[FSFE PR][EN] [GNU/FSF Press] Chassell's prepared statements for USENIX Lifetime Acheivement Award

Bradley M. Kuhn pr at gnu.org
Thu Jun 28 16:00:33 CEST 2001

Today, the USENIX Association awarded the GNU Project and its contributors
the 2001 USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award.  A press release is being
mailed out separately.

Attached, please find two prepared texts for Chassell's remarks today.
One is the text of acceptance speech, the other is the text of a press
conference that will be held today from 11:30 to 12:30 in the Vermont room
on the fifth floor of the Copley Marriott in Boston, MA, USA.
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                               28 June 2001
             Prepared text for remarks by Robert J. Chassell
         Acceptance of the 2001 USENIX Lifetime Acheivement Award

On behalf of everyone involved in GNU let me give you our thanks.  It has
been a long time.  17 years.

First came an editor that developers could use, then came a compiler, a
debugger, a shell.  We saw utilities and libraries.  These and other tools
worked portably and efficiently on many architectures.  GNU Make helped
development.  Auto-configuration advanced the art.  These were important

The first GNU kernel, TRIX, died for lack of development.  Work on the
second kernel, the Hurd, crept on so slowly you might think it froze.
Finally, and fortunately, the third kernel, Linux, took off, even in spite
of some complaints that the free software BSD projects were better, or
that the Hurd has a cool design.

Indeed, Linux has taken off so well, that people sometimes forget that a
complete system is a GNU Linux system, and that there is good reason to
remember GNU.

Just as the name of the Unix operating system inspired the name of this
organization, `USENIX', Unix also inspired the name `GNU': GNU is `Not

GNU is `Not Unix' because it does not restrict freedom.

The goal of GNU is freedom:

First, the freedom to study.  Not like Unix, where bookstores were
forbidden to sell Lyon's commentary on the code.

You have the freedom to study GNU software.

Second, the freedom to modify.  Not like a proprietary, binary-only
distribution, which blocks a programmer from fixing an irritating

You have the freedom to modify GNU software.

And, third, the freedom to redistribute.  Not like AT&T Unix, and other
proprietary companies, that ask institutions to police programmers,
through `license compliance managers', to try to prevent anyone from
making copies for friends and clients.

You have the freedom to redistribute GNU software.

Free software is becoming widespread.  It is also under attack.

For example, under current law, private groups can use government power to
forbid you to use programming techniques you already know.  This is what
software patents are about.

I hope that our next speaker will tell us how a large company with many
patents will create a defense, both for themselves, and also for our whole
community, of which they are a part.

Many organizations and many companies have helped make GNU/Linux systems
possible today.  We thank them for their contribution.

But this award is for every GNU contributor -- everyone who sent in a
patch, a bug report, a document, or a program.

Thank you.
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                       28 June 2001, 11:30 - 12:30
             Prepared text for remarks by Robert J. Chassell
      FSF Press Conference, 2001 USENIX Annual Technical Conference

Let me thank USENIX for this wonderful award.  We deeply appreciate it.

Also, let me again thank everyone who has helped with GNU.

GNU/Linux comes from the work of thousands of people.  Without them,
GNU/Linux would not exist.

A lot of effort has gone into this software that we all have the freedom
to copy, study, modify, and redistribute.

David Wheeler estimates that the Red Hat distribution, which is not the
largest, represents 8,000 person-years of development time.


The GNU Project is not finished

The GNU Project is not finished.

The early part is done.  17 years ago, the first goal was to create a
complete, free system that developers can use to create more and to
improve upon existing free software.  We reached and passed this goal 7
years ago.

GNU Linux is now far more than a tool to create tools.  Now the technical
emphasis is on embedding software, on providing the machines in the back
room, and, most visibly, on providing user interfaces and applications for
people who are not programmers.

But GNU is more than a technical project.  The goal of GNU is freedom.

Our freedom is under attack.

Software requires freedom

Software requires freedom.

Freedom becomes real through relationships among people and companies.
Freedom is *made* real through laws and licenses.

Software can be licensed in different ways: restrictive and proprietary,
or free and open.

Free software is software that you have the legal and practical right
study, modify, and redistribute.

Free software is written by people who choose freedom.  Programmers, or
their employers or universities, can choose a restrictive license; they
can choose to forbid others from looking at or working on the code.  Or
they can choose freedom.

Not everyone thinks directly about whether they want to choose freedom.
Many programmers, for example, are interested in a software development
method that leads to greater reliability, security, and efficiency.  The
benefits for which such programmers look are practical.  Sometimes you
will hear people talk about `open source' as a practical development

But to gain the practical benefits, programmers need the freedom to study,
modify, and redistribute their and others' work.  If a programmer cannot
study and modify code, she cannot make it better.  If she cannot
distribute it, no one gains.

