Software Freedom Conservancy

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Thoughts on IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat

by Karen Sandler on October 31, 2018

There’s been quite a stir in our communities following the announcement that IBM is acquiring Red Hat. As I considered the announcement, one part of the email to employees by Jim Whitehurst posted on the Red Hat blog really struck me:

I appreciate that everyone will experience a range of emotions as a result of this news. Excited, anxious, surprised, fear of the unknown, including new challenges and working relationships - these are all ways I would describe my emotions. What I know is that we will continue to focus on growing our culture as part of a new organization. We will continue to focus on the success of our customers. We will continue to nurture our relationships with partners. Collaboration, transparency, participation, and meritocracy - these values make us Red Hat and they are not changing. In fact, I hope we will help bring this culture across all of IBM.

In addition to the normal anxiety, surprise and fear experienced by employees of companies in the wake of an announcement of a merger, takeover or ordinary reorganization, this transaction will also reverberate through the community outside of the company. Free software contributors across many communities and industries are feeling some of the same apprehension and unease that ordinarily would be reserved for employees.

I wish IBM and Red Hat luck, and I’m optimistic that the partnership will yield good things for both companies and their employees. I hope that following the acquisition, Red Hat is able to maintain its special relationship to the free and open source communities it shepherds, and that its employees continue to feel empowered to support critical free software solutions in a community-focused way. I also hope that in its announcement to keep Red Hat its own unit within IBM is an indication of IBM’s support of Red Hat’s unique business and that the deal does wind up bringing that culture to more of IBM. While some folks at IBM are important contributors to free software, IBM’s is primarily a culture of proprietary software and Red Hat’s is one of open source, so in my view this solution is likely to yield the most success anyway.

I’ve heard people imagining the best from this deal, and also people imagining the worst. The one thing everyone can agree on is that there’s a lot of uncertainty, despite whatever reassurances are contained in corporate messaging. Because of this, I think it’s a good time to remind everyone of the ways we can protect ourselves now and in the future from these kinds of uncertainties related to changes in ownership, structure or motivations of corporate players in free and open source software:

  • Use copyleft. Quite a lot of the software projects that Red Hat plays a critical role in are licensed under a version of the GPL. When we use strong copyleft we set the ground rules for corporate actors to participate with each other and with the public. We get a level playing field and assurance that companies will be less incentivized to go their own way. (We also get other good benefits like the right to the source code, allowing us to be in control of the technology we rely on.)

  • Support strong charities. Nonprofits, and in particular charitable nonprofits, keep the community’s interests at the forefront. They can serve as copyright aggregators in a more trusted way, facilitate cooperation of different stakeholders and function in a variety of ways to forward the long term interest of software freedom. The more we invest in our critical foundations, the less vulnerable we are to changes in corporate actors. The stronger foundations like GNOME, Conservancy and the FSF are, the easier it is for communities to weather a new direction from a prominent company.

  • Encourage diversely held interests. Making sure that interests are not aggregated in single for-profit actors insulates communities against a change in ownership of a company. For effective success in using copyleft, copyrights must not only be with for-profit companies but have substantial copyright holding from charities and individuals. Also, technical leadership should include actors from different types of entities. When copyrights are held by many actors in the field (or by charitable nonprofits), it’s much harder to relicense projects as proprietary or on otherwise less ideal terms, and copyleft enforcement is a community-driven rather than for-profit activity. When care of the technical direction of a project isn’t significantly concentrated in one company, free software projects are more robust. Development may be slower with community-led contribution, but we can have greater confidence about the stability of the project and the community.

The interests of companies are not always aligned with the free software community or the public. Companies that seem to be in one stable condition today may change dramatically tomorrow. While I expect Red Hat to flourish under IBM ownership, the acquisition is a good example of the kinds of changes we must be prepared for down the road, whether it be with Red Hat or any of the other companies on which we’ve come to rely.

Tags: conservancy, GPL

Why We Chose a Robust Code of Conduct for Copyleft Conf

by Deb Nicholson on October 30, 2018

We want all kinds of people to feel safe and comfortable participating as speakers or attendees at Copyleft Conf. Unfortunately, that is neither a given or even the default in many FOSS communities. In order to be credibly welcoming, it is incumbent on each free software community and event to proactively say, "Yes, you are welcome here" and, "No, we will not look away if someone attempts to belittle you, harass you or harm you." It is not enough to merely suggest good behavior. People need to know that those who willfully disrupt our community -- by making it unsafe or uncomfortable for others to participate -- will be asked to leave.

Copyleft Conf's Code of Conduct

We feel strongly that the future of free software depends on an open, welcoming and evolving conversation around licensing practices and compliance. The copyleft licenses that many of the world's largest free software projects -- like Linux, Git, Drupal and Wordpress -- rely on must be both well understood and used in good faith. This conversation around copyleft is well overdue. We can't afford to turn away those who would help us build the bridges to increase adoption and achieve better compliance.

Free software is meaningless if it is only free for some or is alienating for large swathes of people. At Conservancy, we believe that control of our computing experience affects our democracy, our privacy, the news we have access to and our online relationships. Software freedom is important and it must be for everyone. Everyone must feel that they are welcome to participate in the crucial conversations about the future of the tools we use, the kinds of communities we build and the structures we put in place to ensure software freedom. If you don't agree with our starting principle -- that software freedom is for everyone -- then we will not allow you to alienate others who are willing to work with us, to achieve software freedom for everyone.

The first ever Copyleft Conf takes place on February 4th, in Brussels, the day after FOSDEM. The Call for Proposals is open now.

Tags: diversity, Copyleft Conf

Bradley in Lisbon, then Bristol Next Week

by Deb Nicholson on October 26, 2018

Our Distinguished Technologist Bradley Kuhn will be in Europe to speak at OpenWrt Summit in Lisbon and keynoting freenode #live in Bristol next week. Bradley always enjoys connecting with Conservancy supporters when he is on the road at free software events.

The OpenWrt Summit will be most valuable for OpenWrt users and anyone who is interested in free and open source wireless networking, or embedded Linux. Bradley speaks right after lunch on October 29th about "GPL Compliance For Advancement of OpenWRT." The conference takes place in the Communications Museum in Lisbon, Portugal on Monday and Tuesday, October 29th and 30th, 2018.

freenode #live is a community-focused live event designed to build and strengthen relationships between free and open source software developers and users. The conference takes place at We The Curious in Bristol, UK on Saturday and Sunday, November 3rd and 4th, 2018. Bradley is one of four keynotes for the second iteration of this conference.

Tags: events

Karen Sandler Speaks at British Computer Society in London Tomorrow

by Deb Nicholson on October 24, 2018

Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler, will be speaking at BCS as a part of their Open Source Specialist Group event, tomorrow October 25, 2018, Mentoring & Advocacy in Open Source + AGM. Karen will kick off the evening by talking about promoting software freedom effectively, while also taking steps to bring in newcomers to the field.

The event will be held at BCS's London Offices at 5 Southampton St, London WC2E 7HA from 6-8pm. If you're based around London, you can attend the event which is open to all at no charge. You can register here. There is also information about participating in the event remotely.

Earlier in the day, Karen will be participating in the Sustain Summit 2018, which still has tickets for sale. Come say hi at either event!

Tags: events

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