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<title>Introduction to Free Software, Free Society
- GNU Project - Free Software Foundation</title>
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<h2>Introduction to <a href="http://shop.fsf.org/product/free-software-free-society/"><i>Free
<cite>Free Software, Free Society: The Selected Essays of
Richard M. Stallman</i></a></h2>

<p> Stallman</cite></h2>

<address class="byline">
by Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
</p> Lessig <a href="#lessig"><sup>[*]</sup></a>

Every generation has its philosopher — a philosopher—a writer or an artist who
captures the imagination of a time. Sometimes these philosophers are
recognized as such; often it takes generations before the connection
is made real. But recognized or not, a time gets marked by the people
who speak its ideals, whether in the whisper of a poem, or the blast
of a political movement.
Our generation has a philosopher. He is not an artist, or a
professional writer. He is a programmer. Richard Stallman began his
work in the labs of <abbr title="Massachusetts Institute of Technology">MIT</abbr>, 
as a programmer and architect building operating system software. He
has built his career on a stage of public life, as a programmer and an
architect founding a movement for freedom in a world increasingly
defined by “code.”
“Code” is the technology that makes computers run. Whether
inscribed in software or burned in hardware, it is the collection of
instructions, first written in words, that directs the functionality
of machines. These machines — computers — increasingly machines—computers—increasingly
define and control our life. They determine how phones connect, and
what runs on TV. They decide whether video can be streamed across a
broadband link to a computer. They control what a computer reports
back to its manufacturer. These machines run us. Code runs these
What control should we have over this code? What understanding? What
freedom should there be to match the control it enables? What power?
These questions have been the challenge of Stallman's life. Through
his works and his words, he has pushed us to see the importance of
keeping code “free.” Not free in the sense that code
writers don't get paid, but free in the sense that the control coders
build be transparent to all, and that anyone have the right to take
that control, and modify it as he or she sees fit. This is “free
software”; “free software” is one answer to a world
built in code.
“Free.” Stallman laments the ambiguity in his own
term. There's nothing to lament. Puzzles force people to think, and
this term “free” does this puzzling work quite well. To
modern American ears, “free software” sounds utopian,
impossible. Nothing, not even lunch, is free. How could the most
important words running the most critical machines running the world
be “free”? How could a sane society aspire to such an
Yet the odd clink of the word “free” is a function of us,
not of the term. “Free” has different senses, only one of
which refers to “price.” A much more fundamental sense of
“free” is the “free,” Stallman says, in the
term “free speech,” or perhaps better in the term
“free labor.” Not free as in costless, but free as in
limited in its control by others. Free software is control that is
transparent, and open to change, just as free laws, or the laws of a
“free society,” are free when they make their control
knowable, and open to change. The aim of Stallman's “free
software movement” is to make as much code as it can
transparent, and subject to change, by rendering it
The mechanism of this rendering is an extraordinarily clever device
called “copyleft” implemented through a license called
GPL. Using the power of copyright law, “free software” not
only assures that it remains open, and subject to change, but that
other software that takes and uses “free software” (and
that technically counts as a “derivative work”) must also
itself be free.  If you use and adapt a free software program, and
then release that adapted version to the public, the released version
must be as free as the version it was adapted from. It must, or the
law of copyright will be violated.
“Free software,” like free societies, has its
enemies. Microsoft has waged a war against the GPL, warning whoever
will listen that the GPL is a “dangerous” license. The
dangers it names, however, are largely illusory. Others object to the
“coercion” in GPL's insistence that modified versions are
also free. But a condition is not coercion. If it is not coercion for
Microsoft to refuse to permit users to distribute modified versions of
its product Office without paying it (presumably) millions, then it is
not coercion when the GPL insists that modified versions of free
software be free too.
And then there are those who call Stallman's message too extreme. But
extreme it is not. Indeed, in an obvious sense, Stallman's work is a
simple translation of the freedoms that our tradition crafted in the
world before code. “Free software” would assure that the
world governed by code is as “free” as our tradition that
built the world before code.
For example: A “free society” is regulated by law. But
there are limits that any free society places on this regulation
through law: No society that kept its laws secret could ever be called
free. No government that hid its regulations from the regulated could
ever stand in our tradition. Law controls.  But it does so justly only
