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You are here: Home Blogs RMS Fireworks in Montreal (2005-07-01 to 2005-07-05)

Fireworks in Montreal (2005-07-01 to 2005-07-05)

by Richard Stallman Contributions Published on Jul 12, 2010 05:36 PM
For the beginning of July I went to Montreal. I had been invited for a conference on software and education, but it seems like too much of a rush to stay for just two days, and not efficient to make the trip for just one speech. So I arranged a second speech at the University of Quebec.

The Saturday speech was a bit difficult since it started at 8:30am, but I managed to be there, and suggested to the audience that we all sleep together. I focused on the need for free educational materials as well as free software, since they could probably contribute to it.

A question session followed, and when it was done, I asked a few of the attendees to go with me to lunch. I led them to an Indonesian restaurant that I had liked on a previous visit. Getting there was somewhat difficult because there was a parade that day. When we arrived at the address, we discovered that the restaurant had moved. There was no other restaurant nearby that seemed appealing, so we decided to go to its new address. When we finally got there, we discovered it was closed for lunch on weekends.

We were in a neighborhood with lots of restaurants--almost all closed, except for a few that were completely full. Eventually we found a place where we could have a not particularly exciting lunch.

The university event on Sunday led to fireworks. In my speech, I explained my views on copyright law, including the position that the minimum freedom that everyone should always have is the freedom to share, noncommercially, any published work.

After the speech, there was a panel discussion which included me and a Canadian lawyer representing Creative Commons. I used to support Creative Commons, but then it adopted some additional licenses which do not give everyone that minimum freedom, and now I can no longer endorse it as an activity. (I agree with Mako Hill that they are taking the wrong approach by not insisting on any specific freedoms for the public--see I go a little further: I don't think that licenses which deny that minimum freedom are legitimate at all.) Since people tend to treat Creative Commons as a unit, disregarding the details like which one of their licenses is being used, it is not feasible to support just part of Creative Commons--so I can't support it at all now. I asked the leaders of Creative Commons privately to change their policies, but they declined, so we had to part ways.

I explained this briefly, in words were no harsher than the ones above. So I was rather shocked by how the lawyer from Creative Commons responded. After leading the audience in a simplistic game, designed for them to choose his position over a single other option, he then accused me of acting like a fascist ruler, claiming that I was trying to command the audience to agree with me. I responded calmly, explaining the difference between stating a political position and forcing people to agree, and quite pleasantly did not even get angry. The audience, aware I had done nothing to interfere with their freedom of thought or speech, was not very sympathetic to him.

Immediately after the panel ended, he did the strangest thing: he came up to shake my hand. I did so, not noticing who it was, and then I felt put upon once I realized who. For me, such attacks are not compatible with friendship, or with a handshake. But I've noticed on other occasions that lawyers who had said extremely hostile things, either hostile to me or hostile to the cause I work for, wanted to shake my hand after, as if to say I should responsible for what they had said and done. Perhaps for them it is just a game, or just a job, but I take it seriously.

I later saw a posting by Larry Lessig which said that Creative Commons had taken a step towards not leading the public to treat all Creative Commons licenses as a lump--that they would ask people to specify, in web buttons, the particular license being used. It is a step in the right direction, but even if a good fraction of users do convert their buttons, I doubt it will greatly change the result much.

I had one more full day in Montreal, so I suggested to my host that we go visit Quebec City, where I had never been. He hadn't been there for many years either, so we decided to go. Quebec turned out to be moderately interesting but much too touristy. I made friends with a street musician who was playing rather dancy music on a harp, and since there was nobody else around at the time, he invited me to play a tune for him on the recorder. Nowadays I only play a few Bulgarian dances I still remember, and I don't practice enough, but he had fun, and so did I.

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