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Video The FSF's Donald Robertson Talks About Copyrights, Patents, and the TPP (Video) 39

We all know (or know about) Richard M. Stallmann, founder of and vociferous spokesman for the Free Software Foundation. But the organization is far from a one-man band, and Donald Robertson, their copyright administrator (and wearer of several other hats as well) is the person to turn to when you want to get into the murky depths of copyright and patent law. He's also somewhat of an expert on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which the FSF says, '...has a number of truly dangerous provisions that harm software freedom."

What can you do to help stop this trade agreement that has gotten the FSF (and the EFF, among others) up in arms? Don answers that question in the video (and accompanying transcript for those who would rather read than watch). And any unanswered questions will probably be taken care of in a second video interview with Mr. Robertson that we plan to run in the next day or two.

Timothy Lord for Slashdot: Don, can you talk a little bit about what your job with the FSF entails?

Donald Robertson : So as copyright and licensing associate, I primarily handle the corporate assignments at the FSF. Free Software Foundation hold the copyright on a large part of the GNU project, and the way we do that is that individual contributors assign their code to the FSF. So we can then go and enforce the GPL and make sure that the software is always free. That would be the second half of my job as I do the compliance work of actually investigating claims of GPL violations and talking to the violators and helping to bring them into compliance. I also do some sort of licensing related campaigns work where I write about licensing issues and keep people up to date on the actions and items that we are working on.

Slashdot: Now the FSF is not a big fan of the term intellectual property.

Don: No we don’t like the term intellectual property for a couple of reasons: One, it mooshes together some very different things like copyright and patent and trade secret that are actually very different, have different issues. It also because the use of the term property when you really should use maybe the term subsidy or welfare. It gives people this false idea that it is something akin to like owning real estate or something like that. When it is completely not that at all.

Slashdot: Now in terms of copyright, or rather in terms of software copyright seems to be the major aspect though of these things that are lumped together under that category of intellectual property. Copyright seems to be the big one that affects software.

Don: Well, traditionally software was just protected by copyright, also trade secret and other things, but copyright has been the main function of how software has been granted rights over.

Slashdot: And then patents have come in.

Don: And then patents have come in, over the past two decades, which is obviously a mistake on the part of the courts that have allowed it, both in terms of what the law is supposed to say, as well as just from an ethical standpoint. The thing about copyright and why it works okay with free software is that copyright prevents people from copying, it is the right to make copies. So you can say alright, you are not allowed to copy this work unless you meet these conditions, such as ensuring that other people are allowed to make copies or to modify the work. Patents are totally different. Patents are just a restriction over the implementation of the idea. And so it doesn’t matter whether you have seen it before, you can’t make your own implementation of something, it is no defense that you have never even heard of the patent before. So it is a massive threat to software freedom because at any point, something that you wrote on your own to be able to use as free software could be taken away by some company or individual who has got a patent over it. So they are very fundamentally different areas of law. So lumping them together is not a good idea.

Slashdot: Copyright is pretty easy to tell who holds it and whether you have the right to copy something.

Don: Yes, that is true. I mean there can be more complicated questions when it gets down to the nitty gritty of whether a particular work is derived from the other, like, oh they only took such and such code and that code is actually kind of functional so it is not actually copyrightable or something but in general, yeah, it is a lot easier, there is no way to know whether you are violating a patent.

Slashdot: You can’t really have a submarine copyright?

Don: Yeah, there is no submarine copyright. It is either you’ve seen another work and you are copying it and therefore you know, as the person who is doing the copying that you are doing it, or you are not copying at all. Whereas with patents, you have no idea. There is no way for any person to search and find all the thousands of patents out there that could affect any one thing that you are doing.

Slashdot: Now I want to switch gears a little bit, and bring us back to something, you are here in Seattle, as I am filming this, to talk a little bit in part about certain treaties that are either in negotiation or expected to come down the pike soon.

Don: So here at the SeaGL today, I have been talking about international trade agreements I talked a whole lot about the Trans Pacific Partnership of TPP it is the big one right now because we have a very limited amount of time left before this is going to potentially pass into law. We are talking 90 days, maybe the end of the year, that we are going to be stuck with all sorts of new restrictions, or old restrictions being spread to other countries.

Slashdot: What is the thing that people can do right now both to find out about and if what they find is what they don’t like, work to somehow change the outcome?

Don: So the FSF right now is working with a whole bunch of other organizations that are fighting back against TPP and other trade agreements like it. We are still at the moment putting together the strategy of what exactly is going to happen over the next couple of weeks. But the biggest thing that people can do is they can sign up for our mailing list, the Free Software Supporter, if they go to they can check out the mailing list, get on it and keep up to date on everything that is happening, when it comes to TPP as well as other software freedom related issues.

