I would like to share with you my experience meeting the most important person in the GNU/Linux community, Richard M. Stallman (RMS), the man who started the free software movement. It was on April 20th 2012, when Andraž announced on RIPE-64 Twitter blog, that RMS will attend the “Digitizing ideas and Common Knowledge” conference at the Museum od Modern Art in Ljubljana the next day. At that time Robert a friend of mine was my guest in Ljubljana with whom I attended the RIPE-64 conference. RMS’s meeting was unofficial, therefore it wasn’t publicly announced earlier. April 21st was the last day of Robert’s visit, so we went to the Museum of Modern Art, where several artists held their lectures. After the first series of lectures there was a break and we noticed RMS how he talked with the organiser. We wanted to greet him, but he seemed upset because the organising team didn’t respect his request about his accommodation. His request was that he doesn’t wish to provide his Identity information in order to be accommodated, due to respect for his privacy. I am not familiar where the organising team tried to accommodate him, but he said, he pointed out information where he could be accommodated without providing any kind of ID form. I think this was a failure for the organising team, which hasn’t studied the contract deep enough to avoid confusion. Despite the conflict, RMS managed to speak privately with Robert and me for a few minutes. I asked him how many times he has visited Slovenia and he replied “Let me search on the laptop” and he took the “Lemote Yeeloong” (the only free hardware laptop on the market) out of his bag and searched the archive using GNU Emacs and replied “I have been here 3 times earlier”. Secondly I asked him if he was aware of the RIPE conference being organised in Slovenia, which picked up our topic for further discussion about the peering technologies which are being used on the internet, where RMS expressed concern about the technology and saying something like (quoting from my memory) “Internet doesn’t exist independantly, there is always some upper authority that controls it in this case Local Internet Registry (LIR) controls the internet on national level and Regional Internet Registry (RIR) controls it in the region by allocating address space”. He expressed the concern about upper authority and mentioned if there could be some other alternative for the internet to work in a more decentralized manner in a form of peer to peer networking. At the end of our short and interesting conversation RMS also agreed to be photographed with us. The conference had a lunch break, so RMS had to leave and after the break he held the lecture about “Copyright Vs. Community“. Robert had to catch his plane back home, so I drove him to the airport. Afterwards I returned back to the conference hall, where RMS already started with his lecture (video with subtitles available). The lecture was very interesting, and started with the introduction of the free software and it’s four essential freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
The lecture continued with opinion about Copyright Vs. Community, mentioning three different categories for intellectual property:
- Works for practical use (patented tools).
- Works that show what people feel and think.
- Works for amusement.
- Shortening the period of Copyright from existing 70 years after the death of the author to 10 years.
- After 10 years the intellectual property becomes available for public use.
- We have to insist to fair use of works and fight for those rights.
- Attack to work separation is an attack against the society.
- May 6th is celebrated as the day against DRM (Digital Restriction Management)
At the end of the lecture RMS held an auction for the GNU toy animal and placed an autograph on GNU’s tail for the winning bidder. Later he got surrounded with people and discussed with us and autographed his books, brought by the free software enthusiasts. I also bought some stickers for my laptop, which say “GNU/Linux inside”. There were also free stickers provided for the attendants which were designed for FSF campaigns and RMS said “Take as many as you like to spread the word about free software”. I took some which I glued to the places where people could further explore the idea of the free software. Overall it was a very interesting experience to participate at the conference and meet him personally.