Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Defense of GNU

While I think Richard Stallman is an ass, I do not think he's wrong. I think a number of people are misunderstanding what free software is about. Shane compares free software to free paint, though I would argue that this is a misinterpretation-- paint is both rival and exclusive while the ideas behind/surrounding a painting are not. (In fact, it's worth noting the differences between rival and exclusive goods:
* Non-rival/Exclusive - my consumption does not preclude yours, but you can be prevented from consuming by the producer. e.g. Concert
* Non-exclusive/Rival – cannot prevent you from consuming, but your consumption (in principle) precludes mine e.g. drinking water from a public lake
* Non-rival and non-exclusive: Cannot prevent access (for practical purposes) and consumption of one doesn’t preclude consumption by someone else. e.g. street lighting.)

It's actually interesting that Shane brought up art in the context of open source software because the open source 'ideals' have been brought to the art world where many artists argue for the ability to freely appropriate art to create more art. This GNU-like licensing model has inspired the Creative Commons movement (

Stallman's ideas are quite applicable to many products of our intelligence (not only software and art.) Unlike most people in the class, I think he is right. I open source most of the code that I write for my computer science classes (e.g.: , , as well as the art that I create (e.g.: , )

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