Texts/Richard Stallman on FREE BEER
Author:
Henrik Moltke, 2005
Source:
Richard Stallman Interviewed by Henrik Moltke on FREE BEER.
Richard Stallman on FREE BEER
Photo: From Wikipedia
Download the recorded interview from archive.org

HM: So, my name is Henrik. I’m calling on behalf of SUPERFLEX


RMS: Sorry - you said Super-what?


HM: SUPERFLEX


RMS: I don’t recall that name


HM: Do you remember the ‘Free Beer’?


RMS: Yes


HM: Ok. What we hoped to do with you was to ask you to taste and review the beer-


RMS: It wouldn´t work because I don’t like beer. Also, I don’t like the emphasis that most people put on getting drunk. I have only gotten drunk once in my life and that was on a transatlantic flight when I’d made the mistake of putting my sleeping pills into my suitcase which I checked… So, I tried using whiskey to achieve the same effect. It didn’t work very well partly because it was so disgusting I could hardly swallow it -


HM: Did you manage to sleep in the end?


RMS: I slept a little bit


HM: But I was thinking that we could try and do something remotely similar to a review - without actually talking about the taste and the hue –


RMS: Ok.


HM: - so if you could pretend that you were reviewing the idea of a free beer?


RMS: I love the idea as long as I don’t have to drink it


HM: I was wondering about the name. Because, most people will think about this only as free beer in the free beer sense but there is another…


RMS: But are you selling samples of it?


HM: Well, actually, we do sell ‘free beer’ in our shop, but we also –


RMS: I hope so. It probably costs you money to produce a batch so it makes sense to sell bottles of it or glasses of it and so that will make people think: they’ ll see this is free in the sense of freedom but its not gratis.


HM: Exactly. That was also the concept from day one. Do you have anything against or for naming a beer, ‘free beer’?


RMS: I like the idea cause it’s a cute way of making a point


HM: And could it be called a hack, in the sense of -


RMS: Yes it is a hack; cause playful cleverness is hacking so this is a hack.


HM: I remember that we received an email from you a couple of months back with some very constructive comments about intellectual property and the way we use them -


RMS: Well actually my comments may have been about, quote intellectual property unquote


HM: Exactly!


RMS: Cause I never talk about… I never use that term to describe anything


HM: That’s what you were telling us -


RMS: And it’s a mistake to do so because that term mixes together various different laws with totally different effects as if they were a single thing. So anyone who tries to think about the supposed, quote issue of intellectual property
unquote, is already so badly confused that he can’t think clearly about it.


HM: Now, in the same email, you also suggest that we call the beer a free software beer instead of an open source beer-


RMS: Yes, I founded the free software movement. Open Source is a term used to co-opt our work; to separate our work from the ideals that motivated it. See, we developed software that users are free to run and share and change as they wish for the sake of freedom, because those freedoms, we believe, are essential. Then there were millions of people who appreciated the software and appreciated the chance to share and change it and found that it was very good software too. But they didn’t want to present this as an ethical issue, so they started using a different term,‘open source’, as a way to describe the same software without ever bringing it up as an ethical issue; as a matter of freedoms that people are entitled to. They are entitled to their opinions but I don’t share their opinions and I hope you don’t either. So to support awareness of the ethical issues of free software the most basic thing to do is talk about free software.


HM: Do you think this will come about by discussing, for example, a beer that actually isn’t software?


RMS: It’s a similar kind of issue arising here. A beer doesn’t actually have source code either. A recipe is not like source code, you can’t just compile it. There is no programme that turns the recipe into food.


HM: What if we speak about the general idea of taking ideas from the ‘free software’ movement, and the ‘open source’ movement even, and transferring those values onto something which is not software?


RMS: I’m all in favour of it whenever they are applicable. These ideas make sense in one context, they may make sense in another context, but that’s not guaranteed. They’re not applicable to everything in life; they’re applicable to certain things. Specifically, they’re applicable when there are works made of information that are useful


HM: So where do you draw the line? Does an ‘open source’ cookbook make more sense than an ‘open source’ car -


RMS: I’d rather not use the term ‘open source.’ I’m not a supporter of the ‘open source’ movement


HM: I’m sorry. That’s a problem, that -.


