Monday, October 15, 2007
That might be true, but only if you take a very restrictive view of the law. This is something that the lawyers, the judges and the politicians will have to fight out.
Reguardless of what they decide however, the fact is that our government is very corrupt. Because of this corruption, and because of the fact that the copyright law of the United States contradicts not only the Constitution but also itself, and because filesharing is a normal, everyday activity for millions of people which the government has no business regulating anyway, I cannot respect this law. Furthermore, I do not need to respect it because unless I am very very unlucky to be chosen as one of the few scapegoats by the RIAA or MPIAA and am sued for millions of dollars more than the commercial value of that which I might have downloaded, nobody is going to know or even care.
"Downloading copyrighted content from the internet is wrong then" they say.
The question I am interested in is not whether filesharing is legal, but whether it should be legal. And before the government tries to regulate an everyday activity that millions of Americans actively participate in, is should examine whether this activity is actually wrong, and whether the costs of stopping it are worth the benefit of it being stopped.
Dollar amounts in this "cost" are much less important than moral "costs". Stopping murder by executing murderers may make sense, but if stopping murder required executing the entire families of murderers, then the moral cost would outweigh the moral benefit. Stopping illegal parking by executing those who park illegally would have the moral cost outweigh the moral benefit by a ridiculous margin.
Stealing is wrong. That is obvious. Is filesharing stealing?
The question "Is filesharing stealing?" is very much like the question "Is firing a gun murder?" Firing a gun is not nessicarily murder, depending on what is being fired at and why. Filesharing is not nessicarily stealing, depending on what is being shared and under what circumstances.
I believe that some kinds of filesharing are "stealing" in some situations. But many times filesharing is NOT stealing.
A filesharing transaction might be stealing only if the answers to all of these questions is "YES":
1. Is the content you are downloading basically a copy of a copyrighted work?
2. Does the copyright owner insist on the "exclusive rights" that the copyright grants him or her?
3. Is the content you are downloading commercially availible for sale by the owner at the time you are downloading it?
4. Have you not paid or are you not going to pay for the content?
If the answers to any of these questions is no, then all questions below it can be ignored because the transaction is NOT stealing and may be illegal in our crazy, mixed-up legal system but I believe that it is not wrong and should not be illegal.
To understand why that is in a world where the media carries the party line of the RIAA and MPIAA, where "Filesharing is stealing!!" is what is constantly taught by the "mainstream" culture, an examination of each question and why you should ask it is called for.
Question 1: "Is the content you are downloading basically a copy of a copyrighted work?"
New technologies give anyone at home resources to create things using only one computer that only people who spent millions of dollars on studio equipment used to be able to do. This new power that people have is not only over the creation of new works - it is just as easy or even easier to modify existing ones.
So imagine that I like a song but I decide I don't like the bridge or the last chorus. At that point in the song, I think it gets too loud for my tastes and I wish it would just leave that bit out. Imagine maybe that there's a curse word in the bridge but the rest of the song makes that seem totally out of context.
Back in the day, I could just turn the song off at that point, or I could fast-forward. That does kind of mess up the rhythm though.
Nowadays, I have more options. Using Acid Pro or some other software package, I could go in and simply remove the parts of the song that I don't like. I could use effects and so forth to avoid having a "pop" at the point where the part I removed is missing, and vwa-la, I've broken federal laws!
Also, I could go a step further and add in parts from other songs. I could take a piece from one song, a piece from another and turn it into a completely new creation of musical "collage art".
These kinds of derivative uses do not really constitute a copy in my opinion and therefore should not be governed by copyright law - at least not when they are non-commercial uses. Downloading songs that have been heavily modified by fans is not stealing anything from the recording artists: in fact, it helps them. The same goes for heavily modified video games or films or books or any other form of media.
If the content is being shared for free and it is not an exact copy, downloading it is not stealing from anyone.
Question 2: "Does the copyright owner insist on the "exclusive rights" that the copyright grants him or her?"
"Remember the Name" is the second track on Fort Minor's first album, "The Rising Tied". "Remember the Name" is copyrighted.
Yet, you can download it and you will not have broken any law at all.
This is because the copyright owner does not insist on all of the exclusive rights that the law currently allows him to o hire a lawyer or to threaten to hire a lawyer to defend. The song has been released under a Creative Commons liscense. By selecting this liscense, the copyright owner has made it clear to the whole world that they are free to download and share the song and also free to make any changes of any kind that they want to the song (The seperated studio tracks are also freely downloadable) as long as the use is non-commercial and as long as the new song gives people these same freedoms. There are different kinds of Creative Commons liscenses that copyright owners can select depending on the types of freedoms they want to grant and the restrictions they want to impose.
