Tagged: Eben Moglen Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • aaeru1 12:12 am on July 22, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen, free software   

    Eben Moglen: "Sharing is how knowledge grows. Owning is how knowledge shrinks… Sharing produces technological innovation and social benefit. Ownership does not." 

    “We began our activities in changing the law applicable to software with a political purpose in mind. The purpose was to support freedom.

    Our belief was, and remains, that only a form of knowledge sharing which permits everyone to learn is safe for political liberty as well as economic innovation.

    We don’t consider this to be our invention. We consider this to be Galileo’s invention. We consider the right to tell the truth and to share scientific knowledge without permission and without control by law to be one of the greatest achievements of European civilization.

    We regard what we do as in the main line of the activity of the people of Liberty who brought a new Europe into being in 1789. We consider ourselves to be acting on behalf of the very idea of shared knowledge and common self-improvement, which is the achievement of European science.

    We reject wholeheartedly that this is either some danger or something to be careful about.

    Every government on Earth should now be aware that the largest IT firms in the world, including Microsoft, cannot live or operate without free software. Every government on Earth is aware that no bank, no telecommunications firm, no energy company can exist or operate without free software.

    I am disappointed, I must admit, among all the things that make me happy and delighted and honored to be here today, that in 2013 we’re still talking about this. We shouldn’t be. The data are long since in. The changes in the industry have long since been registered.

    But whatever may be the case about our persisting licensing structures, the documents on which we do business, which are a tiny bit of this story, the larger principles should no longer be in question: Sharing is how knowledge grows. Owning is how knowledge shrinks.

    The GPL has demonstrated that, with respect to computer software, sharing produces technological innovation and social benefit. Ownership does not.

    The Principle of Freedom, the free exchange of technological knowledge, and the Rights of Users with respect to technology, are however not trivialities. They are the central institutions of technology that serves Human purposes in the 21st century.

    And I will close only with one more statement: Technology which doesn’t serve human purposes in the 21st century, serves inhuman purposes.”

    • Eben Moglen

    Transcript: http://lepartipirate.be/node/1891

    • Tay 4:01 pm on November 19, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Aaeru, if you find this, could you check your email? We’re having problems on Fuwanovel. Thanks!

    • Clarissa 8:10 pm on January 12, 2017 Permalink | Reply

      I havbe been browsing online moгe tha 3 hߋurs todaʏ, yᥱt I neѵer found any interеsting rticle like yߋurs.
      It is pretty worth enough foг me. Personally, if all website owners аnd bloggers mɑde good
      content as yοu did, the net wiⅼl be a lot more
      usefսl than eѵеr bеfore.

  • R 4:32 pm on October 20, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen   

    Eben Moglen: When you can provide to everybody everything that you value, at the cost of providing it to any ONE body, what is the morality of excluding people who cannot afford to pay? 

    The most important unchangeable reality about human societies heretofore is the every human society since the beginning, whenever that was, has wasted almost all the brains it possessed.
    It is, of course, something so natural to us that it strikes us as an odd aperçu when we meet it, but of course we know that it is true. We know that it is true, and that there wasn’t any way to prevent it from being true, even as we know that it’s an injustice. A deep injustice.
    So let’s begin by recognizing, as Laura Nader was urging us to do, that one of the great problems about injustice is that, like power, it is most effective when it can succeed in remaining invisible. And one of the best ways of being invisible is to be something that everybody knows, but you can’t do anything about it, so you might as well forget. And so we forget – as we tend to forget every day when the newspaper isn’t headlined with the 50.000 children who starved to death yesterday – we forget that one of the fundamental characteristics of human societies heretofore has been their wastage of human brains. And I go around, and I say to people “How many of the Einsteins who ever existed were permitted to learn physics?”. And people think “Well, maybe one, maybe two – maybe Isaac Newton was another Einstein…” but of course the answer is “Almost none”; so few, in fact, that we know the names of them.
    Which, had we educated all the Einsteins in the world, in physics, since the beginning, we couldn’t do, because there would be so many of them. And what we think of as the extraordinary characteristics of genius are primarily merely the selection function applied to human diversity, through radical injustice in access to the ability to learn. Which means, of course, that we know that – smart guys as we all are – we are really only the fraction of the smart guys in the world who’ve been allowed to learn anything, in a world where there are six billion people, most of whom will never be able to go to school. And their brains will starve to death.

