In a brief and accurate article, The New Yorker commemorates Richard Stallman's work on the GNU project, and the history of the GPL. It was thirty years ago this month that Stallman published the GNU Manifesto, where he outlined the goal to create a free operating system. This was followed a few years later, in February 1989, by the first free software license, the GNU General Public License.
As is pointed out in the article, the world might have looked very different were it not for these documents. Today, some of the biggest technology companies are built on the basis of free software, and specifically the GNU/Linux operating system at its core. This includes Google's, Amazon's and Facebook's server farms; the majority of web sites are served by Apache, running on a GNU/Linux distribution; Android, which has the biggest market share, is based on the Linux kernel (but without GNU tools).
Free software, with the right to inspect, change and distribute the source, is critical to a free society, as Stallman tirelessly points out in his writing and speeches. A good collection of his essays can be found in the book "Free Software Free Society", itself available for free download. With NSA and other's intrusive mass surveillance, Stallman's message is as relevant as ever. He has been called paranoid and crazy over and over again, but in the end, he has been proven right in even the most extreme scenarios. If we want to live in a free society, we cannot afford to ignore his message.
So instead of downloading the book, buy it for $20, and support the Free Software Foundation or its sister organization Free Software Foundation Europe. Even better, become a member of either organization, to support the ongoing work of teaching politicians and policy-makers about the necessity of free software; supporting free software alternatives; and guarding the freedom of users. Today makes an excellent day to put your money on something which matters!