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Richard Stallman: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software

Richard Stallman: How the Swedish Pirate Party Platform Backfires on Free Software

The bullying of the copyright industry in Sweden inspired the launch of the first political party whose platform is to reduce copyright restrictions: the Pirate Party. Its platform includes the prohibition of Digital Restrictions Management, legalization of noncommercial sharing of published works, and shortening of copyright for commercial use to a five-year period. Five years after publication, any published work would go into the public domain.

I support these changes, in general; but the specific combination chosen by the Swedish Pirate Party backfires ironically in the special case of free software. I’m sure that they did not intend to hurt free software, but that’s what would happen.

The GNU General Public License and other copyleft licenses use copyright law to defend freedom for every user. The GPL permits everyone to publish modified works, but only under the same license. Redistribution of the unmodified work must also preserve the license. And all redistributors must give users access to the software’s source code.

How would the Swedish Pirate Party’s platform affect copylefted free software? After five years, its source code would go into the public domain, and proprietary software developers would be able to include it in their programs. But what about the reverse case?

Proprietary software is restricted by EULAs, not just by copyright, and the users don’t have the source code. Even if copyright permits noncommercial sharing, the EULA may forbid it. In addition, the users, not having the source code, do not control what the program does when they run it. To run such a program is to surrender your freedom and give the developer control over you.