    So the basic question – now that our attention is concentrated on one of those obvious things that we don’t think about very much – so the question now is “Can the network be used to change that, for the first time in the history of human societies, and if it were used to change that, what would it be like?”.

    This is the introduction to the free software movement. This is the purpose of the free software movement. This is the aim not only of the free software movement, but of a large number of the other things we are doing that arise from the fact that the digital revolution means that knowledge no longer has a non-zero marginal cost, that when you have the first copy of any significant representation of knowledge – whatever the fixed cost of the production of that representation may have been – you have as many additional copies, everywhere, as you need, without any significant additional costs.

    The non-zero marginal cost quality of all the things we digitize, which – in the society we are now building – is everything we value, because we digitize everything we can value, right down to how we fit in our jeans, right? In the world where we digitize everything of value and everything of value has been digitized, a moral question of significance arises: When you can provide to everybody everything that you value, at the cost of providing it to any one body, what is the morality of excluding people who cannot afford to pay?

    If you could make as much bread, or have as many fishes, as you needed to feed everyone, at the cost of the first loaf and the first fish plus a button press, what would be the morality for charging more for loaves and fishes than the poorest person could afford to pay? It’s a difficult moral problem, explaining why you are excluding people from that which you yourself value highly and could provide to them for nothing.
    The best way of solving this moral problem is not to acknowledge its existence, which is the current theory. [Laughter] Right? The current theory in force takes the view that industrial society lived in a world of non-zero marginal cost for information – information and the ability to learn had to be embedded in analog things: books, recordings, objects that cost non-zero amounts of money to make, move, and sell. Therefore, it was inevitable that representations of things we value would have significant marginal costs. And in economies operating efficiently and competitively, – or for that matter, efficiently and non-competitively – there would still be some cost that somebody has to pay at the other end to receive each copy of something of meaning or value, unless there is somebody available to provide a subsidy. And since that was the 20th century reality, it was appropriate to have moral theory which regarded exclusion as an inevitable necessity.

    The discussion, of course, was about scale. “Ought we to find ways to subsidize more knowledge for more people?”, and the United States became not merely the wealthiest and most powerful country, after the second world war, not merely the indispensable or inevitable country, it became the intellectually most attractive country because it heavily subsidized the availability of sophisticated knowledge to people who could make use of it, even people who came elsewhere from poorer societies, or who had not the money to pay. And after the second world war, in the G.I. Bill, the United States took a unique approach to the age-old problem of how to reduce social disorder after war time through the demobilization of a large number of young men trained to the efficient use of collective violence – a thing which is always worrisome to societies, and which typically produces repression movements post-war, as the society as a whole tries to get back its leverage over those young men – the G.I. Bill was a radical, and indeed productive approach to the problem, namely send everybody to as much education as they want to have, at the expense of the state which is grateful to them for risking their lives in its defense. A splendid system; on the basis of that, and the provision of tertiary and quaternary education to the talented elite of the world, the United Stated government built a special place for its society in the world, as throwing away fewer brains than its power and importance would otherwise have tended to indicate it would do.

    But we are no longer talking about whether we can save people, identified as the elite of other societies, from the ignorance to which they might otherwise fall prey, through enlightened federal spending. We are talking about eliminating ignorance. We’re talking about addressing the great deprivation of knowledge of everything of use and utility and beauty from everybody, by building out the network across humanity, and allowing everybody to have the knowledge and the culture that they wish to obtain. And we’re talking about doing that because the alternative to doing that is the persistence of an immoral condition.

  • R 12:04 pm on October 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen,   

    Eben Moglen: There is no consistency between the guarantee of fundamental human rights and a system of ownership of ideas. 

    So, all revolutions begin with a question. Usually the question is “why?”

