Lawrence Lessig is a lawyer who wrote a book titled "Free Culture" and sits on the board of the Free Software Foundation.
Lessig wrote the introduction to the compilation of Richard Stallman's essays entitled "Free Software, Free Society".
There is obviously much mutual admiration and respect going on here. Cool.
However, the philosophies of these two men as written in those materials seem to be radically different in the very area that draws them together - the nature of creative property.
Lessig's central theme (Idea 1) seems to contradict Stallman's central theme. (idea 2)
Idea 1 is: Granting and protecting reasonably limited intellectual property rights. This is Lessig's idea.
Idea 2 is: "All software should be free." (Free as in speech) This is Stallman's idea.
I would very much like to support both ideas, because I believe in intellectual property rights as a conservative and because I happen to like free and open source software as a computer geek.
But, as an "absolutist" - someone who believes in the existance of absolute and objective truth and morals - I cannot logically hold two contradictory positions, so if these positions contradict one another, I must reject the free software movement in favor of the principles of free market capitalism.
I think I should mention: the closed-source infastructure enforced by Microsoft's monopoly on commercial PC operating systems eliminates all opportunity for real viable direct commercial competition and therefore the current system does not qualify as free market capitalism. So, I do not want to support the current system as long as there is a better alternative that is still basically in line with free market principles.
In "Free Culture" Lessig talks about a meeting that an international organization (WIPO) was planning to have but cancelled due to pressure from the US government. The meeting was going to be for discussing free and open source software.
"What was surprising was the United States government's reason for opposing the meeting. Again, as reported by Krim, Lois Boland, acting director of international relations for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, explained that “open-source software runs counter to the mission of WIPO, which is to promote intellectual-property rights.” She is quoted as saying, “To hold a meeting which has as its purpose to disclaim or waive such rights seems to us to be contrary to the goals of WIPO.”
First, they are just flat wrong. As I described, most open source and free software relies fundamentally upon the intellectual property right called “copyright.” Without it, restrictions imposed by those licenses wouldn't work. Thus, to say it “runs counter” to the mission of promoting intellectual property rights reveals an extraordinary gap in under- standing—the sort of mistake that is excusable in a first-year law student, but an embarrassment from a high
government official dealing with intellectual property issues."
- Lessig, "Free Culture"
I, personally, do not care what the mission of WIPO is. But I do care very much about whether the mission of promoting intellectual property rights is contrary to the idea of free and open source software. In this paragraph, Lessig claims that it is not. The reasons he gives aren't the same ones that immediately occured to me, because elminating the word "free" from the topic and only discussing "open source" software would not contradict the mission as stated. But basically, Lessig asserts that the idea of free and open source software does not run counter to promoting intellectual property rights.
Is this true, according to Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU/Linux project?
The philosophy of the GNU Project, which Stallman has said repeatedly MUST be what guides the free software community, is, unless I am greatly mistaken, that "All software should be free". This claim implies that copyrighting software is like stealing punch-cards out of MIT's famous "free software" drawer of yesteryear.
How will this end (total software freedom) be accomplished? There may be some who argue that free and open source software created only by volunteers will eventually be objectively better and easier to use than proprietary software and will thus become more and more popular - eventually eliminating proprietary software by means of market forces alone. After only a few experiences with the complexities of GNU/Linux, I can dismiss this claim as unrealistic. Also, creation is not always governed by the marketplace. Even if market forces crushed proprietary software, I could still create a proprietary software program "for the sheer unadulterated hell of it" (To quote Douglas Adams's description of the motivation for survival of creatures that live in the lower intestines of rats) just to spite FSF and ensure that "All software should be free" never becomes a reality. All it takes is one proprietary software programmer to ensure the proprietary software continues to survive as long as the law allows it to exist - especially if this single programmer creates something extremely popular that everyone depends on, such as the (single) creator of the .zip file did.
The only practical way to accomplish "all software should be free" is by changing how the government regulates the computer industry. To accomplish total software freedom, the government must ensure that "all software should be free" becomes "all software will be free".
Therefore, implicit in the fundamental philosophy of the GNU project is the idea that the government should not guarantee intellectual property rights to software authors who do not choose a free software liscense. If all software is to be free, then no software can be proprietary.
So, when the issue of whether we should natinoalize the software industry comes before the government, (which may very well happen, just as the issue of whether we should nationalize the health care industry is before the government now) the Free Software movement will advocate on the side of the Socialists (for there is no more accurate word to describe anyone who wants to nationalize an industry) if they are following their own philosophy. This amounts to a complete rejection of capitalistic property and free market principles - principles which I must uphold as a conservative.
I believe that a free market can almost always provide better products and services than the government can, which ultimately results in greater freedom for the people. Even if that freedom is temporarily restricted by exclusive rights exersized to ensure that developers get paid, the actual freedom to accomplish concrete tasks on computers for huge numbers of users enabled by a competitive software development marketplace will outweight the marginal benefits for the smaller group of extreme hardcore geeks of being able to modify any code they want to do whatever they want. Contrary to Stallman's claim that proprietary software doesn't give the users any freedom, in reality proprietary software does give users more freedom than no software at all does.
Claiming that a Free-Software-Only marketplace will enable greater freedom for the users than a mixed software marketplace such as the one we have now does is a claim that should be backed up by solid data before we go setting millions of investor's dollars worth of property in the form of brand new software being constantly developed "free". FSF may have this data - I do not know.
Because the mission of the Free Software movement runs contrary to the fundamental idea of treating software as property and because the Free Software movement is politically active, its mission runs contrary to the mission of promoting intellectual property rights - at least in the area of software.
Lessig believes that creators should have limited exclusive rights. Stallman does not believe that creators (of software at least) should have any exclusive rights, even if the method he advocates to ensure that no one, including himself, will claim exclusive rights to GNU project code for as long as that code remains under copyright depends on excersizing exclusive rights now.
Lessig's "Free Culture" philosophy, by itself, can allow software to be treated as property while Stallman's "Free Software, Free Society" philosophy cannot.
Therefore, Lessig's and Stallman's philosophies disagree with one another on a profound level.
I am not trying to say that either one of these views is nessicarily wrong - at least not at the present time. And I am certainly not saying either of these gentlemen are in any way being dishonest. Who knows, this issue may never have come up before. What I am saying is: "Free Culture" might be right and "Free Software, Free Society" might be right, but they can't both be right!
Creative works (which includes software!) cannot be treated as property for a limited time if software cannot be treated as property at all.
As someone who is studying both the Creative Commons and the GNU philosophies, this discrepancy confuses me. Could someone please explain what is going on here?
An interesting side note: Because GNU liscenses depend on copyrights, they will become null and void if and when the copyright term on the software expires, because then the software will enter the public domain. There is no prevention after that point on making proprietary modifications on formerly GNU-liscensed code. Keep that in mind because 97 years from now, you might get to begin claiming an exclusive right to (proprietary) derivatives you develop from GNU projects being released today. ROTFLOL.
So, current GNU liscnses do not guarantee perpetual software freedom, and the only way for FSF to guarantee that freedom on derivatives of it's own GNU projects if their copyright terms are about to expire will be, ironically, to lobby Congress to extend the terms. They probably won't do this because it would be absurdly hypocritical and because, regrettably, very few people care about what happens to old software and of course, it might also have something to do with the fact that extensions on existing copyright terms are unconstitutional under the progress clause. (Silly me, I should have mentioned that) But this silly idea does illustrate how their GNU liscenses depend on copyrights in the same way that Microsoft's EULAs do.