Similarly, you cannot gain security unless other people have the freedom
to search for flaws.  A programmer will not find all the flaws in his
program, nor will his colleagues, nor will company approved reviewers.
This is the human condition.  Only through outside inspection can you gain

Open source development requires software freedom.

Moreover, everyone needs freedom, not just programmers.

Freedom is the right to choose.

When given a choice, most people, including people who are not
programmers, choose reliability, efficiency, and security.  It is very
simple.  That is why the better programs succeed.

This is why a practical, open source operation requires freedom for

Benefits of software freedom

In addition to these practical benefits -- the profitable advantages that
appeal to investors -- freedom brings the advantages of a free society, of
sharing and cooperation.

In a civilized world, we want to share, to cooperate, and to help each

People share when they are not harmed by doing so.  People like to help
their neighbors.  With free software, you are not hurt when you help
someone else - you lose nothing, but your neighbor gains.

But with proprietary software, you are hurt by helpfulness. You may be
hurt directly, or indirectly.  Suppose, for example, you need source code
to fix a printer; and it is forbidden to you.  You are hurt directly.  And
those who depend on the broken printer are hurt indirectly.

Suppose your electricity company hires a `license compliance manager' to
make sure its engineers do not take work home with them.  A few years ago,
my electricity company did this.  I am hurt indirectly, since my
electricity company is less efficient, and more wasteful of resource, than
it ought to be.

Moreover, proprietary software hurts more than the present; it hurts the
future; it hurts our children.

Proprietary software requires that parents and teachers train children to
be selfish, or else to violate the law.

For example, a few years ago, the daughter of a friend showed off a
colorful and dramatic program.  However, I could not but notice that the
program came from another person.  Her use and possession of that program
was illegal.

With non-public software, sharing is illegal.  The programs' distribution
is restricted and even the youngest child is supposed to insist that his
or her friends, or the school, purchase additional copies.

If you are a parent, or a teacher or administrator in a school, you can
spend a great deal of time trying to enforce laws against sharing.

Or you can teach students to disobey the law.  This is a common, but poor
way to educate a society.

The solution is to adopt free software.  A teacher or administrator can
encourage students to share software.  Parents can come out against
selfishness.  It becomes legal both to abide by the law and to share with

And of course, you can encourage students to study the software that they
have.  Students can learn to program, to maintain systems, and they can
learn to learn, which is very important in a changing world.

Freedom brings other advantages.  Bureaucratic hassle is uncivilized.  We
want less hassle, not more.

Software restrictions force companies and other organizations to organize
themselves so as to limit what people can do.  You are forbidden simply
share a program, which is simple and natural.  Instead, you must fill out
a proposal, a form, or your friend must, to get another copy.  This is
what restrictions mean, even though your computer is a machine for making

And, of course, your company must police you to make sure you don't
secretly help your colleague.  Most likely, the company won't refer to its
actions as `policing'; it will talk about `license compliance management'.
And it will permit some collaboration.  License compliance managers are
not foolish.  They will permit some leeway.  They will stop you a little
further along.

In brief, practical benefits require software freedom.  So does sharing
and cooperation.  So does civilization.

Freedom is key.

Attacks on software freedom

The critical issue now is to prevent our being forbidden, to protect and
preserve software freedom.

This issue is not technical: everyone now understands that freedom brings
software.  In the past, many people told me that freedom loses.  They were
wrong.  Freedom wins.

If we are not forbidden, we will all enjoy embedded systems that run free
software; we will enjoy infrastructure that is efficient and reliable.

And just as people are are not auto mechanics drive cars, we will enjoy
new free software interfaces and applications.

But software freedom is being attacked.

There are students of computer science who are forbidden by law from
studying the programs they use to write essays.  There are professional
programmers who are forbidden to use the best technology.  There are
ordinary people -- people do not care one way or another about software --
who find they cannot choose whom they will hire to support the tools they
use, or customize them, or fix them promptly.

Every school, college, or university should encourage students to study,
not forbid study.  Students should write essays using software that
budding programmers can study.

Professional programmers should use the best technology, not be forbidden.
Software patents hinder the industry.

And every one should have the freedom to hire whom they choose to fix,
modify, and support the tools in a business or household.

Let me discuss each of these attacks in more detail.

Forbidden to study

Student programmers ought to have the right to study the sources to the
software they use.  This is one way to learn how to construct large and
long-lasting programs.

