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Interview with Eben Moglen: Even the proprietary companies need a commons

Eben Moglen, the world' leading copyleft capitalist.

I loved this interview with Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center. Most people don't realize just how profoundly involved Eben is in all things free and open source. Whether it's the opening up of Microsoft protocols for Samba or representing the Linux community against pillaging from proprietary companies, Eben is there.

Despite being branded a bit of a communist, Eben is actually a true capitalist (a "copyleft capitalist" as he calls it). He understands, as the proprietary world is beginning to understand, that business depends on a commons, and not necessarily on locking up every shred of saleable value:

...[Y]ou're saying that open source is basically changing the attitudes of traditional companies?

All of these companies are coming to depend heavily in profit-making business on nonprofit supply chain [the open-source software they are using]. They are each discovering that there are nonprofit supply-chain elements which are crucial to profit-making success....[But] because of GPL and the copyleft, a large portion of that nonprofit supply chain is unpurchaseable. You can't own it. It was designed to be a commons. If you've become dependent on a commons for whatever role in your business, then what you need is commons management.

Brilliant, and absolutely correct.

Even Microsoft increasingly understands this, as Eben points out, and may well be on its way toward a very different kind of business. One that protects its property by making it widely available. One that thrives on ubiquity, not scarcity. One that depends on open source, in other words.