Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow at Ravensbourne College

As part of their “Copyright versus Community” event I saw Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow talking (separately) about various copyright issues.

Stallman lived up to his reputation as an uncompromising proponent of free software (he invented/popularised most of its basic ideas, after all). He gave a simple but effective critique of “Open Source” as opposed to “Free Software”: in a nutshell, that Open Source advocates claim open source is the best way to develop software but that they do not have any ethical objection to closed source. On the other hand, Free Software advocates see closed source software as inherently wrong. So if you develop some closed source software and it is better than the open source software then the Open Source advocates have no objections.

He managed to fit all the cranky behaviours he has become famous for into a two hour stretch: talking about how GNU/Linux should always be called “GNU plus Linux” and not just Linux; correcting each and every use of the phrase “open source” where the speaker meant “free software”; that “piracy” is not the right word for “sharing” or “helping your neighbour”. He even managed to get in a row with Cory Doctorow before his speech about whether it was useful to umbrella patent and copyright issues (he thinks not, Cory thinks so). This is a man that will not bend, even a little, from what he sees as right. You could say that’s unreasonable, but have you given us Emacs, gcc and all the rest?

Cory Doctorow was full of energy despite having jumped off a plane from Barcelona an hour before. He has a great turn of phrase and peppered his speech with neologisms, refusing to talk down to his audience. You could tell he was a writer from the delight he took in really using language. He gave a very interesting speech largely about the history of the “copyfights”. A copyfight being defined here as a situation in which a new democratising technology comes up against the power of vested interests (the printing press versus the Church, player pianos versus US government, VCRs and later P2P filesharing versus the entertainment industry).

The speech was full of vivid anecdote and with real detail behing the arguments. He is clearly a great force for the EFF and I’m glad that he is now their “man in London”. He also showed a real sense of humour. He reminded me of the page in Paul Arden’s It’s Not About How Good You Are, It’s About How Good You Want To Be: “Energy. It’s 75% of it. If you haven’t got it, be nice.”

Ravensbourne College is some kind of “design school” and I think very technically slanted. One guy was drawing a desert nightscape in Photoshop on his laptop while listening to one of the talks. Their domain is rave.ac.uk which shows some kind of “trendy” thinking. Quite how they managed to get these guys down there I don’t know but it was a worthwhile afternoon.

One Reply to “Richard Stallman and Cory Doctorow at Ravensbourne College”

  1. Ravensbourne college is a broadcasting and design Higher education college… We just asked them to come down and they did…

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