Creative Commons liscenses are only some of the many ways that copyright owners can /force/ the copyright laws to be reasonable and only demand the exclusive rights that they actually want. Most copyright owners do not need most of the exclusive rights that the law gives them - in fact, most copyright owners do not need any exclusive rights at all and do not even realize that they are owners, since registration for a copyright is not required for ownership and every creative work that is reduced to a concrete form is automatically copyrighted.
Walk down the street humming random notes and you might inspire someone to write a song. Then you can sue them for millions of dollars in damages for breaking copyright law because the law currently says that you automatically have a copyright on every note that you hum. Having no registration requirement for copyrights is really that absurd.
If the copyright owner does not INSIST on exclusive rights, then downloading their content is not stealing and should not be illegal.
Question 3: "Is the content you are downloading commercially availible for sale by the owner at the time you are downloading it?"
The vast majority of creative works have a very very short commercial life. When you buy a used book, the copyright owner gets nothing. When you download that same book, the copyright owner gets nothing.
I have nothing against used bookstore owners. They are entitled to sell their books. But they are not entitled to any exclusive rights to control copying or to any legal protection against people downloading their products, since they did not develop them and giving them exclusive rights does not promote progress. (which is the whole point of granting exclusive rights according to the Constitution)
Insisting on exclusive rights to content that is no longer commercially availible hinders progress. Distributing content promotes progress. Letting content become completely unavailible to everyone hinders progress.
Downloading content that is not commercially availible does not steal any profits from the owner because the owner is not selling the product anymore.
Therefore, if a work is not commercially availible for sale BY THE OWNER, then downloading that work is not stealing and should not be illegal.
Question 4: "Have you not paid or are you not going to pay for the content?"
I went to the store and bought a product called the "Command & Conquer Battle Chest". It was supposed to contain all of the Command & Conquer games released up to that time. It was about $15. The reason I bought it was to get the game "Red Alert 2" and the "Yuri's Revenge" expansion pack for that game.
I played the game for a while and was having a good time but then began to worry that the CD might get scratched if I spun it too much. So I decided to make a copy of the game discs and only actually play the game from the copies, while leaving the original discs somewhere where they would not get damaged.
There was (or there should have been) nothing illegal if I had been able to do this. It would have been illegal, but not morally wrong, for me to "crack" the game so that no CD was required at all, but I wasn't trying to do that at this point. I was just trying to make a backup copy, which is something that the law allows.
So I fired up Nero (a CD burning/copying program) and put the first disc in and told it to copy. I'd made copies of my own personal data discs before and I figured there should be no difference. But there was a difference.
It told me that it could not (or would not) make a copy because the disc had copy-protection on it. I tried a few ways of getting around the copy-protection and I could not. (Suggestions and links welcome!)
I was outraged! I paid for the computer, I paid for the software, I paid for the CD burner and I paid for the CD copying software. Everything that I had done and everything I was trying to do was something that I HAD PAID FOR. I had followed all the rules. Westwood (or whoever their distributor is) had STOLEN FROM ME the very thing that I HAD PAID FOR when I bought the game! (The right to play it)
I did put the discs in a safe place. I have the original CDs that I could show if anyone ever showed up questioning whether I owned a legal copy of the game. But I have never used them since that day. I own a legal copy but I do not play with a legal copy anymore.
I decided that rather than trying to circumvent the copy-protection myself and possibly risk damaging the original CDs (the opposite of the goal I originally set out to achieve) I would get some help from somebody else.
So the first thing I did was remove Red Alert 2 from my computer. Then, I went online and downloaded a warez version of the game, instealled that and now I play a "cracked" version of Red Alert 2 that is distributed illegally for free on the internet instead of the copy-protected version sold to me by Westwood. I could have simply downloaded the warez version without paying in the first place and saved myself some time, frustration and money but I originally didn't want to be stealing or to do anything illegal.
What happened here was: When I actually paid money, the game companies stole from me as a consumer the very thing that I paid my hard-earned money for. (The right to play Red Alert 2 until Hell freezes over, reguardless of what happens to the round bits of plastic that came in the box and reguardless of whether the company that made the software still supports it or not) and the only way to get what I had paid for was to do the same sort of thing they were doing to me right back at them.
What I originally wanted to do was NOT STEALING and I should not have had to do something illegal in order to get the value that I paid for. But I did have to, because many times the government and the copyright holders simply don't care about the consumer or any property rights that the legitimate customer should have when he or she buys a product.
