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Reporting on OSCON 2016

by Karen Sandler on May 28, 2016

Last week was OSCON 2016, and the first year that the conference was held in Austin, Texas. OSCON has always been an important conference for Conservancy and for me personally. In 2011, it was the first conference I ever keynoted (I was also on a keynote panel in 2008, which was the closest I'd gotten before then), and where I really started talking about my heart condition and medical devices. OSCON was also the conference where we had the first Conservancy booth and debuted Conservancy t-shirts and stickers.

Austin seems to really suit OSCON. The feel of the conference was comparable to Portland, but there seemed to be a lot of new local participation resulting in a much more diverse conference. I met a lot of great people for whom it was their first time at the conference and made a lot of good connections. Conferences, and OSCON in particular, are always short on time and often I was in a dead run from one thing to the next.

I participated in two sessions on Thursday. One was a talk I gave on employment agreements. I outlined basic issues to look for in signing an employment agreement but my main point was that employment agreements can often be negotiated. Companies have standard contracts that they use for all employees, but in many areas they may be prepared to edit the agreement as part of an onboarding negotiation. After you receive your offer, but before you sign the employment agreement, you are likely to have more power in the relationship than you will again. The company has expended resources in recruiting and interviewing you, and has come to the decision that you're the best person for the job. Just as you negotiate your salary and other important terms of employment, some of the contractual provisions are also likely to be flexible. I've seen a lot of agreements over the years, and every time I've talked to someone about this issue they've been able to get *some* change.

Because of this, and because it's so hard to know what to ask for if you're not a lawyer like me, Conservancy is working on a project of standard employment agreement provisions that could be worth asking for. If many prospective employees ask for this, some companies may start to give this as a perk to attract top talent.

The second session was a panel about free and open software foundations. Moderated by Deb Bryant, the panel discussed issues around foundation formation, fiscal sponsorship and revenue models. I was really excited that multiple people in the session recommended Conservancy as a nonprofit home, and also encouraged audience members to become Supporters of Conservancy! There are a lot of great organizations in free and open source software and it was so interesting to see how many roles the panelists serve in them.

Conservancy had a booth, so I spent most of the rest of the time there. It was great to be in one of the nonprofit areas with so many other awesome nonprofits in our field. It was also the first time we had multiple stickers, including the very first Outreachy stickers.

KarenBooth stickers

I was also able to catch a panel on patents that Bradley was a part of, eloquently reminding everyone how deeply problematic software patents are.

Lastly, it was great to meet with other Outreachy organizers! We don't have a chance to meet in person very often and we always have so much to discuss.

outreachy-team

After the conference ended on Thursday, we had a chance to relax and talk about the conference with Conservancy Supporters at our pool party. I'm always struck by how impressive our Supporters are. While walking around the party, I caught conversations about the future of free software, copyleft, enforcement, patents, conferences and even one where we recruited someone great to apply for the GNOME Executive Director job! I was so excited by the enthusiasm of our Supporters. Aside from the financial aspect, which is critical for us, with such a small staff it would otherwise be impossible to do all of our work and tell people about it without their help. While it's taken me all week to recover from the conference and try to catch up on the backlog of work that piled up, I feel reinvigorated and recharged!

Tags: conservancy, supporter

Free Software Foundation Issues Statement in Support of Community's ZFS Concerns

by Bradley M. Kuhn and Karen M. Sandler on April 11, 2016

FSF Confirms Conservancy's Analysis & Urges ZFS Copyright Holders to License Under GPL

In a statement today, the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the charity that publishes all versions of the GNU General Public License (GPL), issued a statement regarding GPL-incompatible licenses and their interactions with strong copyleft licenses. The statement, written by Richard M. Stallman, President of the FSF and author of all versions of the GPL, confirms various points that we made previously in our blog post on the matter in late February.

The FSF's statement covers various topics, but most importantly, it confirms that distribution of software created by combining GPL-incompatibly licensed copyrighted works with GPL'd works violates GPL, stating:

The only permissible way to make available a binary (non-source) work that includes GPL'd material is under the GPL. … Code under GPL-incompatible licenses cannot be added, neither in source nor binary form, without violating the GPL.