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The FSF's Donald Robertson Talks About Copyrights, Patents, and the TPP (Video)

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  • Yeah, I know that RMS supports Leftist candidates, like he did Nader and Kucinich in earlier elections. However, this time, while Sanders is solidly opposed to the TPP, Hilary has been on both sides of this issue. And Sanders won't be the party nominee, unless she goes to jail.

    So if the election ends up being b/w Trump/Cruz - both consistent opponents of TPP - vs Hilary, who will the FSF support in the general elections? The candidates who are consistently against it, even if they're not Leftist, or t

    • You can oppose TPP without endorsing or supporting any particular candidate. This is not expected to be a one-issue campaign. It is still possible, though rarer, to support politicians on one issue while opposing the same politicians on other issues. Politics is only a left vs right affair in the cartoon versions.

    • Just to be clear: The questioner asked if the "FSF will endorse TPP opponents" and the parent response answered in the affirmative them went on to describe how Richard Stallman (RMS) did this. But RMS is not the FSF and vice versa; RMS endorsing candidates isn't the same as the FSF endorsing candidates. I've never seen the FSF endorse a candidate and I don't know of anything that would lead me to believe the FSF will endorse a candidate for a political race anywhere. I'm pretty sure this separation between

      • I've never seen the FSF endorse a candidate ...

        ... and you never will. As a 501c3 non-profit, the FSF is prohibited from endorsing specific candidates.

    • And Sanders won't be the party nominee

      Sanders can win if defeatist assholes like you would STFU.

      • Sanders can win if defeatist assholes like you would STFU.

        Sanders has no conceivable path to the nomination. He might win in Iowa, because caucuses tend to be more partisan than primaries. He may win in New Hampshire, since it is a neighboring state. But that's it. Next stop is South Carolina, with a Democratic primary dominated by black voters. He will lose SC in a landslide. Then comes Super Tuesday, mostly in southern states where Sanders has no organization and no support. Then it will be over. Even if Hillary gets hit by an asteroid (or an arrest warr

  • also some of the GOP want to add more H-1B's to take the high tech jobs.

    • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

      H1B's wouldn't be so bad if they were used as intended. To allow tech firms to hire highly-qualified foreign students out of Stanford, etc, to fill positions at high skill levels that are genuinely hard to fill. But as we've all seen, H1B's are being used en masse by Indian outsourcing firms to bring in one or two lead developers who then suck all the knowledge they can (rarely enough be be effective, btw) from their American counterparts and use it to train offshore assets. And judging by the (lack of)

      • by Rob Y. ( 110975 )

        I guess my point is that this kind of program isn't inherently bad, but as implemented (or policed) they are ripe for abuse. Same goes for the repeal of Glass-Steagle. When you loosen regulations and then don't even try to enforce what's left, you get mass layoffs and housing bubbles. And forget blaming Fannie Mae. The housing bubble was caused by the bond ratings agencies that rubber stamped any crappy mortgage-backed security as AAA and AIG, which pretended to insure them. In other words fraud - pla

  • >> a second video interview with Mr. Robertson

    One second SlashDot interviews? Even I can get behind that.

  • by unrtst ( 777550 ) on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @06:29PM (#51044703)

    What can you do to help stop this trade agreement...

    ... the answer is to join a mailing list?!?! Come on!
    I totally understand that the FSF is still getting their plan in order, but the editors shouldn't lead with it if there's no answer yet. It's like those awful news blurbs, "what common condiment could be killing you RIGHT NOW!?! Find out more during our broadcast tomorrow."

    I also don't get why this was split into two. There's hardly any content in this one.. where's the rest of the interview?

    • I also don't get why this was split into two. There's hardly any content in this one.. where's the rest of the interview?

      Be patient, the second part is being hosted on a Hurd machine, so it may take awhile to get it running. But it's coming right along, and it should be available soon - very soon.

      • FSF ain't married to HURD - they're married to 'GNU/Libre-Linux'. But the interview is being parsed by emacs, and once that's done, it'll be available.
  • He didn't even bother singing the free software song.
  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Wednesday December 02, 2015 @09:45PM (#51046241) Homepage Journal

    "Yeah, there is no submarine copyright. It is either you’ve seen another work and you are copying it and therefore you know, as the person who is doing the copying that you are doing it, or you are not copying at all."

    I wonder if Mr. Robertson has heard of Bright Tunes Music v. Harrisongs Music and Three Boys Music v. Michael Bolton. In both cases, a plaintiff owning copyright in a musical composition successfully argued that a songwriter should be held liable for having accidentally copied the plaintiff's song after having heard it performed on the radio years ago. The wide exposure given to popular music through radio and other mass media essentially turns a copyright into a patent on a short snatch of melody, where it can be presumed that other composers will have heard it at least once. And I find this dangerous for the viability of releasing video games as free software.

The biggest difference between time and space is that you can't reuse time. -- Merrick Furst