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Writing the Free Software Song

This is the story of the writing of the Free Software Song.

I wrote the free software song at a filksinging session at a science fiction convention, probably in early 1991. It was a “bardic circle” session, which means each person in turn around the hall had the chance to either sing or ask someone else to sing. I had just had my turn, and there were 20 or more people there, so I knew it would be a long time before I had another turn. I decided to pass the time writing a filksong. This meant I was not starting with any particular inspiration in mind. I had to look for what to write about and how.

So first I asked myself, what topic should it be about? I realized I had never written a filksong relating to free software, so I figured it was time I did.

Then I asked myself, what tune should I use? I realized I had never written a filksong using Bulgarian dance music, so I figured that would be a good thing to do for once. I chose Sadi Moma because it is not too fast or complicated, and is easy to sing.

By the time it was my turn again, the song was ready. After I sang it, someone else in the room said, “That has an anthem-like quality. You should show it to Richard Stallman.” (That year was the time I was a little famous and I was a guest at the convention.)

I said, “I am Richard Stallman.”

She said, “Oh, I'm sorry!”

I responded, “Don't be sorry, it's fun when that happens.”

“filksong” started as a typo for “folksong”, and the term was adopted in science fiction fandom to refer to the practice of singing songs that relate to science fiction topics or other any other topic that was considered interesting or funny. Some of the people who sing these songs also write some. Many of these songs put new words to existing tunes, and such a song is called a “filk” of the original song. Thus, the free software song is a filk of Sadi Moma.


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