The FSF's statement also reiterates many important points that are central to Conservancy's work on GPL compliance, particularly as it relates to combined works, such as Linux modules, which are “dynamically linked”:

[I]f you distribute modules meant to be linked together by the user, you have made them into a combined work, and you must release the entire combined work under the GNU GPL.

Specifically regarding the ZFS matter, the FSF has joined Conservancy in calling on Oracle to also license their ZFS copyrights under GPL, so that combinations with Linux are permitted:

[T]he copyright holders of ZFS … can give permission to use it under the GNU GPL, version 2 or later, in addition to any other license. This would make it possible to combine that version with Linux without violating the license of Linux. This would be the ideal resolution and we urge the copyright holders of ZFS to do so.

The FSF does point out that as stewards of the GNU project, they look to organizations like Conservancy, with a direct relationship with substantial Linux copyright holders, to assure compliance with the GPL for Linux. The FSF lauded our efforts to enforce the GPL, concluding with:

[W]e enthusiastically encourage enforcement of the GPL on Linux in accord with the Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement, and we wish the enforcers success in bringing violators into compliance, thus maintaining the GPL's integrity so it can defend users' freedom.

Both of us, in addition to our work in our day jobs with Conservancy, also volunteer our time to help the FSF — Bradley has been an FSF volunteer (focused primarily on licensing issues) since 1997 and Karen since 2006. We have been grateful to have a fruitful collaborative relationship with the FSF, and we appreciate that both John Sullivan and Richard Stallman actively sought our direct feedback and input on the FSF's statement over the last month.

Conservancy has also engaged in many more formal collaborations with the FSF in the past two years. Most notably, Conservancy and FSF co-published the aforementioned Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement. Conservancy and the FSF also jointly manage the copyleft.org effort, which publishes the most comprehensive guide ever created on the use of and compliance with GPL and copyleft.

In the six weeks since publication of our blog post about the license compliance problems with Canonical, Ltd.'s inclusion of ZFS in Ubuntu, some have opined with statements that do not fit with the interpretations and analysis that the FSF has carefully created over the last 30 years regarding how copyleft works. We believe the FSF's statement definitively settles this issue, showing that the FSF position remains consistent. We're glad the FSF has clarified the confusion created by the many pundits who have published inaccurate licensing advice.

Conservancy, now joined by the FSF, continue to call on copyright holders of ZFS to end the licensing problems and simply grant permission under GPL for ZFS' inclusion in Linux. Without such permission, users who seek to combine Linux and ZFS live in a precarious situation without the necessary copyright permissions to exercise their software freedom. The easiest path to resolution is a responsible and community-friendly licensing action by ZFS's copyright holders. Oracle should lead the way, as the largest single copyright holder in the ZFS codebase, to either relicense ZFS, or, if they prefer, publish an updated CDDL that is compatible with the GPLv2 and GPLv3 (which would be another viable route to solve the same problem).

Tags: conservancy, GPL

See you at LibrePlanet!

by Karen Sandler on March 18, 2016

I'm getting ready to head up to Massachusetts for LibrePlanet, one of my favorite conferences! This year will be a bit different, as Conservancy is having our very first booth there. I'm particularly excited about the amazing volunteers who have agreed to staff the booth. We started an email thread to coordinate schedules about who should be in the booth when, and got talking about what message we wanted to convey through the booth.

In a quick summary of talking points, I mentioned that I thought LibrePlanet attendees would be most interested in GPL enforcement and Outreachy. Ira Cooper, Samba Team Member and one of the volunteers wrote back:

Do you think we'll have anyone asking about what benefits the projects recieve? To be honest, as a member of the conservancy, to some degree, the boring things matter most. Without someone to help with handling our finances etc... It'd be chaos.

The fact that there is a structure where multiple projects can share that work, is actually at least as powerful in some ways.

Yes, the GPL and what not, is the flashy stuff. But... It is important to tell people about the things that allow these projects to live and breathe. :)

Soon after, Yamil Suarez, another volunteer with the Evergreen project chimed in:

Also, I wanted to add that to my project (Evergreen), it really matters to have the SFC keeps us in compliance with the IRS. Even though we have a our own board there is always turnaround, the SFC gives us continuation in our regulatory compliance. Which I think is invaluable. Also, when hosting conferences, there are plenty of regulatory minefields involved that the SFC keeps an eye on.