when visibly. And law is visible only when its terms are knowable and
controllable by those it regulates, or by the agents of those it
regulates (lawyers, legislatures).
This condition on law extends beyond the work of a legislature. Think
about the practice of law in American courts. Lawyers are hired by
their clients to advance their clients' interests. Sometimes that
interest is advanced through litigation. In the course of this
litigation, lawyers write briefs. These briefs in turn affect opinions
written by judges. These opinions decide who wins a particular case,
or whether a certain law can stand consistently with a constitution.
All the material in this process is free in the sense that Stallman
means.  Legal briefs are open and free for others to use. The
arguments are transparent (which is different from saying they are
good) and the reasoning can be taken without the permission of the
original lawyers. The opinions they produce can be quoted in later
briefs. They can be copied and integrated into another brief or
opinion. The “source code” for American law is by design,
and by principle, open and free for anyone to take. And take lawyers
do — for
do—for it is a measure of a great brief that it achieves its
creativity through the reuse of what happened before. The source is
free; creativity and an economy is built upon it.
This economy of free code (and here I mean free legal code) doesn't
starve lawyers. Law firms have enough incentive to produce great
briefs even though the stuff they build can be taken and copied by
anyone else. The lawyer is a craftsman; his or her product is
public. Yet the crafting is not charity.  Lawyers get paid; the public
doesn't demand such work without price. Instead this economy
flourishes, with later work added to the earlier.
We could imagine a legal practice that was different — briefs different—briefs
and arguments that were kept secret; rulings that announced a result
but not the reasoning.  Laws that were kept by the police but
published to no one else. Regulation that operated without explaining
its rule.
We could imagine this society, but we could not imagine calling it
“free.” Whether or not the incentives in such a society
would be better or more efficiently allocated, such a society could
not be known as free. The ideals of freedom, of life within a free
society, demand more than efficient application.  Instead, openness
and transparency are the constraints within which a legal system gets
built, not options to be added if convenient to the leaders. Life
governed by software code should be no less.
Code writing is not litigation. It is better, richer, more
productive. But the law is an obvious instance of how creativity and
incentives do not depend upon perfect control over the products
created. Like jazz, or novels, or architecture, the law gets built
upon the work that went before. This adding and changing is what
creativity always is. And a free society is one that assures that its
most important resources remain free in just this sense.
For the first time, this book collects the writing and lectures of
Richard Stallman in a manner that will make their subtlety and power
clear. The essays span a wide range, from copyright to the history of
the free software movement.  They include many arguments not well
known, and among these, an especially insightful account of the
changed circumstances that render copyright in the digital world
suspect. They will serve as a resource for those who seek to
understand the thought of this most powerful man — powerful man—powerful in
his ideas, his passion, and his integrity, even if powerless in every
other way. They will inspire others who would take these ideas, and
build upon them.
I don't know Stallman well. I know him well enough to know he is a
hard man to like. He is driven, often impatient. His anger can flare
at friend as easily as foe. He is uncompromising and persistent;
patient in both.
Yet when our world finally comes to understand the power and danger of
code — when
code—when it finally sees that code, like laws, or like
government, must be transparent to be free — then free—then we will look
back at this uncompromising and persistent programmer and recognize
the vision he has fought to make real: the vision of a world where
freedom and knowledge survives the compiler. And we will come to see
that no man, through his deeds or words, has done as much to make
possible the freedom that this next society could have.
We have not earned that freedom yet. We may well fail in securing
it. But whether we succeed or fail, in these essays is a picture of
what that freedom could be. And in the life that produced these words
and works, there is inspiration for anyone who would, like Stallman,
fight to create this freedom.

<strong>Lawrence Lessig</strong><br

<div class="infobox extra" role="complementary">
<hr />
<p id="lessig">
[*] Lawrence Lessig was then Professor of Law, Law at Stanford Law School.</strong>

<hr />
<blockquote id="fsfs"><p>Learn

<div class="edu-note c"><p id="fsfs">Learn more about
<a href="http://shop.fsf.org/product/free-software-free-society/"><cite>Free href="https://shop.fsf.org/product/free-software-free-society/"><cite>Free
Software, Free Society: The Selected Essays of Richard
M. Stallman</cite></a>.</p></blockquote> Stallman</cite></a>.</p></div>

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