Tag Archives: GNU

Help translate the video “Mandela describes the concept of Ubuntu”

I’m going to speak about Ubuntu this afternoon, so I thought I might show the 1 minute, 37 seconds video in which Nelson Mandela describes the concept of Ubuntu. In order to make it easier to understand it I added English subtitles using dotsub.com, a great Web site in which anyone can help translating a video in his own language. Please help in translating the video in your language and spread the concept of Ubuntu! It is easy and fun!

UPDATE: I added the subtitles in Italian as well.
I hope I didn’t violate the license. I was not able to find the license in the Ubuntu site. According to wikipedia, the video is copyright of Canonical, Ltd. released under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 and I uploaded the video on dotsub under this license. Let me know if the license is different. Note that the video file is in the Ubuntu CD which you are allowed to make copies of and share it, but I’m not that good with licenses to understand what this means.
Anyway, help in translating the video in your language and spread the concept of Ubuntu!

Free course about GNU Linux in Trento

I helped Engineering With Borders to organized the course “Linux per tutti, tutti per GNU/Linux” (“Linux for all, and all for GNU/Linux”) (see page on TrentoWiki).
The available places were 25 (we were reserving place for students of non-scientific faculties) but we receive more requests so there will probably be another course in October.
Today there is first meeting which is open to everyone: at 18:30 Alberto Gistri of Golem Empoli will speak about “Software Libero” – Conoscere il Software Libero e le sue potenzialita’ sociali, culturali, economiche e tecniche.”.
Join in!


Never ever use the term “Intellectual Property”.

I re-distribute an entire article by Richard M. Stallman according to its licence, so this post is not released under the usual Creative Commons license.

Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It’s a Seductive Mirage (also translated in Italian).
by Richard M. Stallman

It has become fashionable to toss copyright, patents, and trademarks – three separate and different entities involving three separate and different sets of laws — into one pot and call it “intellectual property”. The distorting and confusing term did not arise by accident. Companies that gain from the confusion promoted it. The clearest way out of the confusion is to reject the term entirely.

According to Professor Mark Lemley, now of the Stanford Law School, the widespread use of the term “intellectual property” is a fad that followed the 1967 founding of the World “Intellectual Property” Organization, and only became really common in recent years. (WIPO is formally a UN organization, but in fact represents the interests of the holders of copyrights, patents, and trademarks.)

The term carries a bias that is not hard to see: it suggests thinking about copyright, patents and trademarks by analogy with property rights for physical objects. (This analogy is at odds with the legal philosophies of copyright law, of patent law, and of trademark law, but only specialists know that.) These laws are in fact not much like physical property law, but use of this term leads legislators to change them to be more so. Since that is the change desired by the companies that exercise copyright, patent and trademark powers, the bias of “intellectual property” suits them.

The bias is enough reason to reject the term, and people have often asked me to propose some other name for the overall category — or have proposed their own alternatives (often humorous). Suggestions include IMPs, for Imposed Monopoly Privileges, and GOLEMs, for Government-Originated Legally Enforced Monopolies. Some speak of “exclusive rights regimes”, but referring to restrictions as “rights” is doublethink too.

Some of these alternative names would be an improvement, but it is a mistake to replace “intellectual property” with any other term. A different name will not address the term’s deeper problem: overgeneralization. There is no such unified thing as “intellectual property”–it is a mirage. The only reason people think it makes sense as a coherent category is that widespread use of the term gives that impression.

The term “intellectual property” is at best a catch-all to lump together disparate laws. Non-lawyers who hear one term applied to these various laws tend to assume they are based on a common principle, and function similarly.

Nothing could be further from the case. These laws originated separately, evolved differently, cover different activities, have different rules, and raise different public policy issues.

Copyright law was designed to promote authorship and art, and covers the details of expression of a work. Patent law was intended to promote the publication of useful ideas, at the price of giving the one who publishes an idea a temporary monopoly over it–a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others.

Trademark law, by contrast, was not intended to promote any particular way of acting, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying. Legislators under the influence of “intellectual property”, however, have turned it into a scheme that provides incentives for advertising.

Since these laws developed independently, they are different in every detail, as well as in their basic purposes and methods. Thus, if you learn some fact about copyright law, you’d be wise to assume that patent law is different. You’ll rarely go wrong!

People often say “intellectual property” when they really mean some larger or smaller category. For instance, rich countries often impose unjust laws on poor countries to squeeze money out of them. Some of these laws are “intellectual property” laws, and others are not; nonetheless, critics of the practice often grab for that label because it has become familiar to them. By using it, they misrepresent the nature of the issue. It would be better to use an accurate term, such as “legislative colonization”, that gets to the heart of the matter.