I was truly floored by how clear and eloquent Ira and Yamil were about the usefulness of Conservancy as a fiscal sponsor. I often find it hard to quickly explain that part of the Conservancy's work. Glossing over "the boring stuff" just doesn't explain the challenges we try to address or why we're so valuable to our Member Projects. I'm really looking forward to spending time with all of our volunteers in the booth this weekend. If you're at LibrePlanet, stop by and say hello.

Plus if you can and haven't done so already, please consider signing up as a Conservancy Supporter, and you'll be invited to a cocktail hour celebrating 10 years of Conservancy!. If you are already a Supporter, don't forget to RSVP by tomorrow. Bradley and I will both be there (and at LibrePlanet, generally), excited to talk about software freedom with you. I also have the honor of delivering the closing keynote and will participate in a panel about the high priorities project list. See you there!

Tags: conservancy

The VMware Hearing and the Long Road Ahead

by Bradley M. Kuhn on February 29, 2016

On last Thursday, Christoph Hellwig and his legal counsel attended a hearing in Hellwig's VMware case that Conservancy currently funds. Harald Welte, world famous for his GPL enforcement work in the early 2000s, also attended as an observer and wrote an excellent summary. I'd like to highlight a few parts of his summary, in the context of Conservancy's past litigation experience regarding the GPL.

First of all, in great contrast to the cases here in the USA, the Court acknowledged fully the level of public interest and importance of the case. Judges who have presided over Conservancy's GPL enforcement cases USA federal court take all matters before them quite seriously. However, in our hearings, the federal judges preferred to ignore entirely the public policy implications regarding copyleft; they focused only on the copyright infringement and claims related to it. Usually, appeals courts in the USA are the first to broadly consider larger policy questions. There are definitely some advantages to the first Court showing interest in the public policy concerns.

However, beyond this initial point, I was struck that Harald's summary sounded so much like the many hearings I attended in the late 2000's and early 2010's regarding Conservancy's BusyBox cases. From his description, it sounds to me like judges around the world aren't all that different: they like to ask leading questions and speculate from the bench. It's their job to dig deep into an issue, separate away irrelevancies, and assure that the stark truth of the matter presents itself before the Court for consideration. In an adversarial process like this one, that means impartially asking both sides plenty of tough questions.

That process can be a rollercoaster for anyone who feels, as we do, that the Court will rule on the specific legal issues around which we have built our community. We should of course not fear the hard questions of judges; it's their job to ask us the hard questions, and it's our job to answer them as best we can. So often, here in the USA, we've listened to Supreme Court arguments (for which the audio is released publicly), and every pundit has speculated incorrectly about how the justices would rule based on their questions. Sometimes, a judge asks a clarification question regarding a matter they already understand to support a specific opinion and help their colleagues on the bench see the same issue. Other times, judges asks a questions for the usual reasons: because the judges themselves are truly confused and unsure. Sometimes, particularly in our past BusyBox cases, I've seen the judge ask the opposing counsel a question to expose some bit of bluster that counsel sought to pass off as settled law. You never know really why a judge asked a specific question until you see the ruling. At this point in the VMware case, nothing has been decided; this is just the next step forward in a long process. We enforced here in the USA for almost five years, we've been in litigation in Germany for about one year, and the earliest the Germany case can possibly resolve is this May.

Kierkegaard wrote that it is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. Court cases are a prime example of this phenomenon. We know it is gut-wrenching for our Supporters to watch every twist and turn in the case. It has taken so long for us to reach the point where the question of a combined work of software under the GPL is before a Court; now that it is we all want this part to finish quickly. We remain very grateful to all our Supporters who stick with us, and the new ones who will join today. That funding makes it possible for Conservancy to pursue this and other matters to ensure strong copyleft for our future, and handle every other detail that our member projects need. The one certainty is that our best chance of success is working hard for plenty of hours, and we appreciate that all of you continue to donate so that the hard work can continue. We also thank the Linux developers in Germany, like Harald, who are supporting us locally and able to attend in person and report back.

Tags: conservancy, GPL

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