Today, Steve (the principal of our school), a few students and I went to Balamand University in the north of Lebanon to listen to Richard Stallman speak on “Copyright vs. Community”.
It was a very…interesting…talk, though I don’t think I buy into all of Stallman’s conclusions. He basically said that copying music doesn’t hurt the artist because the artist has already been screwed over by the record industry. Now, I’m definitely not one to argue against the last part of that statement, but Mom always taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right.
I also found it somewhat ironic to have him talking about copyright and patents in a place where patents are none existent and copyright has about as much weight as very thin tissue paper. Having said that, if Stallman’s ideas for copyright were ever to become reality, it would make for some very interesting changes from how things currently are.
The most interesting part of the talk was during the Q&A session, when Stallman railed against “binary blobs” in the Linux kernel. As I was well aware, and can somewhat understand, he dislikes proprietary firmware being included in the kernel. This seems to be the main reason that the FSF doesn’t consider Fedora a “Free software distribution”.
But later, Stallman said something that I found very surprising. He said that he has no problem with the firmware being burned into the hardware (via a ROM chip or the like). He said that he wanted a “black box”, and it’s obvious that he has no problem with proprietary firmware as long as it’s permanently embedded in the hardware rather than being loaded into it at boot time.
What I didn’t understand is why Stallman feels that there’s a difference? What is it? The method used to get the firmware into the hardware? Why make this the line in the sand? It seems very arbitrary to me.
And I think that sums up how I felt about the talk. I really respect Stallman for getting the Free Software movement going, but I think that there are far more shades of gray in software (and life) than he is willing to see.
I do want to thank Balamand University for inviting Richard Stallman to speak, and I do want to thank Stallman for coming to Lebanon. While I don’t necessarily agree with him, I love the fact that his talk opened my students’ minds to different ways of thinking about things.