Richard Stallman @ Trinity College Dublin

Richard Stallman speaking

I saw Richard Stallman speak in Trinity College Dublin tonight. I’ve always been interested in Stallman’s ideas on software and copyright, and I admire his stance and activism. The topic for the night was “A Free Digital Society” and was billed as being “non-technical” and the public were “encouraged to attend”. I don’t know “non-technical” it was – a fellow attendee said she thought most of it was “acronyms above my head”, but for the most part it was a well delivered talk on the various threats to our liberty posed by using digital communication technology – ranging from state surveillance to anti-sharing. The bit on Free software, which is Stallman’s primary interest, was where it veered most towards the technical, but he had interesting insights on how our digital systems are hindering our rights. He is a passionate man who’s sole motivation seems to be to inform people as to how trapped they are by their digital products, and how we can change this.

One of the most interesting parts were his thoughts on how to reward artists. He is against the demonisation of ‘pirates’, and doesn’t believe in Digital Rights Management, but does believe artists should be rewarded for their efforts. One suggestion is the use of public funds to pay them, which is a bit far-fetched, but he also hit the nail on the head when describing how a lot of people want to and will contribute to the arts but find it either too dear or too hard to do. He suggests a quick, easy anonymous way to transfer money to your favourite artists when ever you please. Seemed reasonable.

Some other points:

  1. There were 4 women to about 40 men
  2. Stallman exclusively used the female pronoun when describing programmers and artists.
  3. He is very careful about language, he used words quite specifically, and you can tell he thinks a lot about the words he uses.
  4. Some of his phrases were quite playfully mischievous, like “Facebook used” (instead of ‘user’), “Amazon Swindle” (Kindle) and he referred to internet users as “Internauts”
  5. I found him quite amiable, but he seemed a bit prickly during the Q&A but I suspect this is a defence mechanism he has built up following hostility. To him this was a Q&A, not a debate. He invited some bullish, hostile questions (delivered as such) and he shut them down quite quickly and thus he came across as defensive and rude. Maybe its the nature of “computer science” folk but some of the questions were delivered in an overly hostile manner, in my opinion.
  6. After he specifically forbade us from putting his image on Facebook or Instagram, I asked him what he thought of Twitter. He seemed fine with it as it can be accessed via Free software and that it was a publishing platform so you were willingly publishing your thoughts on it.

All in all and interesting evening.