Two good talks on software and freedom

By Tom Moertel
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At the 2006 Red Hat Summit, Eben Moglen and Cory Doctorow gave interesting keynote talks on freedom and software. Videos of both talks are available from the Summit’s video-download page.

Eben Moglen’s talk was like a locomotive, starting slowly but building to an impressive momentum. He argued (effectively) that free and open-source software are not expressions of strange, un-American ideas, as vendors of proprietary software would have the world believe. Rather, he argued, the ideas behind free software - in particular the harnessing of “individual ingenuity” - are the same ideas that made America so successful.

Cory Doctorow’s talk put DRM into perspective. Starting in the past with sheet music, he traced how each generation of the entertainment industry fought to preserve its dying business models in the face of the emerging competition, often by labeling the new competition as “pirates.” These “pirates” eventually became the new entertainment industry, which in turn labeled future-competitors as - you guessed it - “pirates.”

For example, the phonograph-record people were said to “pirate” sheet music because they would record live performances, frequently of published sheet music, and sell the recordings, making sheet music largely unnecessary. While this situation was indeed bad for the publishers of sheet music, the phonograph “pirates” launched a new, larger, more-profitable industry - the record industry - which copyright law was eventually adjusted to recognize. And so on for radio, broadcast television, cable television, the VCR.

But Cory warned that DRM is not merely the next step in that progression but a whole new evil that threatens to eliminate free and open-source software as a way to interact with media. In fact, he argued, DRM ultimately threatens to control how we live. (He gave some interesting examples.) How to fight it? Cory asked that you join the EFF.

Both talks are worth checking out. If you’re short on time, play them back at 200-percent speed; both are understandable at that rate.

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