Boycott Amazon!

Date Wed, 15 Dec 1999 03:21:34 GMT

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Richard Stallman -- Boycott Amazon!
Dec 13, 1999, 19:48 UTC 

By Richard Stallman 

Please do not buy from Amazon

Amazon has obtained a US patent (5,960,411) on an important and
obvious idea for E-commerce: the idea that your command in a web
browser to buy a certain item can carry along information about your
identity. (This works by sending back a "cookie", a kind of ID code that
your browser received previously from the same server.) Amazon has sued
to block the use of this simple idea, showing that they truly intend to
monopolize it. This is an attack against the World Wide Web and against
E-commerce in general. 

The idea in question is that a company can give you something which you
can subsequently show them to identify yourself for credit. This is nothing
new: a physical credit card does the same job, after all. But the US Patent
Office issues patents on obvious and well-known ideas every day.
Sometimes the result is a disaster. 

Today Amazon is suing one large company. If this were just a dispute
between two companies, it would not be an important public issue. But the
patent gives Amazon the power over anyone who runs a web site in the US
(and any other countries that give them similar patents)--power to control
all use of this technique. Although only one company is being sued today,
the issue affects the whole Internet. 

Amazon is not alone at fault in what is happening. The US Patent Office is
to blame for having very low standards, and US courts are to blame for
endorsing them. And US patent law is to blame for authorizing patents on
computational techniques and patterns of communication--a policy that is
harmful in general. (See for more information about this issue.)

Foolish government policies gave Amazon the opportunity--but an
opportunity is not an excuse. Amazon made the choice to obtain this
patent, and the choice to use it in court for aggression. The ultimate moral
responsibility for Amazon's actions lies with Amazon's executives. 

We can hope that the court will find this patent is legally invalid, Whether
they do so will depend on detailed facts and obscure technicalities. The
patent uses piles of semirelevent detail to make this "invention" look like
something subtle. 

But we do not have to wait passively for the court to decide the freedom of
E-commerce. There is something we can do right now: we can refuse to do
business with Amazon. Please do not buy anything from Amazon until they
promise to stop using this patent to threaten or restrict other web sites. 

If you are the author of a book sold by Amazon, you can provide powerful
help to this campaign by putting this text into the "author comment" about
your book, on Amazon's web site. Please send mail to
when you do this, and please tell us what happens afterward. 

Richard Stallman 
President, Free Software Foundation 
MacArthur Fellow 

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