Software Freedom Conservancy

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[RSS] Conservancy Blog

When companies use the GPL against each other, our community loses

by Denver Gingerich on October 2, 2019

Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler, has warned for years about the dangers of lawsuits between two for-profit companies engaged in a legal dispute in which the GPL is tangentially featured. Unlike Conservancy, companies don't use legal action as the last resort, and they don't select their cases, as we do, focused on what's best for the software freedom of users. Nevertheless, these cases happen, and the GPL gets caught in the crossfire. With the assistance of our legal counsel, Pam Chestek, Conservancy has been carefully following the case of Ubiquiti Networks, Inc. v. Cambium Networks, Inc.

Cambium and Ubiquiti have been engaged in this lawsuit with each other for a little over a year now. Ubiquiti sued Cambium, claiming that Cambium violated RICO, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the Digitial Millennium Copyright Act, and the Copyright Act, along with other causes of action. Cambium responded alleging that the Ubiquiti products included code under the GNU General Public Licenses and Cambium's own use of the portions of the Ubiquiti code subject to the GPL would not be an infringement. The case is still in very early stages.

As experts in GPL compliance, we carefully investigated the situation with each company. Ubiquiti was already known to us as we had received independent GPL violation reports from the public regarding their behavior. (The suit itself brought Cambium to our attention.) We have found that neither company complies properly with the GPL. Specifically, in our analysis of the facts, we have found that both Cambium and Ubiquiti fail to provide any source code for their respective routers and access points, even when we repeatedly asked over the course of several weeks, starting more than 30 days ago. This is not an issue of incomplete source or partial source; we have received no source code at all to review. Furthermore, even if we do receive some source code, the firmware images currently available indicate that there may be additional serious, overarching GPL compliance problems that are not easily resolved.

As for-profit GPL violators, these companies financially benefit from GPL non-compliance by for-profit companies. Their litigation around GPL is a distraction from the bigger issue of companies' repeated violations of the GPL. We lament the irony that two companies have begun a fight regarding GPL compliance (and deployed immense legal resources in the process), yet neither complies with GPL's most basic provisions. Because of this, it's unlikely this suit will yield GPL compliance by either party, and makes the suit another example of how for-profit legal disputes inevitably fail to prioritize the software freedom of users. In essence, we believe their dispute is not about empowering their users with the ability to augment their devices by improving and upgrading the software on them, but rather is about who is able to keep more of their code proprietary.

Conservancy will not stand by while this occurs. As such, we have today opened (at this point, non-litigation) GPL enforcement actions against both companies. We are informing the public of this situation in this blog post, since we gave both companies the industry-accepted standard amount of time to comply, and since the two companies have already made their violations public through the lawsuit filings. We call on both companies to immediately comply with the requirements of Linux's license, GPLv2.

Tags: GPL, licensing

Karen Sandler keynoted State of the Map on Saturday 2019-09-21

by Bradley M. Kuhn on September 20, 2019

Conservancy's Executive Director Karen Sandler delivered the keynote address on Saturday 2019-09-21 at the 2019 State of the Map Conference in Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. State of the Map is the annual conference for all mappers and OpenStreetMap users.

Karen's keynote was recorded and is available on the CCC media server!

Karen discussed her personal journey in software freedom, the challenges we all face maintaining lives of software freedom, and how that relates to the freedom of maps and navigation software.

Tags: conservancy, conferences, events

Conservancy News Round-up August

by Deb Nicholson on September 11, 2019

Updates from many of our projects' departing summer interns, updates on what our contractors have been up to and pictures from recent events.

Karen Sandler on the Abstractions stage with a screeen that says: I have a big heart

Picture is available under a CC.BY licenses and was taken by Sarah Withee

Karen Sandler on the Abstractions stage with a screen that says: We may be collecting data about you and transmitting it to third parties... Would you like this life-saving device?

Picture is available under a CC.BY licenses and was taken by Zach Harris

Neal Stephenson, GNOME's Executive Director wearing his Conservancy t-shirt and sitting outside

Picture is available under a CC.BY.SA license and was taken by Deb Nicholson

Various people sitting around at an outdoor cafe

Picture is available under a CC.BY.SA license and was taken by Deb Nicholson

Recent Videos and Pictures

Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler, is going to be part of an upcoming French documentary about the global fight for software freedom. The English version will be titled "Hackers For The Commons" and you can already check out the trailer (along with a fundraiser for the English version), right here. There are a few upcoming screenings scheduled of the French version.

