An interview with Eben Moglen

Ice in the Wintertime

Article from Issue 200/2017

Few have had a closer view of the Free Software revolution than Eben Moglen, former lead counsel for the Free Software Foundation and founder of the Software Freedom Law Center. We asked Moglen about the legal basis for the GPL's famous copyleft protection and the long, steady effort to tell the world about the benefits of free software.

Linux Magazine: You started out with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) a little after the first GPL came out, right? So you weren't around at the founding.

Eben Moglen: GPLv2 was released in July of 1991. Around that time, I began working with a fellow called Philip Zimmermann, who had created a program called Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), which the United States government considered to be mutinous because it was crypto software. And there was a criminal investigation going on, claiming Mr. Zimmermann had violated the Arms Export Control Act by making PGP.

I and some other lawyers were working for Mr. Zimmermann. I had a conversation with John Markoff of the New York Times about the situation, and I said that the right to speak PGP is like the right to speak Navajo, which is a Native American language the United States government used as a form of radio encryption during World War II. So, John published that statement in an article in the Times, and when Richard Stallman read the article and saw my quote, he thought I might be able to help him with a personal legal problem he had at that time, so he got in touch.


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