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Free Software Expert Calls for Amazon Boycott

Richard Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation, Thursday defended his call for a boycott of Amazon.com Inc.

Last week, Stallman published an editorial accusing Amazon (AMZN) of threatening the freedom of e-commerce through its one-click patent. That's the system Amazon uses for storing shopper's credit card and shipping data so they can make subsequent purchases with the click on a button.

Amazon has sued competitor barnesandnoble.com, Inc. (BNBN) for copying the idea. And the company defended its aggressive legal actions by saying it invested thousands of hours in developing the software behind one-click.

But Stallman insists the patent office has made a mistake and believes Amazon's invention is so obvious it doesn't deserve a patent.

"The reason I'm concerned with this is that it affects the freedom of everyone who wants to run a Web site or might conceivably want to run a Web site," he said. "It's not just about barnesandnoble.com, and basically its an irrelevance how many hours it took them to write the software because the details of that software is not the issue.

The question is whether (Amazon.com) should be allowed to forbid me to spend the necessary hours to write my own software to do this job."

While some Amazon defenders admit the patent system is broken, particularly as it applies to Internet business method patents, they also say the company is just playing the game and has no choice but to use patents as a competitive weapon.

But according to Stallman, U.S. patent law was created to promote progress and the common good of society, not to reward inventors with riches. And he says that while Amazon's actions make be perfectly legal, that doesn't mean they're right.

"I don't believe that any thinking being, any being capable of knowing right from wrong, deserves an exception from ethics, and that includes the officers and stockholders of Amazon," Stallman said.

"The whole point of a boycott is that it's something you can do when a company has done a lawful action you disapprove of. If we only wanted to criticize illegal actions, we wouldn't have to use boycotts. We could use lawsuits or prosecution."

Amazon has said it's aware of the boycott but hasn't detected any impact on its sales.

To put extra pressure on the company, Stallman is now calling on Web site operators to post a boycott notice on their Web pages with a link to a page at the gnu.org Web site, operated by the Free Software Foundation. He's also asking book authors to post a message about the boycott in the authors comments section that Amazon creates for every book at its site.

Last week, Stallman himself submitted such a message for three of his books that are carried by Amazon. He says the comments have yet to be approved and posted by the company.

"Most likely they're not going to post it because they say that they screen them all," he said. "They say that they have guidelines. And while the guidelines don't explicitly say, 'no criticism of Amazon,' I suspect that they're just not going to post it."