    Sometimes the question is “who?”

    The question here is Bertolt Brecht’s question, “Who built the pyramids of Thebes?”

    Or maybe he stole that question from someone else.

    If I have seen any further into that question, I saw it by standing on the shoulders of giants.

    But I stole that from Isaac Newton, who stole that from Luis Steothis, who stole that from Bernard Shouters. Which we know because the American sociologist of science, Robert Merton, taught us that, who stole it from an anonymous author of a note in a British journal, in 1934, who stole it who-knows-where.

    This of course is the beginning of the revolution. That is, the application of the word “theft” to what previously had been known as “learning.”

    So we are now learning something in this room, and in these agencies, and in our various places around the world: We are learning that there is a connection between the fundamental human rights and the re-appropriation of what belongs to us, that was taken from us, by people who turned knowledge into commodities.

    An inevitable, temporary, regrettable step in the process of getting back to freedom.

    Lord Macaulay, writing about the English Glorious Revolution of 1688, from his position in the middle of the 19th century, found himself with a question: Here were all the great politicians of Whig England, having successfully dislodged a bitterly and evilly disposed despot, aware of enormous numbers of legal reforms that needed to be made, busy reshaping the English constitution in the winter of 1688-89. And he shows how one after another of the great reforms of the 18th century were proposed, and he said to himself, “How strange, nobody said ‘let’s repeal the censorship of the press’.” Which anybody now knows Lord Macaulay said was the single most important reform because the freedom of public discussion is the guarantor of all other rights. From the perspective of 1850, 1688 seemed rather backward in this recognition.

    In the middle 1960s, the then dominant American scholar of copyright, Mel Nimmer, wrote an article asking a revolutionary question: “Why is copyright consistent with the first amendment guarantee of freedom of speech?” and he wrestled with it for a little while, and came to some comparatively unsatisfying answers, which satisfied him, mostly.

    And then the field of copyright law went to sleep on the answers for another twenty years. By the time they found themselves hearing the question again, it was asked rather loudly by a few of us, and the answers that seemed barely satisfactory in 1967 seemed entirely useless altogether.

    Now, mind you, the United States Supreme Court hadn’t quite figured that out yet. Thanks to a very skilled and daring investigator, my colleague Larry Lessig, we were able to demonstrate that the Supreme Court didn’t understand that problem at all, and we are unfortunately living with the consequences of their continuing – but I assure you, temporary – ignorance.

    The question, “What is the fundamental consistency, if any, between the freedom of speech and copyright law in the United States?” now has as its grand international rhyme here today.

    What is the fundamental consistency between the right of human beings to self determination and liberty with the system of ownership of ideas?

    That’s a revolutionary question and it has a simple answer, as revolutionary questions do: There is no consistency between the guarantee of fundamental human rights and a system of ownership of ideas.

    So those of us who know the answer to the question are beginning to implement the necessary step. We are making it impossible to continue with the system of the ownership of ideas. We will be finished with that work within our lifetimes, and the system of ownership of ideas will have been relegated to that very important, but almost forgotten location, the dust heap of history.

    • Eben Moglen


  • R 12:01 pm on October 3, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen   

    Eben Moglen: The triumph of the intellectual property system’s support for incentives for producers. A joke 

    So it’s a long struggle, you know. The struggle to maintain freedom of thought has been going on a long time. And it’s been pretty, pretty brutal, from time to time.

    No. The producers didn’t benefit. Most musicians in the world drive taxicabs, sweep floors. Most poets wait on tables.

    Because, when you have an oligopoly of distribution, they reduce output to raise price.

    The great welfare loss of the twentieth century was the creators deprived of the opportunity to create, by the oligopolistic need to reduce output to raise price.

    Is there anyone who disagrees with me that the twenty first century will see no such thing as the unpublished poet? Every poet has a way to reach the web. The twentieth century saw damn near no such thing as the published poet, because publishers didn’t make any money from poetry, and poets swept floors. That was the triumph of the intellectual property system’s support for incentives for producers. A joke, if ever there was a sad sorry joke in the history of the world.

