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I'm Running for the Linux Foundation Board of Directors

by Karen Sandler on January 17, 2016

[This blog post received some press coverage. It's now unclear whether Linux community members can run for the Linux Foundation board. I will update here if I learn more. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' article has a good overview of the situation. ]

As we begin a new year, I'm super excited that Conservancy has almost reached our initial target of 750 Supporters (we're just 4 Supporters away from this goal! If you haven't signed up, you can push us past this first milestone!). We launched our Supporter program over a year ago and more recently, in November, we asked you all to become Supporters now so that Conservancy can survive. Conservancy is moving toward a funding model primarily from individuals rather than larger corporate sponsors. While we are about to reach our minimal target, we still have a long way to go to our final goal of 2,500 Supporters — which will allow us to continue all of Conservancy's critical programs, including copyleft enforcement. Many individuals have come forward to donate, and we hope that many more of you do so too! I was really excited about the statement of support published last week by the GNOME Foundation, and in particular their point that enforcement is necessary and benefits GNOME and free software as a whole.

Of course, we're still excited about our for-profit sponsors, and list them at the top of our sponsors page. We'd like to draw particular attention to Private Internet Access, which gave a generous match so that individuals who join this month will double their donations via the match. We have only two weeks left to take advantage of this, so if you are considering donating, please do it soon!

Conservancy is focusing on individual giving via our Supporter campaign because our organization has a very special and unique status, called 501(c)(3) charity status here in the US. That means that Conservancy's constituency is the general public. We do the jobs in the software freedom community that maximize the rights of the general public in the use and development of their software.

We're glad that so many support us in doing those jobs for public good. But Conservancy doesn't imagine that we can do all the jobs in our community. In fact, there's a definite need for companies to have an organization that specifically represents their interests in the software freedom community. In my view, the organization that does the job best is the Linux Foundation. Linux Foundation is a 501(c)(6) trade association, so they advocate ultimately for the common business interest of their members. I've been impressed at Linux Foundation's growth and their increasing ability to market Linux and related free software technologies to new companies; no organization does more to encourage companies to adopt Linux than Linux Foundation.

While trade associations like Linux Foundation usually represent only companies, Linux Foundation seeks to do even more. I've talked a lot, including just a few days ago, with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin. He often points out how, while there is no public-good mandate for trade associations, nothing stops trade associations from doing work in the public good, since that often does align with the needs of their corporate members. In particular, Linux Foundation did something great to deliver on that idea — unlike most other trade associations, Linux Foundation by laws allow for two Board Seats elected by individuals.1 This gives individuals a minority voice on their Board of Directors, so that companies that control Linux Foundation's board has a direct path to hear for the community.

I signed up last year as an Individual Affiliate of Linux Foundation and nominated myself as a candidate for Linux Foundation's Board of Directors. At my Linaro Connect keynote in late September, I publicly announced my candidacy for the 2016 Linux Foundation Board of Directors. If elected, I look forward to the opportunity to give feedback and help directly with Jim's commitment to help Linux Foundation do good things not just for its corporate members, but for all individuals, too. While Linux Foundation has not yet announced when this years' elections will occur, I hope all Individual LF Affiliates will watch for the election and vote for me. I'll of course update the community here on when I know more about the details.

While the focus of my work is at Conservancy, I really believe that all of us should give time to other organizations in the community to make all of them better. Conservancy announced in the last two years multiple collaborations (such as our GPL enforcement principles and copyleft.org) with the Free Software Foundation, and I have long provided pro-bono legal counsel to both the FSF, GNOME Foundation and Question Copyright, in addition to my job at Conservancy. I also try to contribute whenever I can to the GNOME engagement team. While I do believe prioritizing volunteer work for charities is ideal, I also see an opportunity here, as I said in my Linaro keynote, to help companies understand the needs and mindset of community and non-commercial developers who also collaborate on key software freedom projects. I hope that platform will find resonance with Linux Foundation's Individual Affiliates, and I ask for their votes.


1 This link on Linux Foundation's website broke a few days after I posted this blog post. The link in the main post is to the Google Cached version for now.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, supporter

2015 YIR: Laying a Foundation for Growing Outreachy

by Marina Zhurakhinskaya on December 31, 2015

[ This blog post is the fifth in our series, Conservancy 2015: Year in Review. ]

Marina Zhurakhinskaya, one of the coordinators of Conservancy's Outreachy program, writes about all the exciting things that happened in Outreachy's first year in its new home at Conservancy.

2015 was a year of transition and expansion for Outreachy, which was only possible with the fiscal and legal support Conservancy provided us. Becoming a Conservancy Supporter will ensure the future in which more free software success stories like Outreachy's are possible.