Laymen are not alone in being confused by this term. Even law professors who teach these laws are lured by, and distracted by, the seductiveness of the term “intellectual property”, and make general statements that conflict with facts they know. For example, one professor wrote in 2006:

“Unlike their descendants who now work the floor at WIPO, the framers of the US constitution had a principled, pro-competitive attitude to intellectual property. They knew rights might be necessary, but…they tied congress’s hands, restricting its power in multiple ways”.

That statement refers to the article 1 section 8, clause 8 in the US Constitution, which authorizes copyright law and patent law. That clause, though, has nothing to do with trademark law. The term “intellectual property” led that professor into a false generalization.

The term “intellectual property” also leads to simplistic thinking. It leads people to focus on the meager commonality in form that these disparate laws have–that they create artificial privileges for certain parties–and to disregard the details which form their substance: the specific restrictions each law places on the public, and the consequences that result. This simplistic focus on the form encourages an “economistic” approach to all these issues.

Economics operates here, as it often does, as a vehicle for unexamined assumptions. These include assumptions about values, such as that amount of production matters, while freedom and way of life do not, and factual assumptions which are mostly false, such as that copyrights on music supports musicians, or that patents on drugs support life-saving research.

Another problem is that, at the broad scale of “intellectual property”, the specific issues raised by the various laws become nearly invisible. These issues arise from the specifics of each law–precisely what the term “intellectual property” encourages people to ignore. For instance, one issue relating to copyright law is whether music sharing should be allowed. Patent law has nothing to do with this. Patent law raises issues such as whether poor countries should be allowed to produce life-saving drugs and sell them cheaply to save lives. Copyright law has nothing to do with such matters.

Neither of these issues is solely economic in nature, but they are not similar, and anyone looking at them in the shallow economic perspectives of overgeneralization cannot grasp the differences. If you put both laws in the general “intellectual property” pot, you will find that obstructs your ability to think clearly about each one.

As a result, any opinions about “the issue of intellectual property” and any generalizations about this supposed category are almost surely foolish. If you think all those laws are one issue, you will tend to choose your opinions from a selection of sweeping overgeneralizations, none of which is any good.

If you want to think clearly about the issues raised by patents, or copyrights, or trademarks, the first step is to forget the idea of lumping them together, and treat them as separate topics. The second step is to reject the narrow perspectives and simplistic picture the term “intellectual property” suggests. Consider each of these issues separately, in its fullness, and you have a chance of considering them well.

And when it comes to reforming WIPO, among other things let’s call for changing its name.

Copyright © 2004, 2006 Richard M. Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.

Microsoft trying to use its patents wallet weapon again Free Software. Moglen: “Waterloo is here somewhere”

Interesting article by CNN: Microsoft takes on the free world. Microsoft claims that free software like Linux, which runs a big chunk of corporate America, violates 235 of its patents. It wants royalties from distributors and users. Users like you, maybe.

Some quotes and short comments below.

More than half the companies in the Fortune 500 are thought to be using the free operating system Linux in their data centers.

I didn’t know. Well, it is becoming harder and harder to dismiss Free Software, isn’t it? And in fact …

Microsoft asserts that one reason free software is of such high quality is that it violates more than 200 of Microsoft’s patents.

And this is ridicolous, Microsoft is claiming that GNU/Linux developers are studying the patents Microsoft got and copied them? Or it is more that Microsoft is patenting everything (instead of spending the money it gets from its monopolistic position for creating a decent Operating System) notwithstanding evident prior art? Trying to patent smileys? With the US Patent Office
even rejecting a patent previously granted to Microsoft for a file format as “obvious and therefore not subject to patent”? Well the examples could be thousands.

The conflict pits Microsoft and its dogged CEO, Steve Ballmer, against the “free world” – people who believe software is pure knowledge. The leader of that faction is Richard Matthew Stallman, a computer visionary with the look and the intransigence of an Old Testament prophet.

I loved the picture used by CNN

Furthermore, FOSS has powerful corporate patrons and allies. In 2005, six of them – IBM (Charts, Fortune 500), Sony, Philips, Novell, Red Hat (Charts) and NEC – set up the Open Invention Network to acquire a portfolio of patents that might pose problems for companies like Microsoft, which are known to pose a patent threat to Linux. So if Microsoft ever sued Linux distributor Red Hat for patent infringement, for instance, OIN might sue Microsoft in retaliation, trying to enjoin distribution of Windows. It’s a cold war, and what keeps the peace is the threat of mutually assured destruction: patent Armageddon – an unending series of suits and countersuits that would hobble the industry and its customers. “It’s a tinderbox,” Moglen says. “As the commercial confrontation between [free software] and software-that’s-a-product becomes more fierce, patent law’s going to be the terrain on which a big piece of the war’s going to be fought. Waterloo is here somewhere.”

