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MIT: RMS on Copyright and Globalization in the Age of Computer Networks

May 11, 2001, 16:30 (30 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by David Thorburn)

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Though it starts out with RMS explaining why he wouldn't permit the Forum in which he was speaking to be webcast, the bulk of this transcript deals with what the title says: copyright and globalization, with a nod to Courtney Love, micropayments, the Grateful Dead, and Stephen King.

ObFutileAttemptAtExcerpt:

"Well, what does that mean? Should you be free to copy it and change it? Well, as for changing it, if you buy the microphone, nobody is going to stop you from changing it. And as for copying it, nobody has a microphone copier. Outside of "Star Trek," those things don't exist. Maybe some day there?ll be nanotechnological analyzers and assemblers, and it really will be possible to copy a physical object, and then these issues of whether you're free to do that will start being really important. We'll see agribusiness companies trying to stop people from copying food, and that will become a major political issue, if that technological capability will ever exist. I don?t know if it will; it's just speculation at this point.

But for other kinds of information, you can raise the issue because any kind of information that can be stored on a computer, conceivably, can be copied and modified. So the ethical issues of free software, the issues of a user's right to copy and modify software, are the same as such questions for other kinds of published information. Now I'm not talking about private information, say, personal information, which is never meant to be available to the public at all. I'm talking about the rights you should have if you get copies of published things where there?s no attempt to keep them secret.

In order to explain my ideas on the subject, I'd like to review the history of the distribution of information and of copyright. In the ancient world, books were written by hand with a pen, and anybody who knew how to read and write could copy a book about as efficiently as anybody else. Now somebody who did it all day would probably learn to be somewhat better at it, but there was not a tremendous difference. And because the copies were made one at a time, there was no great economy of scale. Making ten copies took ten times as long as making one copy. There was also nothing forcing centralization; a book could be copied anywhere."

Complete Transcript

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