Eben Moglen: the future for on open source

Eben Moglen is the founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of Software Freedom Law Centre, spells out his vision of the future and how to get there to Computerworld reporter Todd R. Weiss.


What do you see as the biggest danger to open-source software today?

On the one hand, there's still a locus of resistance. Microsoft still maintains strongly the view that its business model, which depends upon concealing source code from users, is a viable and important and indeed necessary model. And so as long as a company that sells a billion dollars a week in software is in that sense fundamentally still trying to [fight] the free way of doing things, Microsoft remains a very dangerous party.

But Microsoft, too, has now fundamentally recognized that there is not another generation left in the proprietary software idea, and they are trying to leverage the remaining value of their monopoly in a world of mixed free and unfree code.

As Microsoft begins to move itself away from being the primary partisan of unfreedom, the second most important partisans of unfreedom are the owners of culture -- the Disneys and the other major movie studios, who have a great deal of image-making authority in the world and a great deal to lose from the obliteration of their distribution mechanisms.

Proprietary software companies may not want to hear about such radical ideas that could put them out of business. How do you make anybody listen?

Possibly the difficulty you are having is too quick a diagnosis about what businesses need. The fundamental theory that I believe has to do with the benefits of what I think of as "copyleft capitalism" [the idea of making a program or other piece of work freely distributable, as opposed to restricting its use via a copyright].

The primary desire that businesses have is for control over their own destinies, for avoidance of autonomy bottlenecks which put the fate of their business into the hands of someone else. The difficulty that they experience -- that they call vendor lock-in, or non-interoperability -- is a difficulty which is really a businessman's equivalent of [Free Software Foundation President Richard] Stallman's frustration at unfreedom.

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