I didn’t know about the OIN but the mention to cold war is really appropriate. And to the possible Armageddon as well. I’m a bit surprised that Microsoft decided to take it so frontal. If they lose this one, it will be one of the last. Obviously they have thought very well about the strategy. Uhm.

Anyway this is one more reason for not embracing software patents in Europe. Software patents don’t make sense but also politicians who seems not too interesting in what make sense but mainly in consensus should understand that letting Microsoft sue European companies and citizens is not a too clever move.

He says that the Linux kernel – the deepest layer of the free operating system, which interacts most directly with the computer hardware – violates 42 Microsoft patents. The Linux graphical user interfaces – essentially, the way design elements like menus and toolbars are set up – run afoul of another 65, he claims. The Open Office suite of programs, which is analogous to Microsoft Office, infringes 45 more. E-mail programs infringe 15, while other assorted FOSS programs allegedly transgress 68.

Since you are simply tossing numbers in the air, why not saying that every program violates at least 1.988.456.645.110.000 Microsoft patents, eh?

Stallman demanded that all contributors to GNU projects assign their copyrights to the Free Software Foundation, which Stallman set up and controlled. That meant that anyone who distributed free software covered by those copyrights had to abide by a license Stallman wrote, called the GNU General Public License (GPL).

I think this is the only technical error in the article. I think contributors to the GNU projects retain their copyright and simply decide to use the GNU GPL licence. Am I wrong?

(Stallman insists that “GNU/Linux” is the proper name, and he refuses to give interviews to reporters unless they promise to call it that in every reference. In part for that reason, he was not interviewed for this article.)

I love this man! ;-)

Smith was not to be deterred. Since the GPL covered only distributors of Linux, nothing stopped Smith from seeking royalties directly from end users – many of which are Fortune 500 companies. He would have to proceed carefully, however, because most of those users were also major Microsoft customers.

The terrain is slippery. I’m a bit surprised Microsoft took it so frontal. The article also speaks about Microsoft-Novell deal and this is quite important as well. Anyway we’ll see in the coming months where is the Waterloo. Stay tuned.

Update: Growlaw publishes some reasons for not worrying and they are clever and clearly explained.

Thank Stallman if Dell starts shipping Ubuntu (and keep looking at Microsoft stocks)

I think this is really a key moment in the history of computers and technology. It seems Dell will start shipping desktops and laptops with Ubuntu GNU/Linux preinstalled on it: everyone will be free to choose!
I totally love this post start (duggmirrored): “It’s now official. That’s it, the embargo is over. We can talk.” The news, still unconfirmed, is already reprised by BBC for instance but you can follow the evolution of the media tam tam on technorati.
There will be future days for commenting on this fact, this increase in freedom of choice for all of us, for now let us just rejoice looking at the Microsoft stock slumping.
And in this moment I think the best thing I can do is to pay homage to the man who started it all. Some years ago, when “I’ll create a complete free computer system from scratch” would have seem a so donquixotesque utopic adventure, he had the courage and the will to start the way towards what he believed was the correct thing to do. In this day, I’m really happy to thank Richard Stallman and to quote him from the movie Revolution OS

The whole GNU project is really one big hack, it’s one big act of subversive playful cleverness to change society for the better, because I am always interested in changing society for the better, but in a clever way.

(this video is a part from “revolution os” in which Richard Stallman discusses the birth of GNU and his motivations, I was not able to find the last part of the movie from which the above quote is taken)

Animated Invasion over Google Map

UPDATE: This is a demo on Google Maps I put together in few hours in 2005. And this was the first time I got BoingBoinged (it was the last time too … ;) The demo was working in 2005 but now the Google Maps API changed and it does not work, so I replaced it with the flash video I recorded at that time.

Some Mozillas and some Gnus are invading Microsoft office in Redmond (the blue E).
First I saw on BoingBoing that Vestadesign created Star Wars ATATs attacking Palo Alto using Google Maps API. So I thought I could add some animations. I also ended up changing the environment (Micro$oft offices) and the invaders (Mozillas and Gnus). Free software to the rescue!
Go to the page with the Javascript code that produces the animation.
Below there is the Flash animation but you should see the real page (with the code). (If you can’t see them, check the static image.)

It should be very easy to create real playable games on Google Maps. Here are some ideas:
– playing Risk on the real world map (with the ability to zoom in/out to combat at different scales). Extend Jrisk or JavaRisk (code available on SourceForge).
– playing FreeCiv on real world maps. Modify FreeCiv source code.
– driving a car race on streets of the real world.
– much more I guess
Let me know if you create such a game.

UPDATE: after being BoingBoinged, I created a Games on Google Maps wiki page, for collecting ideas (and implementations!). Contribute to it, if you like.