April 29, 2006

Stallman sells autographs for the cause

Author: Joe Barr

Sports stars, musicians, and other celebrities have been charging for autographs for years, but who would have thought Richard Stallman would be doing the same?

We received a story submission earlier this week from one "Han Solo, Jr." pointing us toward this story in Portugese about Stallman's recent visit to Porto Alegre, Brazil, to attend the 7th Annual International Free Software Forum.

Mister "Solo" wrote:

Just for fun, or a clever, highly effective protest? Hackers, geeks and nerds gathered together at the 7th FISL - Internacional Free Software Forum, in Porto Alegre (Brazil) last week, were astounded when they got word that Richard Stallman, the founding father of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the GPL, was charging R$ 10 (about US$ 3) for an autograph and R$ 5 (less than US$ 2) to get his picture taken by free software enthusiasts at the event floor.

He went on to report that about 200 attendees protested the "Autograph Tax" by marching on the FSF booth and singing the Imperial March from Star Wars, as well as the Portugese version of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"
He also wrote that Stallman "reacted as a gentleman and a good sport, promising to rethink his policies about the Autograph Tax. Everyone (including him) had their fun, and most people got something to think about afterwards."

We contacted Stallman about the report and he replied:

The term "autograph tax" is a foolish exaggeration--I am not a
government, so I cannot make anyone pay taxes. I'm told that such
foolishness is common among the people making this criticism: that
they generally seek opportunities to criticize the Free Software
Foundation, whether valid or not.

Shortly after I arrived in FISL, someone asked me to sign his
convention badge. I realized that thousands of people might attend,
and signing thousands of convention badges could take hours.
Therefore I said I would sign it in exchange for a contribution of 10
reais (5 dollars) for the Free Software Foundation. Likewise, I
realized that hundreds or thousands might ask me to pose with them for
photographs. So I decided to ask 5 reais for this, about $2.50, also
for the Free Software Foundation.

People who ask me to sign or pose are asking for some of my time,
which needs must come from my other volunteer work for the cause. On
most occasions, the total time involved is not very large, so I do as
they ask, taking steps to make the process efficient. But this does
not mean my time is theirs to dispose of. I think it is entirely
proper to ask people to make a small contribution to the cause in
exchange. By charging for autographs and for poses, I raised a few
hundred dollars for the FSF and FSF Latin America, and perhaps saved
myself several boring hours of signing badges. This money will help
us spread the philosophy of free software--a difficult job, because so
many users of the GNU operating system think it is "Linux" and do not
realize that it comes from the free software ideals.

I believe that all software ethically must be free, free in the sense
of respecting the users' freedom, but I don't believe that software
must be gratis--nor services, such as autographing or posing. Rather,
I believe people deserve the freedom to decide whether to do these
things. So I decline to support the newly formed gratis autograph
movement. Instead, I hererby launch the free autographing movement,
which advocates everyone's freedom to sign autographs or not.

Copyright 2006 Richard Stallman. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire response are permitted worldwide without royalty in any medium provided this notice is preserved.


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