    A joke.

    But we’re not laughing any more.

    We know what we mean to do, and we are doing it.

    We are very fortunate generations, standing here on the shoulders of giants. People have been fighting for freedom of thought in the Western world for a thousand years, and we’re very grateful to them, because they kept it alive in very dirty times.

    We’re doing it again. And the difference is, this time, we win.

    • Eben Moglen


  • R 10:07 am on September 30, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen   

    Eben Moglen: they could scan 1/6th of all the books in European libraries for the cost of 100 km of roadway. 

    The Information Society Directorate of the European Commission issued a report 18 months ago, in which they said that they could scan 1/6th of all the books in European libraries for the cost of 100 km of roadway. That meant, and it is still true, that for the cost of 600 km of road, in an economy that builds thousands of kilometers of roadway every year, every book in all European libraries could be available to the entire human race, it should be done. [shout of “Copyright” from audience] Remember that most of those books are in the public domain, before you shout copyright at me. Remember that the bulk of what constitutes human learning was not made recently, before you shout the copyright at me. We should move to a world in which all knowledge previously available before this lifetime is universally available. If we don’t, we will stunt the innovation which permits further growth. That’s a social requirement. The copyright bargain is not immutable. It is merely convenient. We do not have to commit suicide culturally or intellectually in order to maintain a bargain which does not even relevantly apply to almost all of important human knowledge in most fields. Plato is not owned by anybody.

    So here we are, asking ourselves what the educational systems of the 21st century will be like, and how they will socially distribute knowledge across the human race. I have a question for you. How many of the Einsteins who ever lived were allowed to learn physics? A couple. How many of the Shakespeares who ever lived, lived and died without learning to read and write? Almost all of them. With 7 billion people in the world right now, 3 billion of them are children; how many Einsteins do you want to throw away today? The universalization of access to education, to knowledge, is the single-most important force available for increasing innovation and human welfare on the planet. Nobody should be afraid to advocate for it because somebody might shout “copyright”.

    • Eben Moglen

    Innovation under Austerity
    This is a transcription of a speech given by Eben Moglen at the 2012 Freedom to Connect conference.
    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2VHf5vpBy8

    • Abbey Sales 1:38 pm on July 31, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      WOW!! It amazes me that this keeps happening again and again in todays day and age. I am very happy I was not jogging. The Directors know about things in future Lets see this evolving issue to this.

    • Abbey Sales 10:42 am on September 13, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      I totally agree! I am startled that this really went on in this day and age. This news was well received as I was not standing. I wonder about this. I am going to keep an eye on this new development and going forth.

    • Abbey Sales 8:19 pm on October 26, 2013 Permalink | Reply

      Really?! I still am startled that this really happened in todays day and age. I was relieved I am not jogging. The Boss’ have wondered about the future. Anyway I will keep track of the problem .

  • R 7:30 am on September 25, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen, ,   

    Eben Moglen: Software is an inherently incremental intellectual product. 

    Vast institutions are committed to the social philosophy that only exclusionary practices inevitably involving the large-scale continuance of unnecessary ignorance are essential to the production of useful information. Vast economic rents are being extracted from the world, and enormous numbers of people are going unfulfilled in intellectual and aesthetic needs that we can provide for. One inevitable consequence of the continuance of that approach is that people are forbidden to share.

    In 1993, the National Information Infrastructure Working Group on Intellectual Property, led by the chair of the PTO, Bruce Lehman, produced a green paper on intellectual property in the evolving Internet, which became eventually a White House policy document in the first Clinton administration. The IP Working Group report stated that, although it would indeed be necessary to increase copyright infringement penalties drastically, that measure would be inadequate to change social behavior sufficiently to protect intellectual property in the net. Accordingly, the IPWG suggested, every school receiving federal funds should have a curriculum in grades K-12, teaching children that it is wrong to share information. They suggested–I am not fooling you–a slogan in the aftermath of Mrs. Reagan’s extraordinary success at ending drug abuse in America. The slogan was: “Just say ‘yes’ to licensing.” What they did not explain was what you called the institution in which you explained to children that it is wrong to share information; it seemed improbable that one would continue to call such a place a school. Nonetheless, I thought that their intellectual honesty was extremely commendable. They had come to the heart of the problem. Their goal was the maintenance of existing social and economic relationships at the expense of incurring the fundamental intellectual inconsistency of their position: that we must teach people that they must not teach others, or else.

