Model Engineering College

Talk by Richard M. Stallman 

The Danger of Software Patents

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xcuse me sir, question from me again. Sir, this is a personal question. Me, as such, I love programming. I spend a lot of time in front of my system. And I was listening to some of your earlier speeches where you said that back in the 70's, the community of programmers had a sense of goodwill among them. They used to share code, they used to develop on it.

        Well, a specific community of programmers which I belonged to. This was not all programmers. This was one specific community. Continue.

Yes sir. In that context, I feel particularly, me as such, I feel very hurt when I see the so called interaction among programmers today. Because many of us are very good programmers but we look at each other in different colours depending upon the tools we use - "hey, he's a windows guy", "hey, he's a GNU/Linux guy", "hey, he's into Solaris systems", "he's a network programmer". And unfortunately most of this prejudice come from a lot of  misinterpretation out of things like this.  None of these guys promote Free Software as such, and it hurts me as a programmer and many of my colleagues, and I work in an environment ...

        Could you speak a bit more slowly, I am hearing most of it, but  there was one point that I miss, so you speak slowly.

Yeah, and that here that we work with in an environment you are judged according to the tools you use rather than the quality of work. 

        To me that, well, in one sense there is a situation where in a limited way that is rational. If there is a tool which is normally used for doing fairly easy jobs and there are lot of people who now had to do it than I would imagine now, I wouldn't want, I might not pay as much to them as somebody who does very hard jobs with a different tool that's used for hard jobs. But it's true if you're talking about hard jobs, it makes no sense that you prejudice about what tools people are using. Good programmers can use any tools.

That was not the focus here. The focus was that here it's a question of goodwill. Goodwill amongst programmers these days seems to be melted down into the, you know little boxes of this system and that system and that hurts.

        I agree we should encourage people to study more different things and we should never be prejudiced against people because of some detail, you know the fact that this person likes Prolog and this person likes C, why should they hate each other ...

It's not even that distinct. It's like this person works on GNU/Linux and this person works on Windows, which are the major operating systems today in India at least.

       Well, in that case, though it's not just a prejudice. You see Windows is a system, a social system, that keeps people helpless and devoid. Whereas, GNU/Linux is an alternative that is created specifically to liberate people and to encourage them to collaborate. So to sum it then, it's not like where you born in  this country or that country, no this is like your choice of politics. And it does make to criticise people for their choices about important issues.

        So, I would say, a person who's using Windows, well, either he's actively supporting this power structure or at least may be he's trapped in it and doesn't have the courage to get out. In that case you can forgive him, I guess, and  encourage him. You know there are different situations in any place where people're different. Some people are making more or less effort to try to improve things. I believe in judging people as individuals, not as lumping them together by their groups.

        But this is, in this one case it is, somewhat alike political choice with political consequences for society and that's exactly what makes sense to criticise people.

Sorry to continue again on this, but I'm a little persistent about this. It's ...

        This is your last chance.

Yes sir, thank you. Generally when statements like these are made  people who are not so much, you know, in connection with these things tend to assume that cooperative communities and sharing of source code and sharing of ideas and things like that don't exist in other environments but they do, and that's very unfortunate that they think so.

        I'm sorry ... "that don't exist in other environments", I don't know which other environments that you're talking about I don't understand.

Other programming environments, other operating systems.

        Well may be there are some users developing some Free Software that runs on Windows, in fact I'm sure ... 

Note: At this point, there was a short blackout, and both the recording and the transcript is incomplete here. 

        Well, may be there, are there any questions? Could you speak louder? I can't hear you at all.

Sir may I ask you a question ?

        Okay you can, sure.

In Free Software System we will be distributing the source code also together with the software. So a person is entitled to change whatever he can in the source code. So don't you think there will be too many software versions of a particular software and this will in turn cause problems for a layman to find out which will suit him the most.

        Practical experience is that this is not a problem and occasionally it happens. But not very often. Now, you see that the reason is that the users want interoperability and with Free Software the users are ultimately in control and what they want they tend to get. The Free Software developers realise that they had better - if they are going to make incompatible changes they are likely to make users unhappy and 
their versions are not going to be used. So they generally draw the obvious conclusion and pay a lot of attention to interoperability.

What I feel is that like I'll be just loading a software into my computer and the next morning I'll find a better version then again I'll have to change it. The next morning again something has been done to the source code and that's a better version, so don't you ...

       In general you are not going be finding a better version everyday and the reason is that typically for any given program there is usually only one version that is widely used. May be there will be two, once in a while there will be three - when there is no good maintainer that might happen. So you are just not going to keep finding out about more versions that are good everyday; there aren't so many. There won't be that many popular versions. There is one situation where you can get a new version everyday. That is, when there is one team doing a lot of work on development then every day you can get the latest version. That you can do. But there is only one version at any given time.
Sir, don't you think we will have to implement an organisation which will take into consideration all these updations and it will just provide a single software which will have all the updations right.

        I'm sorry, I didn't hear that. Shouldn't we have an organisation that would do something with all these versions ... but i don't know what. 

Like, say I have developed a version of ...

        Did anyone else hear what she said? Could anyone else tell me what she said ?

The thing is that ...

        It's a very valuable skill to learn to speak slowly and clearly. If you ever want to give a speech which as part of your career you will, it's very helpful to learn to enunciate clearly and slowly .

Thank you sir. Sir the thing is that don't you feel that we require an organisation which will just perform a number of updations together and make available a software which will club all the updations until that date?

        You are saying, take various different applications and put them  together?

Yes Sir.

        I will tell you a lot of organisations are doing that; in fact every one of the GNU/Linux distributions is exactly that. Debian does that, Red Hat does that ... We to some extent do that also for the GNU packages. We work on making sure they work together.

Excuse me Sir, we have talked lot against patents. In US conditions have you ever been forced to put forward any applications for patents?

        No. But no one can force me to make a patent application ...

Also do you own any patents?

        I do not own any patents. Now, I have considered the possibility of  applying for patents to use them as part of a mutual strategic defence alliance.

Do you mean to say that if I have twenty patents with me, I donate it to the FSF and you maintain it for me?

        Well, not the FSF, it would be a separate specialised organisation that would exist specifically so that we would all contribute are patents and that organisations would use all of these patents to shelter anyone who wishes shelter. So anyone can join the organisation, even  somebody who has no patents. And that person gets shelter of this organisation. But then we all do try to get patents so as to make the organisation stronger so it can protect us all better. That is the idea, but so far no one has been able to get this started. It's not an easy thing to do, and part of the reason is that applying for the patent is very expensive. And a lot of work as well.

       So this will be the last question. 


Why can't the Free Software foundation start its own distribution?

        Oh well, the reason is that Debian is almost what we want, and it seems better to be friends with Debian and try to convince them to change it a little rather than to say, "Well, we are not going to use it;  we are going to make our own thing".  And also it seems likely to be more successful too because, after all there are a lot of people working on Debian already. Why try to make an alternative to that large community. Much better to work with them and convince them to support our goals better. If it works, of course, and we have our ways to go in that.

        So that was the last question, I can't stay all day answering  questions, I'm sorry. So at this point I am going to have to call a halt and get going and go have lunch. So Thank you for listening.



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