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´╗┐Title: Le droit de lire
Author: Stallman, Richard
Language: French
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Le droit de lire" ***

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Copyright 1996 Richard Stallman

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

The Right to Read - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)

The Right to Read

by Richard Stallman

Copyright 1996 Richard Stallman

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Table of Contents

  Author's Note
  Other Texts to Read

This article appeared in the February 1997 issue
of Communications of the ACM (Volume 40, Number 2).

The Right to Read

by Richard Stallman

Copyright 1996 Richard Stallman

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

(from "The Road To Tycho", a collection of articles
about the antecedents of the Lunarian Revolution,
published in Luna City in 2096)

For Dan Halbert, the road to Tycho began in college--when Lissa Lenz
asked to borrow his computer.  Hers had broken down, and unless she
could borrow another, she would fail her midterm project.  There was
no one she dared ask, except Dan.

This put Dan in a dilemma.  He had to help her--but if he lent her his
computer, she might read his books.  Aside from the fact that you
could go to prison for many years for letting someone else read your
books, the very idea shocked him at first.  Like everyone, he had been
taught since elementary school that sharing books was nasty and
wrong--something that only pirates would do.

And there wasn't much chance that the SPA--the Software Protection
Authority--would fail to catch him.  In his software class, Dan had
learned that each book had a copyright monitor that reported when and
where it was read, and by whom, to Central Licensing.  (They used this
information to catch reading pirates, but also to sell personal
interest profiles to retailers.)  The next time his computer was
networked, Central Licensing would find out.  He, as computer owner,
would receive the harshest punishment--for not taking pains to prevent
the crime.

Of course, Lissa did not necessarily intend to read his books.  She
might want the computer only to write her midterm.  But Dan knew she
came from a middle-class family and could hardly afford the tuition,
let alone her reading fees.  Reading his books might be the only way
she could graduate.  He understood this situation; he himself had had
to borrow to pay for all the research papers he read.  (10% of those
fees went to the researchers who wrote the papers; since Dan aimed for
an academic career, he could hope that his own research papers, if
frequently referenced, would bring in enough to repay this loan.)

Later on, Dan would learn there was a time when anyone could go to the
library and read journal articles, and even books, without having to
pay.  There were independent scholars who read thousands of pages
without government library grants.  But in the 1990s, both commercial
and nonprofit journal publishers had begun charging fees for access.
By 2047, libraries offering free public access to scholarly literature
were a dim memory.

There were ways, of course, to get around the SPA and Central
Licensing.  They were themselves illegal.  Dan had had a classmate in
software, Frank Martucci, who had obtained an illicit debugging tool,
and used it to skip over the copyright monitor code when reading
books.  But he had told too many friends about it, and one of them
turned him in to the SPA for a reward (students deep in debt were
easily tempted into betrayal).  In 2047, Frank was in prison, not for
pirate reading, but for possessing a debugger.

Dan would later learn that there was a time when anyone could have
debugging tools.  There were even free debugging tools available on CD
or downloadable over the net.  But ordinary users started using them
to bypass copyright monitors, and eventually a judge ruled that this
had become their principal use in actual practice.  This meant they
were illegal; the debuggers' developers were sent to prison.

Programmers still needed debugging tools, of course, but debugger
vendors in 2047 distributed numbered copies only, and only to
officially licensed and bonded programmers.  The debugger Dan used in
software class was kept behind a special firewall so that it could be
used only for class exercises.

It was also possible to bypass the copyright monitors by installing a
modified system kernel.  Dan would eventually find out about the free
kernels, even entire free operating systems, that had existed around
the turn of the century.  But not only were they illegal, like
debuggers--you could not install one if you had one, without knowing
your computer's root password.  And neither the FBI nor Microsoft
Support would tell you that.

Dan concluded that he couldn't simply lend Lissa his computer.  But he
couldn't refuse to help her, because he loved her.  Every chance to
speak with her filled him with delight.  And that she chose him to ask
for help, that could mean she loved him too.

