In the Age of Computer
Thursday, April 19,
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
following is an edited transcript of the conclusion of Richard Stallman’s
talk. A transcript of the complete
talk including the question-and-answer session is also available.]
we look ahead to the time when the age of the computer networks
will have fully begun, when we’re past this transitional stage,
we can envision another way for authors to get money for their work.
Imagine that we have a digital cash system that enables you
to get money for your work. Imagine that we have a digital cash system
that enables you to send somebody else money through the Internet;
this can be done in various ways using encryption, for instance.
And imagine that verbatim copying of all these
aesthetic works is permitted.
But they’re written in such a way that when you are
playing one or reading one or watching one, a box appears on the
side of your screen that says, “Click here to send a dollar
to the author,” or the musician or whatever.
And it just sits there; it doesn’t get in your way;
it’s on the side. It doesn’t interfere with you, but
it’s there, reminding you that it’s a good thing to
support the writers and the musicians.
if you love the work that you’re reading or listening to,
eventually you’re going to say, “Why shouldn’t
I give these people a dollar? It’s only a dollar. What’s that? I won’t even miss it.” And people will start sending a dollar. The good thing about this is that it makes
copying the ally of the authors and musicians. When somebody e-mails a friend a copy, that friend might send
a dollar, too. If you
really love it, you might send a dollar more than once and that
dollar is more than they’re going to get today if you buy
the book or buy the CD because they get a tiny fraction of the sale.
The same publishers that are demanding total power over the
public in the name of the authors and musicians are giving those
authors and musicians the shaft all the time.
recommend you read Courtney Love’s article in “Salon”
magazine, an article about pirates that plan to use musicians’
work without paying them. These pirates are the record companies
that pay musicians 4% of the sales figures, on the average. Of course, the very successful musicians
have more clout. They
get more than 4% of their large sales figures, which means that
the great run of musicians who have a record contract get less than
4% of their small sales figures.
the way it works: The record company spends money on publicity
and they consider this expenditure as an advance to the musicians,
although the musicians never see it.
So nominally when you buy a CD, a certain fraction of that
money is going to the musicians, but really it isn’t.
Really, it’s going to pay back the publicity expenses,
and only if the musicians are very successful do they ever see
any of that money.
musicians, of course, sign their record contracts because they
hope they’re going to be one of those few who strike it
rich. So essentially
a rolling lottery is being offered to the musicians to tempt them.
Although they’re good at music, they may not be good
at careful, logical reasoning to see through this trap.
So they sign and then probably all they get is publicity.
Well, why don’t we give them publicity in a different
way, not through a system that’s based on restricting the
public and a system of the industrial complex that saddles us
with lousy music that’s easy to sell.
Instead, why not make the listener’s natural impulse
to share the music they love the ally of the musicians?
If we have this box that appears in the player as a way
to send a dollar to the musicians, then the computer networks
could be the mechanism for giving the musicians this publicity,
the same publicity which is all they get from record contracts
have to recognize that the existing copyright system does a lousy
job of supporting musicians, just as lousy as world trade does
of raising living standards in the Philippines and China.
You have these enterprise zones where everyone works in
a sweatshop and all of the products are made in sweatshops.
I knew that globalization was a very inefficient way of
raising living standards of people overseas.
Say, an American is getting paid $20 an hour to make something
and you give that job to a Mexican who is getting paid maybe six
dollars a day, what has happened here is that you’ve taken
a large amount of money away from an American worker, given a
tiny fraction, like a few percents, to a Mexican worker and given
back the rest to
the company. So if your goal is to raise the living
standards of Mexican workers, this is a lousy way to do it.
interesting to see how the same phenomenon is going on in the copyright
industry, the same general idea.
In the name of these workers who certainly deserve something,
you propose measures that give them a tiny bit and really mainly
prop up the power of corporations to control our lives.
you’re trying to replace a very good system, you have to work
very hard to come up with a better alternative.
If you know that the present system is lousy, it’s
not so hard to find a better alternative; the standard of comparison
today is very low. We must always remember that when we consider issues of copyright
I think I’ve said most of what I want to say.
I’d like to mention that tomorrow is Phone-In Sick
Day in Canada. Tomorrow
is the beginning of a summit to finish negotiating the free trade
area of the Americas to try to extend corporate power throughout
additional countries, and a big protest is being planned for Quebec.
We’ve seen extreme methods being used to smash this
protest. A lot of Americans are being blocked from
entering Canada through the border that they’re supposed to
be allowed to enter through at any time.
On the flimsiest of excuses, a wall has been built around
the center of Quebec to be used as a fortress to keep protesters
out. We’ve seen a large number of different
dirty tricks used against public protest against these treaties. So whatever democracy remains to us after
government powers have been taken away from democratically elected
governors and given to businesses and to unelected international
bodies, whatever is left after that may not survive the suppression
of public protest against it.