This Week In Techdirt History: September 27th – October 3rd

from the from-gnu-to-coica dept

Five Years Ago

This week in 2010, we saw lots of action around COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. Firstly, we took a look at all the past technologies that would have been blocked by the bill and what it might censor in the future, while Tim Berners-Lee himself came out against it. Of course, the RIAA was claiming that failure to pass COICA would put Americans at risk. Just in case the bill didn’t pass, the White House was working on a backup internet censorship plan — and then, finally, the bill was shelved. Some people turned their attention to smarter ways of thinking about copyright law, but that’s not always easy in a world where the press could barely tell the difference between copyright and patents. Plenty of others were sticking with stupidity, from the garden-variety claim that “copyleft” supporters think music should only be a hobby to the more fiery assertion that file-sharers are going to hell. We tried our best to note that embracing ‘free’ doesn’t mean making no money, and asked whether even uncompensated commercial use of an artist’s work is really all that bad. Certainly it’s not as bad as a British city council abusing copyright to stop meetings from going up on YouTube.

Ten Years Ago

Five years earlier in 2005, not much was different. We pointed out how stupid most attempts at making new IP laws were, and that the real way to combat piracy is with innovation, not legislation. But one California senator was convinced that laws could put an end to file sharing, while the Canadian recording industry was trying to convince people that file sharing is a gateway to a life of crime. Much better to piss off customers with copy protection then pretend it was a mistake, or attack the developers making your device better, or attempt to wow the world by making flash storage less useful with copy protections). We did see one great idea, though: Ed Felten proposed the “pizzaright” principle, wherein you evaluate arguments for stronger IP protections by imagining them as a monopoly on delivering pizza in certain market.

Fifteen Years Ago

Let’s head back five years earlier still, where everything was… pretty similar. Last week, we noted that The Offspring was planning to release its album online in 2000 — and this week, Sony put an end to their innovation. Capital Records tried to pass itself off as embracing file sharing, but the details were disappointing and mostly meaningless. Meanwhile, it was becoming clear that it’s not just kids who wanted downloadable music and that respect for intellectual property actually correlated with poor education.

Also this week in 2000: Volvo launched a car that was only advertised online and Fosters (the beer company) was going digital with care and forethought; the convergence of phones and PDAs was still messy but clearly on the horizon, even though mobile internet still had very limited appeal; companies were realizing the dangers of using a phone while driving, it was discovered that (gasp!) some people use public internet kiosks for crime, and Shanghai decided to just start shutting down internet cafes entirely.

Thirty-Two Years Ago

The GNU project remains controversial in some circles, and even here at Techdirt we’ve often pushed back against some of its more extreme proponents, but I don’t think there’s any denying that it has had a huge and overall very positive impact on the world of computing. It was on September 27th, 1983 that Richard Stallman first announced the GNU Project on the net.unix-wizards and net.usoft newsgroups. A few months later, Stallman quit his job at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (so they couldn’t claim any sort of ownership) and began developing free software.

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Comments on “This Week In Techdirt History: September 27th – October 3rd”

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2 Comments
Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Richard Stallman Is A Prophet

Richard Stallman is, in a very real sense, a prophet. He sounded the alarm over software patents, back when nobody had even heard of the term. More recently, he warned against people trusting their data to a corporate-owned cloud. And guess how that has turned out?

When I first heard of his “GNU project” back in the 1980s, I thought “create a complete free OS from scratch? Yeah, right”. Today I use Linux systems (incorporating components from GNU and a hundred other projects) every day. And you have to admit, the General Public License (GPL) is a master stroke: who could have thought that copyright law, which is essentially designed to prohibit copying, could be used to enforce the principle of “share and share alike”?

On the other hand, Stallman is a control freak. His doctrinaire hatred of the term “open source” and insistence on the “GNU” in “GNU/Linux” get tiresome. He was responsible for schisms over glibc, GCC and Emacs, just among the ones I can think of. (Admittedly, two of those three did get resolved.) And like Andy Tanenbaum, he seems unable to admit that microkernels are a waste of time.

But still, you got to hand it to the guy. For all his faults, the world would be a poorer place without him.

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