One of the things that open source software needs the most is the full protection of the law. Eben Moglen, Professor of Law at Columbia University Law School and a leading advocate of open source rights, congratulates the open source community on their success in becoming an important part of current technology, but also discusses how important it is to protect the user’s rights. He reviews the legal atmosphere of intellectual property rights and how more restrictive to sharing they have become in recent years and how the end user has become the biggest loser because of this change.
Moglen first asks whether licenses still matter. He reviews how things are different from twenty-five years ago where open source had few adherents and software was fiercely protected by companies. Now the most important information technology can be found in the user’s pocket. The user doesn’t just want a music player/video player/telephone; they want a device that can do anything. This is where the open source community can be particularly skillful.
He also discusses the shift in the legal understanding of intellectual property. In the late 20th century, there was a shift to the idea that only by NOT sharing could innovation happen, leading to more restrictive copyright, trademark, and patent laws. He makes it clear that future developments will only be really useful to the end user with information sharing, open source.
“We are committed to the struggle for free speech, free knowledge, and free technology. The measures by which we advance that struggle will of course be different in different countries, but the following will be pretty generally applicable:
- Abolition of all forms of private property in ideas.
- Withdrawal of all exclusive licenses, privileges and rights to use of electromagnetic spectrum. Nullification of all conveyances of permanent title to electromagnetic frequencies.
- Development of electromagnetic spectrum infrastructure that implements every person’s equal right to communicate.
- Common social development of computer programs and all other forms of software, including genetic information, as public goods.
- Full respect for freedom of speech, including all forms of technical speech.
- Protection for the integrity of creative works.
- Free and equal access to all publicly-produced information and all educational material used in all branches of the public education system.
By these and other means, we commit ourselves to the revolution that liberates the human mind. In overthrowing the system of private property in ideas, we bring into existence a truly just society, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
Excerpt from Eben’s DotCommunist Manifesto (Jan. 2003)
Eben Moglen is Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University Law School and General Counsel of the Free Software Foundation. In addition to FSF, Professor Moglen has represented many of the world’s leading free software developers. Professor Moglen earned his PhD in History and law degree at Yale University during what he sometimes calls his “long, dark period” in New Haven. After law school he clerked for Judge Edward Weinfeld of the United States District Court in New York City and to Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. He has taught at Columbia Law School – and has held visiting appointments at Harvard University, Tel Aviv University and the University of Virginia – since 1987. In 2003 he was given the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award for efforts on behalf of freedom in the electronic society.