Time for Coders to Get Political?

When I interviewed Richard Stallman back in 1999, he had some interesting thoughts on the subject of freedom:

I'm going to keep working on the free software movement, because I don't see who's going to replace me, and I don't see how I could do something more important in some other area. The issues of freedom that everybody's heard of are much more important than this - freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free assembly. The reason I'm not more involved with them is that I don't know what to do about them very effectively.
I help out on the side in various ways with those other issues, in a way that lots of people help out. But I don't know how to do a tremendous amount on those issues, whereas on this particular issue of the freedom to share the things on your computer with other people, there I've been able to do a tremendous amount because I had particular skills that were useful in doing it.

RMS may have felt back then that the best way for him to contribute to freedom was to code, or to encourage others to code, rather than trying to change the world directly, but things have moved on: today, Stallman is becoming something of a political activist. I'm not talking about the Free Software Foundation's "Defective by Design" campaign, however entertaining and successful that has been in terms of raising awareness about the threats posed by DRM (Digital Restrictions Management or Digital Rights Mismanagement as Stallman likes to term it). What I have in mind are two recent meetings in France between RMS and highly-placed politicians there.

Admittedly, Stallman's first attempt was purely a propaganda victory. On 9 June, he led a delegation that tried to visit the French Prime Minister at his official residence, the Hotel Matignon. RMS wanted to discuss the controversial French law called DADVSI - also known as the iTunes law because of its impact on proprietary music formats like that employed by Apple (Wikipedia has a good summary of the complicated evolution and implications of this law). In addition, he planned to present a paper roll containing some 165,000 signatures petitioning against DADVSI.

Despite numerous requests presented through official channels, Stallman was not granted an audience with the French Prime Minister – even though Bill Gates had earlier been received by the French President – prompting RMS to comment: "Gates is the emperor, we are only citizens". When Stallman tried to enter the Hotel Matignon anyway, he was "pushed back" by the chief of security. Since he was also unable to present the petition, he unfurled the scroll in the gutter to demonstrate symbolically the French government's contempt for the people who had signed it.

Stallman's other French connection proved more fruitful. On 28 June, he met up with Ségolène Royal, a Frenchwoman who is turning the world of French politics upside-down. Even though she is not yet officially a candidate, opinion polls show her to be the leading contender for the post of President, which will become vacant next year. If she succeeds, she will be the first female President in the history of France.

The meeting of Royal and Stallman produced a statement summarising their discussions that could have far-reaching consequences if she is elected. Among other things, it proclaimed:

Open standards (like Open Document Format) and the use of free software contribute to the independence, quality and effectiveness of public agencies and local communities. Developments funded by public authorities for their own needs should, as a general rule, be free.
Public authorities in France and Europe should promote a legal framework which favors both freedom to use software and the participation of all users in innovation.
Policies for research and technological innovation in computing could benefit from from using concepts originating from free software.
The education system must teach digital literacy. This education should be based on free software.

As well as advocating free software, it also strongly supported open access – the idea that rather than being locked up in expensive technical journals, scientific papers and their results should be freely available online to everyone:

Beyond software, public authorities must promote "informational public property" in the sciences. They are calling for the implementation of the Berlin declaration and of the recommendations of the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS) in regards to open access to scientific information.

Finally, it had some strong words on the subject of DRM and the DADVSI law:

By giving a privileged legal status to digital restrictions (DRM), the bill "copyrights and related rights in the information society" (DADVSI) is going in the wrong direction. It will thus be necessary to examine from scratch the legal framework created by the DADVSI law at the French level and to contribute to the development of a European and international legal framework more favorable to the sharing of works and knowledge.

This document is important not only because of the practical implications it could have if Ségolène Royal becomes President next year, but also because it marks an important new phase in Stallman's work. After years of being a voice crying in the wilderness, Stallman has now achieved a political stature that increasingly will grant him access to top politicians around the world. Maybe not all of them, but the more progressive ones who want to understand what technology means for their electorates – and who want to be on the right side of the coming digital revolution driven by free software and open content. As a result, RMS can play an important role by operating within the political process, and with potentially far-reaching results, as the statement with Ségolène Royal suggests.

