Eben Moglen, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School and Founding Director, Software Freedom Law Center delivered the keynote at the 2009 Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, CA in April 2009.
Here is the video and summary of the salient points from his presentation. The sound quality on the video is poor, but audible.
The primary difficulty of 20th century is that we discovered great ways of doing things in regimented forms. We treated knowledge as a thing that could be owned and therefore needs to be purchased.
But the ownership of knowledge is a moral problem.
Most of the children of the world are deprived of the ability to learn – they can’t afford to.
We must stop starving the intellect that gets us out of the messes we get ourselves into. We need to get beyond the idea that knowledge is something that you own. Intellectual property should now be called free speech.
Knowledge must be shared in order to be valuable.
We live in a world where knowledge can be easily shared. In the digital world, we have escaped the constraints of scarcity but still bias against sharing.
Knowledge cannot and should not be owned. The notion that it can condemns certain segments of society to extinction. "Throwing away human brains" – this is the context in which we are using technology in our own lives. Move to sharing, rather than owning – sharing rather than doing business with those who claim to own.
We can do everything we need to do in a way which is calculated to address the basic question of how we allow everyone to learn. The strongest tool we have for solving the problems caused my human intelligence is human intelligence.
We need to teach people that they don’t actually need software that somebody owns to do what they need to do. There is an answer to get our work done without having to support the idea that knowledge is something that you need to own. Profit is not evil but people will do evil things in the name of profit. What happens to the technology of finance is not unrelated to the technology of knowledge.
People pay for what they love. Do it beautifully and you'll get paid.
The computer is a drag. It breaks, becomes obsolete, needs to be fixed, has costs, clutters things up, creates entropy in the form of heat. Move to thinnest possible client and thickest possible cloud. Enroll oneself in the world’s greatest intelligence service (Internet? Google?)?
But there is the other side – how far do we want to share all our knowledge?
The line between the knowledge we share and the knowledge we want to keep to ourselves is a crucial line but not a straight one. The knowledge that can best be shared is knowledge that can help a mind to grow. The knowledge that shouldn’t be shared is that information that lets you hold sway over the ability for control of you.
Maybe we ought to think about how to free the cloud …
The design of technology assumes certain things about social life. The principle of thinking about freedom in the architecture of technology frees up a lot of things. When you can share knowledge by pressing a button, ownership of knowledge is a problem.
The purpose of technology is to make us peers. People share time, money, skill, passion and out of that we make a better world. We know that the technologies of collaboration are the technologies that in the end will do the best for us. Without collaboration, there is no success.
The architecture of technology in the last 20 years has been focused on platforms rather than community. Platforms are sticky – every moment of collaboration is an opportunity for leverage of the platform.
You need to collaborate and the technologist needs the platform to be sticky. But we benefit now from companies that realize the platform is not their greatest benefit.
At the end of the day it is not difficult to tell the differences between activities related to platform and environment and those about community and collaboration and not throwing away brains.
We think that we can attain sustainability without discussing who owns knowledge, and I wonder if we're right. If you pursue individual benefit at the expense of another’s sustainability you will have problems with self-sustainability.
Our wealth consists in what we share, not what we possess exclusively.
You can’t stop people from thinking, you can only stop them from sharing and learning.
We possess tools of such extraordinary power we take them for granted. But how we use them now will impact those who get them in the future.
We’re the people who care about sharing. We have rarely any benefit from not showing people how it’s done. We want as much as possible to model how we can all think together.
We ought move from how to present our content to how to help people communicate more effectively, more equally without intermediaries.
We are not just the non-profit sector. We are in the business of maximizing humanity. We’re the place where you measure technology by whether it makes a human life better. We should live our principles – the world would be a better place. We say we do this because it makes our lives better – because one person can make a difference. Most of us say I wouldn’t do it any other way.
So let’s just do it. Let’s just make knowledge a thing we share rather than something somebody else owns. Let’s pick up the tools we’ve already got -- live it out and let them see it -- put glass walls around the kitchen so people can learn to cook. We’re the research facility for how to do it our way. We’ve been trying to do this for years trying to become what we were meant to become.
The difference is this time we win!