Sunday, July 14, 2013

The right to read

Do you remember 1997? How old you were? What you were doing back then? And how familiar or unfamiliar you were with the Internet? At that time, I had finished high-school and I was in my first year of college. I had had a few contacts with the internet before, but since it really started taking off in France only in 1995-1996, there were still few people who could claim to be familiar with it. Internet Explorer was competing with Netscape Navigator and the most popular search engines were Yahoo and Altavista while Google was still unheard of. This was the time of "web portals", where a search engine would also propose you a truckload of hyperlinks to various services including for creating your own web site. Blogs were not quite there yet either. And even Napster, the illegal service for sharing mp3 music was not yet making the headlines.

Why am I talking about the internet in 1997? That's because it's the time Richard Matthew Stallman (RMS) published a short anticipation novel, as short as a blog article. Back in 1997, the idea of ebooks was foreseeable even though ebooks themselves did not exist yet. Of course, text documents were exchanged in Microsoft Word format. And despite ebooks being a thing of the future at the time, RMS's novel, entitled "the right to read" was certainly an accurate prediction of the bad things that did happen and that are still about to happen. Even though electronic content costs nothing to reproduce, copyright owners have organized digital locks that deprive people of the ownership of their electronic books. These digital locks also act as spywares, reporting how fast we read and how far we've read to their masters. And they even prevent us from lending the content we possess to our friends and family. It is but a normal thing to lend a good book to a friend, isn't it? The copyright owners say it is not and that it must be made illegal by lawmakers. Thus, the access to knowledge is controlled and some people are forbidden to access knowledge. That's what the novel is about, and that's an interesting topic to think about.

You can read the novel there: the right to read

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