    Now, it is in that context that we have made a social network committed to the proposition that the central executable elements of human technology can be produced by sharing–without exclusionary property relations. And that if the central executable elements of technology can be made by sharing, without exclusionary property relations, then the non-executable elements of culture–art, useful information, and so on–can be distributed without exclusionary property relations. It is this process that you are presently witnessing.

    When I began working as a computer programmer for pay, in the early 1970s, there was a goal. Software developers had a purpose. The purpose was embodied in a four-word phrase: “Write once, run everywhere.” It meant, develop software which can be made to run on all of the hardware that even then rather heterogeneously populated society. It was, from the point of view of venture-capital funded, profit-making, investor-owned industries, an impossible goal, never achieved. We did it. GNU, Linux, and all the other thousands of programs in the free software world, run, as Rita correctly said, on everything. From the palmtop, the cell phone, and the single-purpose appliance–like the digital camera and the personal video recorder–to the mainframe. There was one purpose to software engineering overall throughout my lifetime, and we did it. The best-funded monopoly in the history of the world does not even try.

    There are reasons, which I have explored in my writing, including in the piece “Anarchism Triumphant,” that production of executable software without property relations inherently develops superior software–not immediately, but over the long term. The analysis of that proposition I leave in detail for further discussion. It’s essence is this: software (executable software) is an inherently incremental intellectual product. This is an argument, by the way, against the application of the patent system to it, not a philosophical one, but a technical one. The appropriate invocation of the principal of novelty and non-obviousness to software results in zero software patents. All persons reasonably skilled in the art are capable of achieving each result incrementally, from where the art is at any given moment. But more importantly, for our purposes, the process of making software is massively parallelizable when the costs of communication and coordination are reduced near zero.

    The net is a superconductive medium for the creation of software. So, as I wrote in 1999 when it was a little less obvious than it is today, we are witnessing a phenomenon first noticed by Michael Faraday at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Wrap a coil around a magnet; spin the magnet. Electrical current flows in the wire. One does not ask, “what is the incentive for the electrons to leave home?” It’s an inherent, emergent property of the system, we have a name for it: we call it induction. The question we ask is, “what is the resistance of the wire?” Moglen’s corollary to Faraday’s Law says, wrap the Internet around every brain on the planet; spin the planet. Software flows in the network. It is wrong to ask, “What is the incentive for people to create?” It’s an emergent property of connected human minds that they do create. The forms in which they create, like the evolution of spoken and written language, like the disposition of memes, cultural forms, patterns of pottery, shapes of musical endeavor, and so on, are structural characteristics of the human mind. We are a social species, and we create together; that’s our nature. The question to ask is, “What is the resistance of the network?” Moglen’s Corollary to Ohlm’s Law states that the resistance of the network is directly proportional to the field strength of the intellectual property system. The conclusion is: Resist the resistance. Which is what we do. We have been doing it in an exponential growth curve for slightly over twenty years. Now we have forty percent of the server market (note: 60-65% as of 2012). We’re going to have a hundred percent of the appliance market within five years. That’s a trivial economic deduction from the following simple fact: when you sell a four-hundred dollar palm top, you can afford to pay a license fee for its operating system, of $24.95, or $49.95, or incur expensive in-house development activity and make a Palm OS. When the box costs fifty bucks, there’s no room left for paying $12.95 to Mister Gates: we win. We win.

    We all do it together, the software’s a public utility; “Write once, run everywhere”; we’re done. This is a noticeable proposition, not just to us- though we understand why it is socially and politically desirable that the world work this way. It is a noticeable proposition for the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), too. You now have, after a mere twenty years of work on our part, the largest, best-funded technology company on earth fundamentally on our side with respect to how the information technology system will work in the twenty-first century. San Palmisano, Irving Wladawski-Berger, you read them all the time, there’s a simple proposition: software’s a public utility, computing is an on-demand service provided by service providers who handle the internalized cost of making computing possible, and so on.