RMS: Recipes should be free.


HM: But I was wondering is there a way that we can use this word in a better way when speaking about an ‘open source’ beer? Because - a ‘free software’ beer also sounds strange?


RMS: Yes, they both are strange. Neither one really fits because beer is not software and has no source. So, if you’re going to strain things to refer to a movement, you might as well pick the movement you support


HM: Because we’ve taken a bit from one and a bit from the other -


RMS: Anyway -


HM: We tried to recount the whole story of what happened in the early Seventies up to now to try to explain what the idea of the beer was and I find this quite complex -


RMS: It is.


HM: Is there any way that these kinds of ideas could travel to the minds of people in an easier way?


RMS: Well, I find that recipes make a good analogy for explaining the ideas of free software to people. Those people who cook commonly share recipes and commonly change recipes and they take for granted that they’re free to cook recipes when they wish. So, imagine if the government took away those freedoms. If they said, ‘starting today if you copy and share or change a recipe, we’ll call you a pirate.’ Imagine how angry they would be. Well that anger is the exact anger that I felt when they said I couldn’t change and share software anymore. And I said, ‘no way, I refuse to accept that.’


HM: Why do you think this had to happen within software and computers? Why haven’t people demanded the same kind of freedoms before?


RMS: Well there weren’t enough people using computers and in the early days software was free, usually. It was in the Seventies that software became usually proprietary and that change for the worse was complete by the early Eighties. But I had had the experience of participating in a community of programmers, where sharing software was normal and when it disappeared and died and I saw a morally ugly way of life as my probable future, I rejected that.


HM: That happened back in the beginning of the Eighties as far as I can -


RMS: That was back in 1983 that I formed the ‘free software’ movement and launched a plan to develop a free software operating system, so that we could use computers and have this freedom.


HM: Do you think the way that things are now and the way that you have a GNU /Linux option or you can do many things with ‘open source’ software


RMS: Please don’t -


HM: I’m sorry, I’m sorry-


RMS: I don’t want you to use the term ‘open source’


HM: I’m very sorry


RMS: It’s not what I stand for. You’re putting me in a very bad position by talking with me about my work and using the term that the name of a party that was formed to reject my views uses.


HM: This is something that is very difficult for some one like me to understand because I am not a computer programmer. I am not someone who has lived this for twenty years. So, for me it is difficult even though I am trying to -


RMS: Think of ‘open source’ and ‘free software’ as the name of two different political parties -


HM: I fully understand that -


RMS: - with different programmes. If you invited a leader from the Green Party – which, by the way I more or less support – and you started to talk to him about his work in the Conservative Party and you did that several times, he’d probably get mad at you.


HM: Mm. I can imagine that this is something that happens often with the popular press and journalists?


RMS: Yes. Yes it does. In fact, before I give an interview I raise this issue and I make sure they have agreed not to do this because it would be pointless to do an interview if I’ll be misreported as a supporter of ‘open source’


HM: Well, actually, I did my homework - and I find that this must be something that would be as difficult for ordinary people -


RMS: It’s not that difficult. You’re talking about changing a habit. It takes a little bit of work and you make mistakes a few times but don’t exaggerate it


HM: No -


RMS: You can change a habit


HM: When you started the free software movement and the GNU project, did you ever imagine that these kind of ideas would travel outside of the software world to something like a beer or -


RMS: No I didn’t think for a minute about that


HM: When did that start happening? When did you start seeing these possibilities?


RMS: About five years ago, more or less


HM: Ok. Is that what you think will happen in the future from now on?


RMS: Well I hope so. But, mainly what I hoping and working for is that software should be free.


HM: And do you think a project like this will help?


RMS: Yes, it´ll help. It will bring the ideas home to people who wouldn’t have thought about them otherwise, and that’s useful


HM: I hope this will get some repercussions and that we can use this-


RMS: So happy hacking!

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