownership of intellectual property. I believe that free software and proprietary software should peacefully coexist. But if you grant that proprietary intellectual property has a right to exist at all, some legal protection like copyright becomes necessary. The important part is finding the right balance between the rights of the copyright holder and the good of the general public. Over time, that balance has shifted toward the rights of the copyright holder and away from the good of the public. For example, copyright used to be an exchange of government protection, for the author allowing his work to go into the public domain eventually. These days, copyrights effectively never expire."

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