But restricted software forbids this.  Teachers must forbid their students
from studying.

Clearly, most students do not want to become programmers, just as most do
not want to become lawyers.  But those who want to learn should not be

Textbooks provide pathways into knowledge, and are so used.  But textbooks
do not substitute for reality.  Programmers learn not only from books, but
from the great programs of our time.

Ask yourself, do you know anyone who uses software that he or she is
forbidden to study?  If so, you know someone who lacks freedom, someone
who lacks opportunity.

When a school forbids study, it betrays its mission.

Forbidden to succeed

Professional programmers ought to have the right to use the best
technology needed to solve a problem.

But a software patent either prevents a programmer from using a
technology, or forbids him from redistributing the program.  The
programmer is forbidden to succeed.

That is what a patent does: it gives the patent holder the legal right to
take away a citizen's natural rights and to restrict them.

The usual argument for a patent is that it provides for a government
enforced monopoly that will enable an investor to make monopoly profits.
The investor will then use those profits to pay for innovation that makes
the patent itself irrelevant.  Unfortunately, we have found from
experience that software patents do not work.

Software patents do not

    ... promote the progress of science and the useful arts ...

which is their purpose, as defined by the U.S. Constitution, Article I,
Section 8

        [To promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by
         securing for limited times to authors and inventors the
         exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.]

Indeed, patents hinder computer science and the useful art of programming.
For example, the RSA patent of 1980 prevented other Americans from
developing secure software.  It slowed down progress.

Forbidden to choose

Every one ought to have the right to hire whomever they choose to fix,
modify, and support the tools in a business or household.  But we are
forbidden to choose.

It was the lack of this right that brought me to understand the importance
of freedom.

Many years ago, before I got involved in GNU, I was using a program that
cost my company $50,000 for a license to run a single copy.  The program
was good.  It did almost everything we wanted.  Except for one thing.  We
wanted another feature.

So we told the company that created this program what we wanted.  And they
agreed with us: yes, we had a good proposal and they would add the new
feature ... in 18 months to 3 years!  We were too small a customer to get
any quicker service.

3 years!  My company wanted the feature in 3 weeks.  Then I discovered GNU
Emacs.  It was not as glitzy as this other program, but in conjunction
with other free software, it did everything we needed.  So we adopted it.

Then, of course, we discovered other features we wanted.  And we could
implement them ourselves.  Every week or two, one of our programmers would
put in a day or two of work to add a new feature.  We were very pleased.

And I came to realize that this kind of freedom is valuable.

Take a politician out to lunch...

Freedom depends on civilized customs and habits.  Ultimately, freedom is
defended by law.  And laws are passed by politicians.

I would like to ask each of you to take a politician out to lunch.

Take a school committee member or college trustee out to lunch.  Ask
whether any student uses a program for school work that another,
interested student might want to study.  Ask whether the school will
forbid study, or encourage study.

Take a congressman or senator out to lunch, or a staff member.  Ask
whether the politician supports the Constitution, and favors progress; or
whether he or she favors retardation.

Take yourself out to dinner.  You, in a bigger or smaller way, are a
politician.  You think about issues.  You talk to others about policies.
You talk about politicians.  Ask yourself what kind of society you want to
live in?

Ask yourself whether you want to live in a society in which children are
taught either to be selfish, or to break the law?  Or do you prefer to
live in a country where others' children are, on the whole, cooperative
and law abiding?

Ask yourself whether you want to choose whom you hire to fix, modify, or
support the tools you use, or whether you prefer to be restricted?

After dinner, ask yourself whether you favor a restricted technology like
MP3, or whether you favor a free technology, like Ogg/Vorbis?

To enforce restrictions on technology, a government must restrict your
choices; it must encourage selfishness; it must discourage cooperation.
That is the nature of what is involved.


In closing, let me again thank USENIX.

Let me thank everyone who has helped with GNU.

And let me say again, the GNU Project is not finished.  GNU Linux, a
complete free software system, exists.  Open source works.  But the
freedoms that open source requires are under attack.  If we fail to defend
ourselves, we will lose the benefits of software freedom.  We will be
forbidden from studying.  We will be forbidden from using the best
technology.  We will be forbidden from choice.

For a free society, we need to support the GNU Project, we need to support
software freedom.

Programming must continue.  We need to support new hardware, so people can
run their machines with free software.  We need more programs, so that
people can do all their computer-related work with free software.

And we need to preserve and protect software freedom, and all that those
freedoms entail.  We must fight bans on study; we must fight patents.  We
must fight those who would take our work from us.

We must defend everyone's freedom to study, modify, and redistribute
software.  We must defend free software.
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