    Thus we observe the new political economy of software. If you have a network and you share, you can achieve the ethical goal of allowing everybody to understand, to improve, to find and fix bugs, to create better software, and to share information in a way that allows them to improve their technical skills. Free software is the single greatest technical library on earth. I say that because free software is the only field where a person can go from naiveté, to the state of the art, in everything that a particular field contains, solely by reading material that is universally available at no cost everywhere the network exists. That is the single, greatest intellectual capital development program in the world. The legal system that makes that possible, the GNU General Public License, with which I have some intimate experience, achieves the creation of a greater and more extensive knowledge exchange program than any other in the world, at no cost. When my colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) decided to put their entire curriculum on the web–every course, every teaching material, every problem set, every examination–they were adopting the recognition that the principle of Western science, the principle of free software, and the principle of non-exclusion are the path of development for the twenty-first century, a proposition which has its capitalist echo in the behavior of IBM.

    • Eben Moglen

    Freeing the Mind :
    Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture

  • R 2:22 pm on September 23, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Eben Moglen   

    Eben Moglen: without free sharing of information, the advance of knowledge would be impossible 

    “We are doing that for a reason. The reason, which was sketched out by my colleague, friend, and client Richard Stallman in the early nineteen eighties, is to protect the ethical right to share information. This is properly understood as the intellectual context of Western science and literature-not as an invention of the nineteen eighties, not as a consequence of our particular personal, intellectual or moral idiosyncrasies. It is the received understanding of our common culture with regard to the production of knowledge by collaborative effort. The free sharing of scientific information is the essence of Western science. And without the concept of the free sharing of information–Western scientists have been pointing out since Galileo pointed it out to the church in the mid 16th century–the advance of knowledge would be either impossible or impossibly burdened.”

    • Eben Moglen

    Freeing the Mind : Free Software and the Death of Proprietary Culture

  • R 7:14 pm on September 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Eben Moglen,   

    “How should the people who produce knowledge – whether designs, novels, or software – be paid, then?”

    Well, you know this is of course a question I hear a fair amount. And I think it comes from a confusion. And it’s an odd confusion, in this room, because it makes a distinction which maybe we don’t need to make, and introduces one that we shouldn’t have.

    People get paid, voluntarily, because we love what they do.

    I know that’s true; I pay people because I love what they do, and so do you. We pay – and would be happy to pay more, if we didn’t think that someone else was in the way – for things of beauty and utility all the time.

    What we are losing is the ability to force people to pay. We are losing the coercive distribution system which says: “I won’t give this to you you until you pay me for it first.”

    We’re losing that because people can’t manage to make it work anymore; that’s what it means to be a music company or a movie company in the present world; it’s the distributors who have a problem. Their model was: “We make a profit as distributors because you can only get this from us.”

    And by forcing people to pay, right, they made their business model work.

    We can’t force people anymore, but we can ask them.

    And the reason that shouldn’t be a surprise in this room is: that’s how you do it. You ask people to pay. You tell them “It’s worth it. You love what we do, you care about it, you have passion. Pay us for it.”, and they do.

    You shouldn’t be worried. This shouldn’t be your question, this isn’t your fight, you won it already. The people who are worried are the people people wouldn’t voluntarily pay, and that’s not you.

    We’re going to have every bit as much creativity as we had before Edison; Edison was the guy who made it possible to put the thing in a can and sell it like a product in the store. There wasn’t any absence of music before there were recording companies. Musicians got paid poorly then and they get paid poorly now. [Laughter] The difference was: there were no recording companies stealing from them then, and there are now.

    The issue of “How will people get paid?” is agitating our friends on the other side. But I don’t think it needs to agitate us so much. People pay for what they love. Make what they love; they’ll pay you for it.