Outreachy helps people from groups underrepresented in free software get involved through paid, mentored, remote internships with a variety of free software projects. After successfully growing as the GNOME Foundation project for four years, Outreachy needed a new home which could support its further growth, be designed to work with a multitude of free software projects, and provide extensive accounting services. With the current participation numbers of about 35 interns and 15 sponsoring organizations a round, and two rounds a year, Outreachy requires processing about 210 intern payments and 30 sponsor invoices a year. Additionally, Outreachy requires processing travel reimbursements, preparing tax documents, and providing letters of participation for some interns. Legal entity hosting Outreachy needs to enter into participation agreements with interns and mentors, as well as into custom sponsorship agreements with some sponsors.

In February, Outreachy announced its transition to Conservancy and adopted its current name. The alternative of creating its own non-profit was prohibitive because of the overhead and time commitment that would have required. Conservancy was a perfect new home, which provided a lot of the services Outreachy needed and allowed seamlessly continuing the program throughout 2015. The transition to Conservancy was completed in May. 30 interns were accepted for the May-August round with Karen Sandler, Sarah Sharp, and Marina Zhurakhinskaya serving as Outreachy's Project Leadership Committee and coordinators.

With the program's needs met, we were able to turn our minds to expanding the reach of the program. In September, Outreachy announced the expantion to people of color underrepresented in tech in the U.S., while continuing to be open to cis and trans women, trans men, and genderqueer people worldwide. This expansion was guided by the lack of diversity revealed by the employee demographic data released by many leading U.S. tech companies. Three new cooridinators, Cindy Pallares-Quezada, Tony Sebro, and Bryan Smith joined Karen Sandler, Sarah Sharp, and Marina Zhurakhinskaya to help with the expansion. 37 interns were accepted for the December-March round.

One of the most important measures of success for Outreachy is its alums speaking at free software conferences. In 2015, 27 alums had full-time sessions at conferences such as linux.conf.au, LibrePlanet, FOSSASIA, OpenStack Summit, Open Source Bridge, FISL, and LinuxCon. Isabel Jimenez gave a keynote about the benefits of contributing to open source at All Things Open. In a major recognition for an Outreachy alum, Yan Zhu was named among the women to watch in IT security by SC Magazine.

Outreachy coordinators are also being recognized for their contributions to free and open source software. Sarah Sharp won the inaugural Women in Open Source Award, sponsored by Red Hat, and generously donated her stipend to Outreachy. Marina Zhurakhinskaya won an O'Reilly Open Source Award.

Outreachy coordinators, mentors, and alums promoted Outreachy and diversity in free and open source software in the following articles and conference sessions:

Outreachy is made possible thanks to the contributions of its many coordinators, mentors, and sponsors. For May and December rounds, with the credit given for the highest level of sponsorship, Intel and Mozilla sponsored Outreachy at the Ceiling Smasher level, Red Hat at the Equalizer level, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Linux Foundation, and OpenStack Foundation at the Promoter level, and Cadasta, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Endless, Free Software Foundation, GNOME, Goldman Sachs, IBM, M-Lab, Mapbox, Mapzen, Mifos, Open Source Robotics Foundation, Perl, Samsung, Twitter, VideoLAN, Wikimedia Foundation, and Xen Project at the Includer level. Additionally, Red Hat supports Outreachy by contributing Marina Zhurakhinskaya's time towards the organization of the program and the GNOME Foundation provides infrastructure support. However, first and foremost, Outreachy is possible thanks to Conservancy being in place to be its non-profit home and handle the fiscal and legal needs of the program.

Conservancy's service of helping free software projects establish a foundation for growth without the prohibitive overhead of creating their own non-profits is a cornerstone of the free software community. We need Conservancy securely in place to continue providing exceptional support for its 33 member projects and to offer this support to new projects. To help free software thrive, please join Outreachy's Project Leadership Committee members Karen Sandler, Sarah Sharp, and Marina Zhurakhinskaya in becoming a Conservancy Supporter.

Tags: conservancy, Year In Revew 2015

A Requiem for Ian Murdock

by Bradley M. Kuhn on December 30, 2015

I first met Ian Murdock gathered around a table at some bar, somewhere, after some conference in the late 1990s. Progeny Linux Systems' founding was soon to be announced, and Ian had invited a group from the Debian BoF along to hear about “something interesting”; the post-BoF meetup was actually a briefing on his plans for Progeny.

Many of the details (such as which conference and where on the planet it was), I've forgotten, but I've never forgotten Ian gathering us around, bending my ear to hear in the loud bar, and getting one of my first insider scoops on something big that was about to happen in Free Software. Ian was truly famous in my world; I felt like I'd won the jackpot of meeting a rock star.

