Such statements, while reflective of the hacker ethic, also reflected the difficulty of translating the loose, informal nature of that ethic into the rigid, legal language of copyright. In writing the GNU Emacs License, Stallman had done more than close up the escape hatch that permitted proprietary offshoots. He had expressed the hacker ethic in a manner understandable to both lawyer and hacker alike.

Stallman retreated from the world even further, focusing entirely on his work at the AI Lab. By October, 1975, he dropped out of MIT, never to go back. Software hacking, once a hobby, had become his calling.

Such innovations would take another two decades to make their way into the commercial marketplace. Still, by the 1970s, video screens had started to replace teletypes as display terminals, creating the potential for full-screen-as opposed to line-by-line-editing capabilities.

Encouraging others to adopt the same licensing practices meant closing off the escape hatch that had allowed privately owned versions of Emacs to emerge. To close that escape hatch, Stallman and his free software colleagues came up with a solution: users would be free to modify GNU Emacs just so long as they published their modifications. In addition, the resulting "derivative" works would also have carry the same GNU Emacs License.

Although it meant courting more run-ins at school, Lippman decided to indulge her son's passion. By age 12, Richard was attending science camps during the summer and private school during the school year. When a teacher recommended her son enroll in the Columbia Science Honors Program, a post-Sputnik program designed for gifted middle- and high-school students in New York City, Stallman added to his extracurriculars and was soon commuting uptown to the Columbia University campus on Saturdays.