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Correcting The Guardian's paraphrase


On Jan 22, 2012, I posted a political note about the arrest of the executives of Megaupload. The Guardian linked to it but paraphrased it in a way that misstates my views. This article sets that straight.

I don't say what was in The Guardian: "If it's art, it should not be free". Rather, if it's art, I don't insist that it must be free.

In 1983 I started the movement for free software — free as in freedom, because price is not the issue. A program is free if it gives you, the user, the four essential freedoms.

With free software, the users control the program. With nonfree (proprietary) software, the program controls the users, and the developer controls the program, so the developer has unjust power over the users.

Later people asked me whether these ideas extend to other kinds of published works. After some years I concluded that the answer is not the same for all kinds of works. Instead I think we should distiguish three categories of published works.

  1. Works designed to do practical jobs. (These include software, recipes, reference works, educational works, text fonts, and more.)

    If you use a work to do a job, you deserve to have control over the job you do, and thus you must have control over the work. Therefore, these works must be free: they must give their users the same four freedoms that define free software. This includes the freedom to publish modified versions, even commercially.

  2. Works intended to show what certain people thought or saw.

    To publish a modified version of usch a work is to misrepresent someone else. I don't see a social imperative to allow that. Thus, for these works my position is more conservative. I think people must have the right to redistribute exact copies noncommercially (to share them), but I don't go further than that.

  3. Works of art or entertainment.

    A modified version of such a work can be a contribution to art, but you can bear waiting a while before publishing it. Thus, what I recommend for these works is that copyright last for 10 years from the publication of the work. During that time, I think people must have the right to redistribute exact copies noncommercially, but I don't go further than that.

    After ten years, the copyright would expire, and then anyone would be free to publish modified versions of the work.

The copyright system is great for supporting the copyright industry, but does a lousy job of supporting most artists. I propose how to support artists better than the existing copyright system, while legalizing sharing.

Commercial ebooks attack your freedom — reject them! (Or see the html version of this article.)

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