Dan resolved the dilemma by doing something even more unthinkable--he
lent her the computer, and told her his password.  This way, if Lissa
read his books, Central Licensing would think he was reading them.  It
was still a crime, but the SPA would not automatically find out about
it.  They would only find out if Lissa reported him.

Of course, if the school ever found out that he had given Lissa his
own password, it would be curtains for both of them as students,
regardless of what she had used it for.  School policy was that any
interference with their means of monitoring students' computer use was
grounds for disciplinary action.  It didn't matter whether you did
anything harmful--the offense was making it hard for the
administrators to check on you.  They assumed this meant you were
doing something else forbidden, and they did not need to know what it

Students were not usually expelled for this--not directly.  Instead
they were banned from the school computer systems, and would
inevitably fail all their classes.

Later, Dan would learn that this kind of university policy started
only in the 1980s, when university students in large numbers began
using computers.  Previously, universities maintained a different
approach to student discipline; they punished activities that were
harmful, not those that merely raised suspicion.

Lissa did not report Dan to the SPA.  His decision to help her led to
their marriage, and also led them to question what they had been
taught about piracy as children.  The couple began reading about the
history of copyright, about the Soviet Union and its restrictions on
copying, and even the original United States Constitution.  They moved
to Luna, where they found others who had likewise gravitated away from
the long arm of the SPA.  When the Tycho Uprising began in 2062, the
universal right to read soon became one of its central aims.

Author's Note

The right to read is a battle being fought today.  Although it may
take 50 years for our present way of life to fade into obscurity, most
of the specific laws and practices described above have already been
proposed--either by the Clinton Administration or by publishers.

There is one exception: the idea that the FBI and Microsoft will keep
the root passwords for personal computers.  This is an extrapolation
from the Clipper chip and similar Clinton Administration key-escrow
proposals, together with a long-term trend: computer systems are
increasingly set up to give absentee operators control over the people
actually using the computer system.

The SPA, which actually stands for Software Publisher's Association,
is not today an official police force.  Unofficially, it acts like
one.  It invites people to inform on their coworkers and friends; like
the Clinton Administration, it advocates a policy of collective
responsibility whereby computer owners must actively enforce copyright
or be punished.

The SPA is currently threatening small Internet service providers,
demanding they permit the SPA to monitor all users.  Most ISPs
surrender when threatened, because they cannot afford to fight back in
court.  (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1 Oct 96, D3.)  At least one
ISP, Community ConneXion in Oakland CA, refused the demand and was
actually sued.  The SPA is said to have
dropped this suit recently, but they are sure to continue the campaign
in various other ways.

The university security policies described above are not imaginary.
For example, a computer at one Chicago-area university prints this
message when you log in (quotation marks are in the original):

"This system is for the use of authorized users only.  Individuals using
this computer system without authority or in the excess of their authority
are subject to having all their activities on this system monitored and
recorded by system personnel.  In the course of monitoring individuals
improperly using this system or in the course of system maintenance, the
activities of authorized user may also be monitored.  Anyone using this
system expressly consents to such monitoring and is advised that if such
monitoring reveals possible evidence of illegal activity or violation of
University regulations system personnel may provide the evidence of such
monitoring to University authorities and/or law enforcement officials."

This is an interesting approach to the Fourth Amendment: pressure most
everyone to agree, in advance, to waive their rights under it.


  The administration's "White Paper": Information Infrastructure Task
       Force, Intellectual Property and the National Information
       Infrastructure: The Report of the Working Group on Intellectual
       Property Rights (1995).

  An explanation of the White Paper:
       The Copyright Grab, Pamela Samuelson, Wired, Jan. 1996

  Sold Out,
       James Boyle, New York Times, 31 March 1996

  Public Data or Private Data, Washington Post, 4 Nov 1996
  Union for the Public Domain--a new organization which aims to resist
  and reverse the overextension of intellectual property powers.

For Other Texts to Read
Return to GNU's home page [www.gnu.org]

FSF & GNU inquiries & questions to
Other ways to contact the FSF.

Comments on these web pages to
send other questions to

Copyright 1996 Richard Stallman

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is
permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.


12 Feb markg

The Right to Read - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)

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