Check out these two pictures from Karen's Abstractions talk last month! (top)

Deb held a "Supporters & Friends" event during GUADEC. Check out these nice pictures of folks talking about software freedom in Thessaloniki! (below)

Upcoming talks from staff

Bradley is keynoting the 8th edition of Kernel Recipes in Paris on September 26 & 27. Conservancy is also this year's featured non-profit beneficiary. Registration opened this week.

Karen will be keynoting State of the Map in Heidelberg in September, on Saturday, September 21st.

Deb is speaking about "Selenium and Conservancy" at Selenium Conf this October.

Deb is also co-presenting with Nithya Ruff (the Head of Comcast’s Open Source Program Office) at All Things Open on "Companies and Communities: Why Can't We All Just Get Along?"

Interns are wrapping up for the summer

Also, applications are currently being accepted for the next round! Outreachy internships are remote, paid ($5,500 stipend), and last three months. Initial applications for the Dec 2019 to Mar 2020 internships are due on Sep 24 at 4pm UTC. Please help us reach folks who could benefit from an internship by sharing with your networks!

Conservancy contractors have been working hard

Lots happening at Reproducible Builds, including more work on diffoscope, new variations in their testing framework.

Over at phpMyAdmin, in addition to the intern that was sponsored directly through Conservancy, work focused on the request router and time with the Google Summer of Code interns who both wrapped up and reported on their work this summer, here and here.

Clojurists Together started work on four new projects. You can read about them all here.

Loads of fresh code!

Member Projects: Fall is for learning

Thanks to Chris Lamby for promoting Conservancy with complimentary beer mats at the recent Debian BBQ!

Tags: conservancy, Google Summer of Code, conferences, Outreachy

Microsoft & exFAT: One Step on a Long Journey

by Karen Sandler on August 30, 2019

In 2013, Conservancy helped resolve a GPL violation by Samsung which arose primarily due to complications around Microsoft's patent holdings related to the exFAT filesystem. At the time, Microsoft was known for demanding patent fees from Linux users and redistributors.

Late last year, Microsoft joined Open Invention Network. As we wrote at the time, this action had limited impact, as key patents like exFAT were not implemented in any packages that were part of OIN's “Linux System Definition”. We asked Microsoft at the time to upstream the exFAT code under GPLv2-or-later to confirm its intention to end patent aggression.

This week, in response to recent follow-up requests from upstream Linux developers, Microsoft announced that they would sign off on inclusion of exFAT in upstream Linux. This is the first step toward real patent peace related to exFAT.

This process for exFAT will only complete once all of the following happen: the exFAT patch appears in an official Linux release, that official Linux release becomes part of OIN's Linux System Definition (this generally happens automatically, as future versions of Linux are included by default), and Microsoft distributes a copy of Linux themselves that contains this technology. This last step is critical, as the OIN patent license is not as comprehensive as a full patent license from Microsoft. Any participating company can withdraw at any time from OIN1 (and there have been several withdrawals in the past, including Oracle, Facebook, HP and Symantec). After a transition period, the safety of OIN's non-aggression pact weakens. In contrast, when a company distributes software under the GPL, there is an irrevocable implicit patent license with the distribution, and GPLv2§7 further assures patent licensing safety.

Eventually, Microsoft will likely distribute a version of Linux containing exFAT to its Azure users and in its Windows Subsystem for Linux. However, until that occurs, the issue is not really resolved. An expedient solution is as we previously requested: that Microsoft bring definitive patent safety to free and open source software by publicly granting a permanent patent license for all patents Microsoft holds that read on Linux. Additionally, we invite Microsoft to keep pace with its peers such as Google and Red Hat, who years ago made very public patent promises to FOSS users. While the actions taken thus far are intermediary steps, I applaud Microsoft's journey from being a company that long attacked FOSS to becoming a contributor.


1 The legal mechanism for withdrawal is exercise of a “Limitation Election” in the OIN patent license agreement.

Tags: conservancy, patent, law

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