16 April 2009

Is RMS Entering the Fray Again?

The influence of RMS on the world of free software and beyond is, of course, immense. But sometimes his presence is more symbolic than real, as he seems to disappear off the map for weeks at a time, with little in the way of public statements or comments. Maybe this can be put down to the frequent travelling that he undertakes, as he continues tirelessly to spread the word about freedom. Whatever the reason for those intermittent silences, it's interesting to note something of a flurry of comments from him recently, and in quite surprising contexts.

The first was the on Amazon's Kindle, which I wrote about yesterday. That was about DRM, a long-standing concern of RMS. Now here's another rather unexpected intervention, this time concerning Second Life of all things, where a group of virtual users are getting some real-world grief from a bunch of lawyers:

When I read about how the heirs of the Dune fortune attacked Second Life users, my first thought was about how nasty and foolish they were being. My second thought was that the article serves its readers poorly, when it uses the vague term "intellectual property" to describe the legal issue at stake here.

The term "intellectual property" is an incoherent muddle: it lumps together various unrelated laws that do different things. (See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/not-ipr.html.) A few of those that use the term know this, and use it to to spread confusion. The rest think the term has a concrete meaning, and are just passing along their own confusion.

This is not a statement of anything new - Stallman's been pointing out how misleading the term "intellectual property" is for some time. But what's interesting is that (a) he somehow came across this rather obscure instance of the term being abused and (b) decided to post his comments.

Let's hope it's a sign of a more general engagement with these and related matters: his rigorous approach remains an important yardstick against which everyone else is measured.

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