    I have an odd business model. I don’t charge clients. I charge people, voluntarily, who make a lot of money in technology, to provide lawyering services for people who don’t make any. And I haven’t fired any lawyers yet. And I’m an unusual law firm in New York city because I haven’t.

    • Eben Moglen


  • R 6:05 pm on September 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Eben Moglen,   

    Eben Moglen: Knowledge cannot and should not be owned. The notion that it can, condemns certain segments of society to extinction 

    The most serious problems that confront humanity are about human beings and their intelligence, which oft goes agley, as Robert Burns told us, no matter how good the plans may be. And the most serious tool that we have to confront the problems made by human intelligence, is human intelligence. We, collectively, are in the business of maximizing humanity’s ability to use its intelligence to make life better for people, and in doing that, the gravest difficulty that we confront is that all societies since the beginning of human sociality have thrown away most of the brains they had.

    Let’s begin with a simple question. How many of the Einsteins that ever existed were allowed to learn physics?

    One. Or two, maybe. And that’s the nature of the problem on which we all work, one way or another, in the service that we attempt to perform for humankind.

    The primary difficulty of the 20th century was that it discovered extraordinarily efficient ways for people to work in regimented forms, but it made very little progress over where the 19th century left us with respect to the ability to educate every human mind. Among the reasons that 20th century civilization made such little progress – we do, you know, we still throw away almost all the brains – the reason we made such little progress is largely that we treated knowledge as a thing that could be owned, and therefore need be purchased. And no matter what we did to attempt to equalize ability to purchase, we didn’t equalize very much, and most of the children in the world are deprived of the real opportunity to learn – they can’t afford to.

    The central problems of the human race therefore depend upon easing the ability of brains to feed – we must stop starving the intellect that gets us out of the messes we think our way into.

    To do that, then, we begin, at the end of the 20th century, to imagine reversing the long and complicated relationship between the human race and the idea that knowledge is something that you own. We reverse that course by beginning, once again, to treat – unsparingly and without any degree of forgiveness for the alternative – we begin to treat knowledge as a thing that must be shared in order to be valuable.

    Of course, we continue to exist in a world in which it is considered to be acceptable to treat knowledge as a thing that can be owned. The consequence is that there are people who will die because the knowledge of the molecule that will help them not to die is owned knowledge, and someone has secured, for a substantial portion of a human lifetime, the exclusive right to deploy that knowledge, which raises its price, decreases its availability, and condemns some people to extinction.

    These are only some of the consequences of the belief that knowledge is a thing that can be owned. And we live now, all of us, and indeed much of the world – soon all of the world – we live in the midst of technology which makes it unnecessary even to discuss the conception of the ownership of knowledge, because it is possible, efficiently, to share.

    In a world where everything’s a bitstream, where everything has zero marginal cost, where if you have one copy, you can make a billion copies at no additional expense, the ownership of knowledge is a moral problem. If we could feed everybody by cooking one breakfast and pressing a button, what would the case be, what would the argument be, for charging people more for food than everyone could pay? Of course, we can’t just cook one breakfast and press a button, but we can make one operating system and press a button. We can make a database and press a button. We can make a novel, a film, a poem, a symphony, a dance, or a design for survivable low cost constructible housing, and press a button.

    In other words, in the world that we have made, – the digital world – we have escaped one of the principal reasons that we threw away all the brains we threw away. And – as many of you, in the work you do, are acutely conscious – we have as many children with us now as there were human beings in the generations that preceded our own. All of them, put together. That means we are either about to throw away as many human brains as have ever been thrown away in the whole history of the human race, or we’re about to reverse the flow at the moment where it will do the most good.

    This is the context within which we have begun to use technology ourselves in our own lives in a slightly different way. The more we use the technology in our own lives in a slightly different way, the more we bias our activity towards sharing rather than owning, – or even, the more we bias our activity towards sharing rather than doing business with those who claim to own – the more we are establishing the fundamental principle by which we will make a kind of social justice that will attack one of the root causes of human misery: the throwing away of all those brains that wanted to learn and couldn’t.

    • Eben Moglen

    09NTC plenary: Eben Moglen

Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc