Happy Hacking

Richard Stallman grants permission to steal the bejesus out of his work.
photo: O'Reilly Publications
Richard Stallman grants permission to steal the bejesus out of his work.


Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software
By Sam Williams
O'Reilly, 227 pp., $22.95
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Unfortunately, as with Stallman's personal life, Williams only fitfully succeeds at getting the drama across. If you're looking for a better understanding of the political stakes involved in the free-software debate, for a clearer sense of how its outcome will transform not only technology but culture in the broadest sense of the word, you're better off looking elsewhere (Lawrence Lessig's lucid and penetrating The Future of Ideas would be a good place to start). In one key respect, though, Free as in Freedom conveys uniquely what Stallman's fight has been all about. By copylefting his book, Williams offers a concrete glimpse of how literary creativity might work in a world where everyone took at its word the proposition even Abbie Hoffman only took half seriously. Free as in Freedom may disappoint, but since anyone can steal this book, rewrite it to his or her taste, then post it back to the Internet, sooner or later someone may do just that. The author as we've known him for the last several centuries dies his final death, reborn as a perpetual collaborator. And while this may not satisfy the average freedom fighter's idea of utopia, to this reviewer it feels like the next best thing to heaven: a world in which there are no bad books, only rough drafts.

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