Protecting the Freedom to Write Software: The new software monopolies, and what we can do about them

Richard Stallman, MIT and the League for Programming Freedom

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 26, 1992


New monopolies threaten the freedom of programmers to continue doing their work. Copyrighted interfaces prohibit supporting the commands users know and expect. Patented algorithms and techniques make each design decision carry the risk of a lawsuit. Richard Stallman will talk about how these monopolies originated and why they are bad for computer users and programmers. He will then suggest what you can do to help eliminate them. This will be a two hour presentation, with the first hour devoted to interface copyright issues and the second hour on software patents.


Richard Stallman is one of the founders of the League for Programming Freedom, a grassroots organization of programmers and users fighting to bring back the freedom to write programs. Specifically, the League aims to abolish two recently established forms of monopoly which restrict programmers' freedom to do their work: interface copyright and software patents. The 600 or so League members include professors, students, entrepreneurs, and users, but primarily professional programmers. In the field of software, Richard Stallman is best known for developing the extensible editor, Emacs, while working at the MIT Artifical Intelligence lab between 1971 and 1984. Today he is working to develop the free UNIX-compatible software system known as GNU. Like many other software developers, he fears that the new monopolies will make his work impossible to continue. In 1990, Stallman received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship; he also received the 1990 ACM Grace Hopper Award for his work on Emacs.


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