Charlie Harvey

Video: Richard Stallman — A Free Digital Society

Richard Stallman is something of a legend. He singlehandedly launched the Free Software movement, and the GNU project and has been campaigning for software freedom for almost as long as there have been usable home computers. I jumped at the opportunity to see him talk at the Institution of Engineering and Technology. His topic was "A Free Digital Society", and he spoke on the various problems — nonfree software, software as a service, invasion of privacy, and such — that are often ignored by the discourse of digital inclusion.

This video is a short and fairly wobbly extract durig which RMS talks about the precarity of our online existence. There is an ogg vorbis version if you would rather avoid flash.

The dissident island radio crew have posted the audio of the whole talk on London Indymedia. Also on London Indymedia are full, properly filmed videos of part one and part two of the full talk.

My Impressions

Politically, Stallman is a liberal in the North American sense. So, for example, he unproblematically talks of the freedom of the "free market" and has no difficulty in trusting state legislation to protect people from state malfeasance. That aside, he does a grand job of pulling together some fairly diverse material from wikileaks shutdowns to pervasive surveillance, software as a service, filesharing, the Iraq war and of course software freedom.

Stallman doesn't pull out any huge new revelations, but it is enlightening to hear a free software perspective on digital freedom in its various forms. The issue of software unfreedom is invisible in much of the debate taking place in the online rights community and it should be a critical part of that debate.

I think of Stallman as being a sort of tech moral conscience. Sure, he's dogmatic-sounding on occasion, but that's cos he's right, at least on issues of software freedom. Without his bloody-minded refusal to accept anything less than a totally free software ecosystem and his incurable optimism and belief in that free software world, much of the internet and the wider tech world would be a less free place and would be even more subject to corporate control.

At one point Stallman is asked about companies monetizing their nonfree software. "Fuck them", he replies, "they want to exploit people". I enjoyed that bit.


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