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Richard M. Stallman Responds To Linus Torvalds' Blog
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Richard M. Stallman Responds To Linus Torvalds' Blog  
While Linus Torvalds reportedly accuses Richard M. Stallman for being a one-issue man, RMS clears the air in this face-to-face interview. He discusses much more than that. Read on...   
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Saturday, January 31, 2009 It was one of the rarest opportunities to spend some time with the man I’ve always looked up to since I migrated to GNU/Linux systems. The father of the free software movement, Richard M. Stallman was in Delhi for three days, and during the time I spent with RMS, we discussed various topics that helped me get to the bottom of why ‘Free Software’ matters so much. This frank discussion with RMS also covers topics like the entire confusion created around patents and copyright, what a sensible government should do, why free software matters for an enterprise as well as a developer and what will happen to the free software movement after RMS… though we wish him to live another 100 years. Here is what RMS has to say in response to Linus Torvalds' blog along with much more.


Swapnil:Linus Torvalds recently criticised you on his blog at torvalds-family.blogspot.com/2008/11/black-and-white.html. Do you have something to say about that?
RMS:Well, you can see that he is a person who doesn’t believe in freedom. You can tell that from his writings. Why does he reject GPLv3, because GPL3 protects users from tivoization, which is a fairly new method of denying freedom. It did not exist when I wrote GPLv2 or I would have done something about it then.

Tivoization means delivering a product with some free software, but the machines are designed so that if the user installs a modified version, it won’t run at all. So theoretically, the users are free to study and change the source code, but they can’t run their own binaries. This means that if they change the source code, it’s useless. So practically, they don’t have the freedom to study and change the program. Therefore, I decided in GPLv3 to prevent this. V3 requires the manufacturer to provide to the user the information necessary for the user to install his own changed binaries in the product he owns and make it run, assuming it is possible—if it’s denied by law, then it’s okay, because no one can change that.

We are trying to stop a practice where a manufacturer can change it, but the user can’t. Well, this is what Torvalds objects to. He is in favour of tivoization. He doesn’t care if the user of, in this case Linux, is free to change it. So, what can we do? He has a right to his views. I am not a one-issue person and I care about a lot of political issues, as you can see if you look at stallman.org. But the free software movement is a one-issue movement. Lots of people support the free software movement, who have different views on other issues. That’s why I put my views on other issues into my personal site—they are not part of the free software movement.

In addition to this chilly pepper question, there were many like "what free software is all about, according to you?" He replied to that question in detail which lead to many other questions which you can check in LINUX For You magazine, February 2009 issue or wait for a while for them to appear online. It was also important to ask him, "To whom does free software matter?" and that "Is there any particular reason why free software makes more sense in a country like India?".

There is another confusion around using patent, copyright, trademark etc. in the same context. Then there is something called "intellectual property". People have been misusing these terms a lot. RMS clears the confusion:

Swapnil:Can you clarify a bit between copyright and patents?
RMS:First thing, copyright and patents have nothing to do with each other. So, you may as well ask me to clarify between copyright and trees… or side walks.

Swapnil:But at times, people do try to club them together...
RMS:The first thing to realise is that copyright and patents have nothing in common; they are totally unrelated laws. What one of them does, the other one doesn’t. So, in particular, if someone starts making statements using ‘intellectual property’, that is a sign of confusion, because that term attempts to generalise several different laws (copyright is one of them), when all these laws have nothing in common.

So, whatever that person says is pure confusion; it is nonsense. And this nonsense is being passed off as meaningful. But, most people don’t know it is nonsense, so they repeat the nonsense. There are also people who know how wrong it is, but they use it and then they justify it. There are a lot of others who are simply trying to mislead other people. It is in their interest not to have other people understand these issues.

Swapnil:Is there any connection between the two at all?
RMS: What has copyright to do with licencing and what does it have to do with free software? Well, under today’s copyright law, any work that is written or composed somehow is automatically copyrighted. So, there is a copyright on that work or particular authorship. By default, the copyright law says that people are not allowed to copy or distribute or modify the program. In some countries people are not allowed to run it without permission. So, how do you make free software?

The only way is through a formal declaration by the copyright holder saying that you, the user, have the four freedoms. That declaration, we call the free software licence. It is not the only context in which the term ‘licence’ is used. Licences are signed contracts, but this one is not. This is simply a unilateral grant of permission from the copyright holders of the program. Free software licences have some conditions. It could be a tiny requirement like you can’t remove this licence, but some other licences have more requirements. For example, I wrote a licence, which is one of the many free software licences, called the GNU General Public Licence or GNU GPL. And it is used in over two-thirds of all the free software packages. However, GPL is not all—there are other free software licences too.

What’s special about this licence is there are certain requirements we call copy-left and that is: “When you redistribute copies of the program, either exact or modified, you must keep the licence the same and you must distribute the whole of the modified version under the same licence and make the source code available.” These licences make an extra effort to defend the freedom of every user.

But these are only few of the questions that I asked him -- there are many more. The full interview has been published in LINUX For You magazine, February 2009 issue. You can get a copy of the magazine from the stand and read the complete interview. EFYTimes will publish the full text of the interview in a couple of weeks.

Swapnil Bhartiya, EFYTIMES News Network

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(Total Views: 36105)



Jinny   2493 days ago

RMS and Linus both are my heros -- RMS is a prophet and Linus and engineer. I wish if these two FORCES of freedom come together, even majors like Microsoft will bend on their knees, please Linus get along with RMS please please please...Hey friends, do you also feel the same?
Reply   1 Reply
Prof B N Kshirsagar   2471 days ago

I do agree with your proposal of becoming a group of RMS and Linus to promote Free and Open world.
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