Two Three Letter Names of FOSS bring their ships around for a Vision Collision
RMS (Richard Stallman) just had an interview with the fairly major investment magazine Red Herring. A lot of the content isn’t new from him, but as usual some of it is spot on.
Q: Do you think you will ever achieve that goal?
A: I donâ€™t know because it depends on you. Thatâ€™s why I resist these self-fulfilling prophecies. If enough of us demand freedom weâ€™re sure to win and if few of us demand freedom we will almost surely lose. Itâ€™s entirely up to the readers of this article. As so many issues are to the extent that we still have democracy; so if people were told by businesses they want this and you know you canâ€™t [oppose] businesses so just get used to it, go along, suffer. If people lie down and take it then they will lose. So what do [businesses] do? They are smart: they encourage people to lie down and take it.
[This happens on] many issues and not just this one. Pick any political issue in which things get worse and youâ€™ll find people telling the public: â€˜Itâ€™s inevitable. Donâ€™t try and fight it; itâ€™s useless. of course, if we did bother trying to fight it, we might win.
A couple of items down on LWN where I found the link, there is another story, about ESR (Eric Raymond) joining the “Leadership Team” of Freespire, and it is the juxtaposition of the two stories that is the real story.
Although the Press Release says people were surprised “in recent weeks” about ESR’s speaking out about the need to work with proprietary data formats, his interest in the issue goes back as far as March 2006. He was on fedora-devel then making the same suggestions with the same urgency, basically that although Linux was doing quite well, it was really let down by the lack of support for proprietary codecs. There followed a discussion about why there was no MP3 support out of the box in Fedora; the patent situation appeared to be news to him. He was basically campaigning for Redhat to start defying patentholders and ship mplayer and other such contraband to allow the most complete possible proprietary data format out of the box. It was explained to him that if we as generally pretty penniless individuals decide to download and use mplayer, that is one thing; if a cash-rich American corporation like Redhat decide to start distributing some of the mplayer stuff, which is fairly clearly containing copyright and patent infringements in the US at least, it would strongly motivate the rightsholders to mount an attack to separate the proposed Redhat-idiot from his pile of cash. Redhat are lawyered up enough to be completely alive to the danger, even with regards to MP3. After several days of back and forth, with Alan Cox weighing in quite negatively towards ESR, he moved on to greener, well, less Red, pastures.
So as it happened it was my good self that perhaps brought linspire’s more commercial attitude towards Linux media player apps to the attention of ESR. To underline a point I will be developing in a moment, I sent him a link to linspire’s legally patent-licensed DVD player app several months ago. (Michael Robertson, Linspire honcho, earned some serious gratitude from my family and I for funding, via a prize after the fact, the original Xbox Linux hacking work that I got a fair chunk of, in fact that kept us afloat for about a year).
Now one of the things I realized during that thread, which is the point of this post, is that the conspiracy between copyright law enabling the licensing of works how the rightsholder sees fit (consistant with compulsories that exist in the case of music) and patent law enabling the holder of the patent rights to control the ability of people to play back content that can only be decoded according to their patent, gives proprietary software like Windows a niche that it can’t be winkled out of by FOSS equivalents.
If content rightsholders insist on patented codecs for their content, well, that defines their content as needing licensed playback devices, and that in turn (exceptions like the recent weirdo-licensed free MP3 license for FOSS aside) insists that there is paid-for player doing duty, which violates the share and share-alike basis of pure FOSS. If content rightsholders insist on end-to-end TPM-backed crypto lockups in addition, well that requires a proprietary hardware system with a proprietary OS.
Therefore proprietary software is validated and given meaning by the rights conferred by Copyright and Patent laws. It’s given a future by the deeply embedded and accepted laws that underpin expressions of creativity in developed countries. FOSS can’t equally compete without violating laws that have been proven many times to have vicious teeth: this is an area where FOSS can’t do what it is doing in the areas that are not so wrapped up with globally enforcable rights.
And now we come back around to the elements at the start of this post. RMS knew this long before I worked it out in the middle of an argument with ESR. RMS does not have a lot of time for the traditional media channels
Q: What is the solution to making the free software movement successful?
A: People should boycott all digitally restricted media and if you canâ€™t get your computer to copy it then you shouldnâ€™t buy it. If you donâ€™t have free software to read a DVD you shouldnâ€™t get a DVD. We are calling a boycott on things like HD-DVD and Blu-ray. The solution is to eliminate DRM. There is no situation in which DRM is excusable. Maybe you will be able to access peer-to-peer networks to these songs and movies; I hope so. At least that wonâ€™t put chains on you, so itâ€™s ethically legitimate.
Q: So, you donâ€™t watch any movies on DVDs?
A: I have a few DVDs that are not encrypted and I donâ€™t have anything that would play an encrypted DVD. Hollywood sets out to make crap and most people who see it already know that itâ€™s crap before they go to watch it. Itâ€™s not quite the same as boycotting all movies. Boycott all movies that you donâ€™t have a reason to feel that theyâ€™re good. And itâ€™s obviously different from the simple boycott but the practical result is the same.
Q: Which movies, according to you, are â€œgoodâ€ movies that you have watched?
A: My memory isnâ€™t very good but I have seen movies that I feel like are not crap. I like Spike Lee movies and I also liked Galaxy Questâ€”itâ€™s a comedy which makes fun of Star Wars and its fans, and turns into science fiction. Itâ€™s rather fun. I also like Spartacus.
Q: Which was the last movie you saw?
A: The last movie I saw was Spike Leeâ€™s Inside Man and I saw it on an airplane to India, which is where I end up watching most movies.
Well he goes too far with “There is no situation in which DRM is excusable.” in fact I demand some kind of DRM on my bank account, you can call it privacy or encryption but it is in fact Digital Rights/Restriction Management. As he correctly points out in his nomenclature, success against DRM depends on the generic consumer rejecting it. In my philosophical terms, the evil is coming out of the DRM consumer. Without the gormless willingness of the consumer to accept the restrictions inherent in what they chose to give money for, an evil action of the rightsholder cannot bear fruit. But where my own data is being kept from me for a larger reason — so I cannot manipulate my own bank balance by hacking it — this is in a larger interest shared by everyone.
But still: RMS understands what ESR rejects, it is not enough that the code is Free, the data, the content has to be Free too. mplayer, bittorrented mainstream content, they are free but they are not truly Free, and they cannot be with the laws as they are. It is a shift as big as FOSS vs proprietary to move to a world where the data that you consume has the same Free rights as the code used to render it. How can the philosophical shift from proprietary to FOSS be played out on the content? jamendo.com shows the way but how can the content take advantage of the same aggregation advantages that code can?