Interviews are commonplace on weblogs. There are even sites that run interviews based entirely on readers' questions. We wanted to go a little beyond that, though. So here, instead of a Q&A interview, we invite guests to participate in a discussion with the readers directly, which will "officially" run for a week or so, and focus on a particular topic or issue close the the guest's heart. You ask questions, they answer, but since it's a threaded discussion, you can follow up on your, or anyone else's, questions as well. At the end of the discussion period, we'll write up a summary of where the discussion went and what, if any, conclusions were reached (in the style of "Kernel Traffic"), and post it. Obviously the original discussion will continue as long as people keep posting comments, and the summary itself might provoke further discussion. Our guests, however, have only promised to participate for the "official" discussion period, so they may or may not continue to answer questions after that time.
Whatever you may think of the ideas, opinions, or politics of the guests involved, we ask only that you remember they have agreed to talk with you, directly, in this rather unusual format, and therefore you owe them the same respect they're explicitly affording you. As with most aspects of the site, the success of the round table idea is totally up to you, and I believe you will all once again prove yourselves to be more than equal to the task. :-)
This week's discussion will focus on Intellectual Property and Free Software. IP issues have been a hot-button topic, in the world at large, and in the free software community in particular, for quite some time. The basic question is whether the current reigning intellectual property system in use in the US, and much of the software-consuming world, can account for or coexist with Free software. I can't describe or argue the issue any more lucidly or thoroughly than Eben Moglen (FSF general council and Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia) did in his article "Anarchism Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright," posted here recently, so I won't even try. If you're unclear on why the free software community even has any issues with the existing body of patent and copyright law, read Professor Moglen's article first.
As some of the foremost proponents of freedom in software, the members of the Free Software Foundation are naturally concerned about the effects patent-mania have had, and will continue to have, on the development and distribution of free software. Joining us this week are three volunteers from the Free Software Foundation. They naturally speak only for themselves, but will probably give you a fair representation of the collective opinion of the FSF.
Gordon Matzigkeit is a peaceful anarchist who enjoys writing about
himself in the third person. He has been known to surface in unusual
places in order to submit patches to existing free software, propose
crackpot unifying ideas (such as GNU Libtool and the FIG Project), or
discuss the transcendence of bivalent reductionism. He is currently
working for the Free Software Foundation on the grassroots
coordination of the first public release of the GNU system, running on
the GNU Hurd. He also manages subversions.gnu.org, the GNU CVS
server. His only presence on the Web is http://fig.org/gord/.
Jonas Oberg is a part-time FSF volunteer, working with webmastering and
system administration. He's also pushing for the use of free software in the
Swedish government and does programming work for various free software
projects. He maintains a personal home page on coyote.org. (Editor's note: read Jonas's excellent articles, linked from the above URL, if you're unfamiliar with the FSF or the ideals of the GNU project. Well, read them anyway, because they're good, but especially if you need a refresher on who these folks are.)
Phillip Rulon is a programmer and sysadmin at GNU. He also masters
all the CDs for the project. When he has a spare nanosecond, he's
learning to write Apache modules in C. Occasionally, he writes
newspaper articles. In another life he was an accomplished welder and
machinist and worked on particle accelerators. He's also a member of
the Retro-Computing Society of Rhode Island and has 4 PDP11s in his
basement, which he rarely has time to play with.
Some questions to consider:
Are the aims of the patent system and the free software movement inherently antithetical, or is there some way to reconcile the two?
Free software is often accused of perpetually playing "catch-up" to proprietary software. Can innovation happen in a free and open manner, when it seems that the first thing companies do these days is patent anything that could possibly be considered innovative?
Would it be feasible to establish an "Open Patent" trust, to patent innovations and allow their unrestricted use, or at least register them as "prior art" to ensure authors of free software protection from patent lawsuits down the road? More info on this idea can be found at technocrat.net.
These are just a few of the issues at hand, so I'll let you take it from here. pjr, gord, and jonas await your questions, so have at it. :-)