I believe that the actual property right that the individual consumer has (or should have, if our copyright laws made sense) to any use of any kind within their own home of content that they have paid for is much more important than the abstract exclusive right to distribute copies that a copyright holder has and should have. Filesharing is used many times by these legitimate consumers to get exactly what they thought they had paid for but was stolen from them by the copyright owner. That kind of filesharing, under any circumstances, is right. Period.
Rosa Parks paid for her bus ticket. She should have been able to ride anywhere she wanted.
Monday, October 8, 2007
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.
The "Progress Clause" in the United States Constitution guarantees to authors and inventors for limited times the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries. A computer programmer is both an author and an inventor - the task of programming itself is the very essence of the two professions (writing and inventing) combined.
Therefore, the computer programmer is entitled to an exclusive right to his writings and discoveries under the Constitution. It would not be "un-american" to try to ammend the constitution to "hack" the Progress Clause (hack - to get a system to do things that it was never designed to do) so that it has a special exception for computer code. But I don't see a problem with proprietary code that is dire enough to justify a Constitutional ammendment.
So, any claim that free software is traditional does not hold up. "All software is free as in speech" may the tradition of early computer companies and of the original programmers from MIT but it is not in line with our national traditions historically before the age of computers. From a Constitutional scholar's viewpoint, insisting on exclusive rights to copy software is perfectly acceptable because software is written.
However, just because claiming exclusive rights is our tradition does not mean that claiming exclusive rights makes sense. From an unbiased computer geek's viewpoint, keeping the source code to a popular program "in-house" is completely insane behavior, and from an informed consumer's or a privacy advocate's standpoint, it is very very threatening.
It is threatening because with most if not all closed-source software, the end-user has no idea what the programmers might be telling his or her machine to do behind his or her back.
How could the world of computers have turned into a place where you spend money to get a machine, and then you spend more money to get code (software) to run on that machine which you aren't allowed to look at, and then the code that you paid for running on the machine that you paid gets to do things behind the scenes that you aren't allowed to know about!?
It's rather like buying a car from a manufacturer who has locked the hood shut so that you and your mechanic don't get to look at the engine, and tells you that only the manufacturer is allowed to unlock the hood, work on the car or to see the engine because the engine design is a trade secret. When it comes time to change the oil, your neighbor tells you, "Ha-ha! You should have bought a free car!"
There are things Congress could do to ensure that computer programmers would be paid for their creative work AND that all source code would become free after a short period of time. I may be against rejecting our tradition as it is written in the Consitution, but I'm all for rejecting the traditions adopted by Congress to do with copyrights.
Originally, copyrights lasted for 14 years in the United States. Then there was an option to renew once to double the term and then there were extensions for new works and then in the early twentieth century, Congress started the unconstitutional practice of going back in time and extending copyrights from the past. It is unconstitutional because the Progress Clause limits the power of Congress and so if Congress has the power to extend existing copyrights and there is no limit to that power, a power of Congress that was limited by the Constitution as it is written becomes effectively unlimited. The Supreme Court, of course, which has gotten into a regular practice of completely ignoring the Constitution, did not see it this way.
Nowadays, the world moves faster - or at least the world of computers does. Yet copyrights move much much slower. Computer code is copyrighted for 97 years!!!
Certainly there's some huge huge problems with code being THAT proprietary. I don't think the fundamental problem is that code is proprietary - the problem is that the code being written today STAYS proprietary for longer than computers have existed on this Earth thus far!
I think computer code should be governed by copyright law in such a way that all source code becomes public domain after 10 years. This is because all computer code that is 10 years old or more has outlived it's commercial life. Re-releasing updated versions of programs to run on modern computers would have the updates - not the original programs - protected for another 10 years. Competitors would be free to release better updates or "unofficial 10th anniversary editions". This provides incentive to innovate.
In the meantime, while I don't think the completely free GPL liscense makes sense for software, the complete tyranny of the EULA is ... complete tyranny.
What the world needs, I believe, is something in-between.
What if all software was open-source? What if you were allowed to look at the source code and to modify any software you have paid for but are only allowed to redistribute your modifications to others who have also paid for the software?
An online system to keep track of who owns all these liscenses (and thus, who follow-on creators are allowed to redistribute to) and allow file-sharing of modifications between people who have purchased a liscense would be needed to keep the lawyers away. It would function kind of like a cross between the Pirate Bay and eBay (LOL) in that it would enable "Free-as-in-speech" filesharing for a small fee in a competitive marketplace.
A system like that, combined with a shorter copyright term for software of about 10 years, (after which all software would enter the public domain) with perhaps some more adjustments for things I might not have considered yet would, I believe, probably be enough to protect computer users from the evils that the free software advocates point out in the current system.