But this shift also raises a question. Given the high-profile nature of free software today, and the familiarity among politicians, opinion-formers and ordinary members of the public that it has engendered, should other top coders start to exploit their fame and power to engage directly with political movers and shakers? Should they, too, join in the active defense of the free software they have done so much to foster, and of the broader values it implies?

How about it, Linus?

Glyn Moody is author of "Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution," and writes about free software and open content at opendotdotdot.

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Ségolène...

thomas_'s picture

RMS talk with Ségolène Royal... And she "forgot" to go to the arliament to vote against DADVSI...

What is Activism ??

John van V.'s picture

I am building a website based on the Care2 activist website. Few if any FLOSS people are on Care2, which raises questions for me.

Does the free and open movement oppose cruelty, hunger, the destrution of the environment, the pain of animals. All these things are illegal already, and, only, through the information society, need to be addressed.

Once, when I suggested that BioPerl could reduce suffering by animals caused by medical experimentation, a perler replied, "where would the fun be, then?"

Has the failure of the free and open movement's efforts to dislodge Microsoft resulted from an impure activism ??

Has it been influenced by the deliberate isolation by the scientific community for the last 350 years ??

Will it continually fail ??

What is Activism ??

John van V.'s picture

I am building a website based on the Care2 activist website. Few if any FLOSS people are on Care2, which raises questions for me.

Does the free and open movement oppose cruelty, hunger, the destruction of the environment, or the pain of animals.

All these things are illegal already, and, only, through the information society, need they be addressed.

Once, when I suggested that BioPerl could reduce suffering by animals caused by medical experimentation, a perler replied, "where would the fun be, then?"

Has the failure of the free and open movement's efforts to dislodge Microsoft resulted from an impure and isolated activism ??

Has it been influenced by the deliberate isolation by the scientific community for the last 350 years ??

Will it continually fail ??

Linux Society "Why we need linux"

Many are already political..

Russell McOrmond's picture

I think that there are people who are good at what Lawrence Lessig calls (US) "West Coast Code" (software) and others more on (US) "East Coast Code" (policy, laws, etc). Not everyone is good at both, and we need to build better respect between those in the FLOSS community that are working in each.

While it is fairly new for this year, there will be a few more political BOFs at the Ottawa Linux Symposium this year. Hopefully those who have an interest in politics who will be at OLS will attend.

I also hope that Canadians at OLS will sign our new Petition to Canadian parliament that discusses the "2 TPMs and 2 owners" of DRM. We need to ensure that politicians realize that when a copyright holder puts a TPM onto something that they do not own (such as the devices we use to access content) that not only should this not be protected in law, but that this should be clearly illegal. Only the owner of something should be legally allowed to apply or authorize the application of a technical measure onto what they own.

POLITICS

Anonymous's picture

For those of you who want to know more about what is going on, see:- www.policestateplanning.com & in particular read the e-book "The Police State Road Map" - about 200 pages.
Then view:- www.ukip.org. UKIP is just one of many organisations opposed to the Totalitarian One World Government Movement.
Also see:- www.german-foreign-policy.com.
Work within the law in any way possible to resist the EU Police State!

Truth, Justice and the American way.

Anonymous's picture

Oh BS! I'm well aware that a one world government is a very bad thing and we should avoid it. I am for the US and do not want the EU, UN or anyone else dictating our freedoms (such as the right to protect ourselves.) What you need to understand about america is that we will kick your ass. We come from forfathers that said "give me liberty or give me death!" Why are you suprised?

Yet, what you are suggesting is that Microsoft and it's corrupt practices are freedom and a free market. You've got it backwards. Freedom is Open software. Not monopoly limitations.

Plus, you know what? Lets end the BS right here and now. Dare to compare at:

http://www.ubuntu.com It's just better.

All you need is about 256MB RAM and an Nvidia graphics card (if you want direct 3D graphics else practically anything will do) and one of the many compatible WiFi cards. If you have an bad one, you may even be able to use "ndiswrapper."

Let me make it simple for you. It's free for life.

Please wake up, else your access to infomation will be limited.

If you want a better and unfettered computing future then install Ubuntu (Dual boot with Windows if you want to compare on same hardware or run old stuff.)

Order you free CD now (or download it.)

very funny

Anonymous's picture

You said you do not like a One World gov, but you support US imperialist politics, and the "right to kick you ass" wich is no more than "be our servant or die".

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