Linux pioneer calls for Amazon boycott

Richard Stallman is passing the word around the Net -- says Amazon's 1-click feature directly affects the 'freedom of e-commerce.'

An early developer of the Linux operating system has called for a boycott of Amazon.com Inc., claiming that the online retailer's effort to enforce its 1-Click patent "is an attack against the World Wide Web and against E-commerce in general."

The boycott was launched last week by Richard Stallman, who announced it in an article titled "Boycott Amazon" posted on the Linux Today Web site. News of the boycott has been widely distributed to Internet discussion groups and on Linux-related Web sites, such as slashdot.org.

Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) spokesman Bill Curry said the company is aware of the boycott, but declined to comment on whether the boycott has affected sales. He also declined to disclose how many complaints the company has received.

Stallman's ties to Linux go back more than a decade. In 1983, when Stallman was a programmer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's artificial-intelligence lab, he began work on a free alternative to Unix. Stallman dubbed his operating system GNU. Then in 1991, Linus Torvalds wrote the kernel of the operating system -- the core source code that translates user commands into instructions a computer can use -- and Linux was born.

Free software movement
Stallman currently works as the head of the Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org) in Cambridge, Mass., which he founded. That job is unpaid, and he said in an interview that he makes most of his income from speaking fees. He also said he has no ties to any online retailers, including Amazon's archrival, barnesandnoble.com Inc. (Nasdaq: BNBN).

Stallman objects to Amazon's patent because "it directly affects the freedom of e-commerce," he said. Specifically, he worries that patents like Amazon's will inhibit the future innovations of software developers. "Patents restrict everyone," he said.

The 1-Click feature stores billing and shipping information so that repeat customers can buy an Amazon item, such as a Harry Potter book, a Marilyn Manson compact disk or an electric handsaw, without going through a complicated checkout process.

Amazon was granted a patent for 1-Click in September. In October, the company filed a complaint against barnesandnoble.com, alleging that the rival retailer was infringing on Amazon's patent for "1-Click" shopping. Earlier this month, Amazon was granted a preliminary injunction in the dispute; that injunction barred barnesandnoble.com from using its Express Lane checkout service.

The boycott comes as many industry watchers say it's unlikely Amazon -- the recent injunction aside -- will be able to prevent competitors from using similar technology. "Remembering who the customer is doesn't feel like something that is worthy of patent protection -- it's not an entirely new way of doing something," says Barry Parr, director of consumer e-commerce research at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

In reaction to the boycott, Amazon has put together a form e-mail response to boycotters who have retracted their orders or canceled their affiliate relationships with Amazon. In the e-mail, Amazon says that it spent six months and thousands of hours working on its 1-Click technology, that the company is pleased about the injunction and that it hopes the protesters will reconsider their boycott.

"It's ironic that people would call for a boycott to support companies that have brought no innovation to the market," Curry said.