-- "Hackers; Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy
There is what I call a "techno-political" movement in the world today called the "Free Software" movement. It is very small in terms of being a "voting block" but it's arguments are very very convincing. It's roots go way back to some of the earliest "computer hackers". The GNU/Linux operating system and it's "free as in speech" liscenses are "products" of this movement.
The Free Software movement believes that "All software should be free". (They mean "free as in speech")
In the early computer lab at MIT where "computer hacking" first began, all software was free. There was a drawer next to the console where all computer programs were deposited. Anyone working on the computer could take those programs out of the drawer, copy them, run them, modify them and put their version back in the drawer so that anyone else could do the same things. That system of free sharing and collaboration worked extremely well in an academic environment and was the default model for early computer science.
As the computer hacking community grew, the drawer was no longer practical but the idea of the drawer - that all computer code should be free for anyone to use and to make derivateive works from that would also remain free - remained, at least in some people's minds. Most prominently, it remained in the mind of Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation.
So when people like Bill Gates started computer companies like Microsoft who only distributed their software in a form that could not be modified - and demanded that no one else be allowed to redistribute their work - this disturbed some people. It was felt that such practices were "stealing from the drawer" (my own paraphrase) that which belonged in the "Free Software" drawer.
Their main method of combatting these practices is to create "Free Software" that will allow them the freedoms they want.
I think that is excellent. I use "Free Software" programs much of the time. GNU/Linux is still beyond me but I'm a big fan of some of the really great "Free Software" projects that have been ported to Windows, like OpenOffice.org, (I'm never paying for Office again!) Audacity, VLC Media Player and 7-Zip.
Those programs are "free" not because nobody is allowed to charge money for them. They are free because everyone (not just their creators) is allowed to charge money for them, so as a consequence, hardly anyone does. They are also "free" because anyone, including you, is allowed to modify these programs and redistribute your new (hopefully improved) version under the same terms as the original. You can download all of the programs for free (as in price) without breaking any law at all. In fact, that is what their creators want you to do - or else they would not have made the programs free.
Thus, they have re-established the drawer. But it doesn't stop there. The message "all software should be free" means that not only should they be allowed to donate their software to the drawer - it implies that everyone should be OBLIGATED to keep their software in the drawer. If they don't, they're stealing from the drawer.
I should reiterate that the term "stealing from the drawer" is one that I invented to describe what Free Software advocates claim that proprietary software programmers are doing to the software when they insist on exclusive rights.
This "stealing from the drawer" accusation might not only apply to software. It could also be made about record labels, movie studios and publishing companies. Some of the practices of these companies disturb me but not for the same reasons they disturb the Free Software advocates. I think "Free Software" is a good thing to have but I do not believe that "All software should be free" - at least not immediately.
In this blog, I am going to write down my thoughts about the practices of "stealing from the drawer" and to what degrees I believe these practices are right or wrong and why. I have not entirely yet made up my mind on these issues, so I hope that through feedback I recieve from other people, I might be able to clear some of it up.
To understand some of my arguments you should probably read some of the books I have read on the subject. I do not nessicarily agree with the views expressed in these works (Indeed, I stongly disagree with many of them) but reading them will help you understand the multiple sides of the issues.
1. "Free Culture" by Lawrence Lessig. Read this if you read nothing else on the subject! I mostly agree with the core arguments of the book as they pertain to intellectual property.
2. "Hackers; Heroes of the Computer Revolution" by Steven Levy, is an excellent history of computer hacking.
3. "Free Software, Free Society" by Richard Stallman. I agree that many of the problems Stallman points out with the proprietary software model are real problems but I do not agree with many of Stallman's solutions to the problems.
4. "The Scratchware Manifesto" - I have serious issues with the gaming industry and also see many of the problems this "manifesto" brings up. I also laugh at the total absurdity of some of their claims - alot of it is clearly rubbish. But they are an example of a group that sees the problems of the current system but has different solutions for them other than total software freedom.
5. "Masters of DOOM" is the history of "id Software" which was the game company that created Wolfenstein 3D, DooM, Quake and Quake 2. The graphic engines of those games started out as proprietary shareware but were later released as free software. While I personally don't appreciate the violence and gore in some of their titles, it is the business model and some of the unorthadox business practices (such as shareware distrabution) that I admire.
6. "Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright" by Eben Moglen. I don't nessicarily agree with any of the points in this document but it is a good representation of the "anarchist" anti-copyright view, which is actually quite popular today among internet users despite it's extremism.
Also, understanding the "Capitalism vs Socialism" debate and basic American conservative/liberal politics in general is definately a requirement.
I will try not to get too technical in either the legal or the electronic senses of the word, partially because I don't want to confuse people and partly because I probably won't know what I'm talking about myself if I try.