Stallman speaks support for free software

Tess Cottom

Richard Stallman, a software freedom activist credited with starting the Free Software Movement in 1983, spoke to the open public about the problems surrounding free software distribution at the Kiva Saturday night. 

Stallman spoke about the threats to freedom in a digital society. Free software allows users to run it for any purpose as well as to study, change and distribute it and its adapted versions.

“Sharing of (software) copies is important in making a society out of unrelated individuals,” Stallman said. “We’ve got to stop using proprietary software and escape to the free world… (And) when I say free, I mean ‘libre,’ not ‘gratis.’”

Stallman is credited to helping name the GNU/Linux, a system developed with the hope of creating more freedom in a digital society and replacing proprietary software, which is a type of software protected by copyright policies. 

Beyond proprietary software, Stallman touched on threats to freedom in technology on a broader spectrum, such as government surveillance of phones and computers, censorship and the controversy behind the prevention of sharing software.

“We are subject to so much surveillance that democracy can’t survive it,” Stallman said. 

Although Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2014 labeled the United States as ‘free’ in terms of Internet freedom status, it noted the increase of public concern on government surveillance as well as different actions taken throughout the year to try to stop it.

Austin Melton, a professor of computer science at Kent State, said that although he does not fully agree with Stallman’s views, he knows they have merit. 

“It’s a matter of trying to modify the way (technology) is used,” Melton said. “The individual has to be concerned about it, because if there isn’t a concern, there won’t be changes.”

Tommy Adams, a freshman computer science major, was one of approximately 75 people who attended the event.

“I thought it’d be interesting to see him in real life,” Adams said. “It definitely changed the way I think about things.”

To Melton, getting audience feedback like Adam’s reaction was the point of Stallman’s presentation.

“We were interested in sponsoring Stallman because of his perspective of software and it’s important for students to hear this perspective,” Melton said.

Stallman was brought to Kent State by the Alliance for Community Media Northeast Region (ACM-NE) and the ACM Distinguished Speaker Program partnered with the computer science department at Kent State.

Visit here for more information on Stallman’s Free Software Foundation.

Tess Cottom is the technology reporter for The Kent Stater. contact her at [email protected].