More recently, I gave a keynote at DebConf this year and talked about how long I've used Debian and how much it has meant to me. I've since then talked with many people about how the Debian community is rapidly becoming a unicorn among Free Software projects — one of the last true community-driven, non-commercial projects.

A culture like that needs a huge group to rise to fruition, and there are no specific actions that can ensure creation of a multi-generational project like Debian. But, there are lots of ways to make the wrong decisions early. As near as I can tell, Ian artfully avoided the project-ending mistakes; he made the early decisions right.

Ian cared about Free Software and wanted to make something useful for the community. He teamed up with (for a time in Debian's earliest history) the FSF to help Debian in its non-profit connections and roots. And, when the time came, he did what all great leaders do: he stepped aside and let a democratic structure form. He paved the way for the creation of Debian's strong Constitutional and democratic governance. Debian has had many great leaders in its long history, but Ian was (effectively) the first DPL, and he chose not to be a BDFL.

The Free Software community remains relatively young. Thus, loss of our community members jar us in the manner that uniquely unsettles the young. In other words, anyone we lose now, as we've lost Ian this week, has died too young. It's a cliché to say, but I say anyway that we should remind ourselves to engage with those around us every day, and to welcome new people gladly. When Ian invited me around that table, I was truly nobody: he'd never met me before — indeed no one in the Free Software community knew who I was then. Yet, the mere fact that I stayed late at a conference to attend the Debian BoF was enough for him — enough for him to even invite me to hear the secret plans of his new company. Ian's trust — his welcoming nature — remains for me unforgettable. I hope to watch that nature flourish in our community for the remainder of all our lives.

From a lawyer who hates litigation

by Karen Sandler on December 30, 2015

Before I started working in free and open source software, before I found out I had a heart condition and became passionate about software freedom, I was a corporate lawyer at a law firm. I worked on various financial transactions. There were ups and downs to this kind of work but throughout I was always extremely vocal about how happy I was that I didn't do any litigation.

Litigation is expensive and it is exhausting. As a lawyer you're dealing with unhappy people who can't resolve their problems in a professional manner, whose relationships, however rosy they may have been, have completely broken down. When I started working in free and open source software, I started out primarily as a nonprofits lawyer. As I did more in copyright and trademark, I continued to avoid GPL litigation. I wasn't really convinced that it was needed and I was sure I wanted no part of the actual work. I also was pretty license agnostic. X.Org, Apache Foundation and other permissively licensed projects were my clients and their passion for free software was very inspiring. I did think that the legal mechanisms in copyleft were fascinating.

Like Keith Packard, my view has changed considerably over the years. I became frustrated seeing companies wrest control of permissively licensed projects, or more often, engineer that from the outset. I've seen developers convinced that the only way a new project will gain adoption is through a lax permissive license only to find down the road that so much of their code had been proprietarized. I think there are times that a permissive license may be the right choice, but I'm now thoroughly convinced about the benefits of copyleft. Seeing the exceptional collaboration in the Linux kernel, for example, has sold me.

But as Bradley put it in our oggcast, “ The GPL is not magic pixie dust.” Just choosing a license is not enough. As you surely have too, I've seen companies abuse rights granted to them under the GPL over and over again. As the years pass, it seems that more and more of them want to walk as close to the edge of infringement as they can, and some flagrantly adopt a catch-me-if-you-can attitude.

As a confrontation-averse person who has always hated litigation, I was certain that I would be able to help with the situation and convince companies to do the right thing. I really thought that some plucky upbeat bridge building would make the difference and that I was just the woman to do it. But what I found is that these attempts are futile if there are no consequences to violating the license. You can talk about compliance until you are blue in the face, run webinars, publish educational materials, form working groups and discussion lists but you cannot take the first step of asking for compliance if at some point someone isn't willing to take that last step of a lawsuit. We at Conservancy are committed to doing this in the ways that are best for long-term free software adoption. This is hard work. And because it's adversarial, no matter how nicely we try to do it, no matter how much time we give to companies to come into compliance and no matter how much help we try to give, we can't count on corporate donors to support it (though many of the individuals working at those companies privately tell me they support it and that it helps them be able to establish budgets around compliance internally).

Conservancy is a public charity, not a for profit company or trade association. We serve the public's interest. I am deeply convinced that GPL enforcement is necessary and good for the free software ecosystem. Bradley is too. So are the members of our Copyleft Compliance Projects. But that's simply not enough. It's not enough from a financial perspective and it's not enough from an ideological one either. What matters is what the public thinks. What matters is what you think. This fundraiser is not a ploy to raise more money with an empty threat. If we can't establish support for enforcement then we just shouldn't be doing it.

Despite the fact that I am an employee of the organization, I am myself signing up as a Conservancy Supporter (in addition to my FSF associate membership). I hope you will join me now too. GPL enforcement is too important to hibernate.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, supporter

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