Matcher interview with Justin Flory
byon November 30, 2022
Photo CC-BY Justin W. Flory
This year for our fundraising season, we are highlighting some of the incredible donors contributing to our matching fund (of $104,759!!). First up in our interview series is Justin W. Flory who has generously provided matching funds. He has repped Software Freedom Conservancy at a lot of recent conferences and it's always exciting to see him handing out our stickers and speaking to people about it. We were so happy to catch up with them and see what drives his passion behind software freedom and ethical technology.
Software Freedom Conservancy: Why do you care about software freedom? How long have you been involved?
Justin W. Flory: My trajectory in life and career for the last eight years was molded by the Software Freedom movement. As a teenager, I used Linux and Open Source software to run my own multiplayer game server for Minecraft. This exposed me both to open source as a concept but also the communities responsible for the production of great things made together with others. Fundamentally, my interest and passion for Free Software come from a human-centered perspective as a method to build more responsible technology for and by society.
SFC: How do you use free software in your life?
JF: I run Fedora Linux since 2014. It began with my first personal laptop that I received as a high school student. Subsequently, since the Fedora Project only ships Free & Open Source software, libraries, and codecs by default, I have been exposed to a wide range of open tools and services. Since October 2022, I am now working full-time at Red Hat on the Fedora Project. We use a hosted Matrix server from Element for our community chat and a Discourse forum for project discussions. I am an ardent user of Firefox for many years, including my extensive self-made categorization system and library of bookmarks covering several topic areas.
SFC: On the spectrum on developer to end user, where do you lie? And how do you think we could do better bridging that divide?
JF: Somewhere in the middle. Today I work as a Community Architect, but I previously worked in systems engineering and received a degree in networking & systems administration. Being a community person in a project like Fedora requires me to wear both the developer and end-user hat, both for our actual users and the people who participate in many different capacities in the project.
SFC: What is it that you see Software Freedom Conservancy does that other groups are not?
JF: The SFC are the hidden heroes of the Software Freedom movement. I love the breadth of issues that the Conservancy addresses that are of particular relevance to the survival of the Software Freedom movement. The critically-important work of enforcing reciprocal licenses guarantees the promise of Free Software licenses and ensures that licensors of copyleft software have their rights respected. Additionally, the creation and sustenance of the Outreachy program introduces numerous people of many diverse backgrounds to the movement. Outreachy opens doors for others to become a part of the young story of Free Culture and Free Software.
For a lover and supporter of Free Software, I do not see any charity or foundation that has as much of a profound impact in the ecosystem as the Conservancy.
SFC: How do you see our role amongst the various FLOSS organizations?
JF: The SFC does both the hidden labor that strengthens the foundations of FLOSS as well as key advocacy and activism to further the collective interests of the movement. The activism includes copyleft compliance work (e.g. Vizio suit) and directly supporting the many member projects supported by the Conservancy.
SFC: What's got you most excited from the past year of our work?
JF: I participated as an Outreachy mentor for the first time since 2019 and I was so excited by how the Conservancy is growing the team around Outreachy. Getting back in as a mentor helped demonstrate to me how much care and empathy the Conservancy builds into how Outreachy is handled. It might not be new work, but it is work that has a high value to me and I definitely felt grateful for it in 2022.
SFC: Do you think we are doing a good job reaching a wider audience and do you see us at places you expect?
JF: I think COVID has made this difficult, and the most recent fragmentation of Twitter compounds it. I think Copyleft Conf filled an important space in the ecosystem, and I am hopeful for its return to continue filling this space and bringing people back together again on important issues.
SFC: Have you been involved with any of our member projects in the past?
JF: I have not participated directly, but I am the user of several projects like git, Inkscape, and Etherpad.
SFC: What other organizations are you supporting this year?
JF: I am also supporting two other organizations, Green Card Voices and the Rail Passengers Association.
Green Card Voices is a U.S. non-profit organization dedicated to build inclusive and integrated communities between immigrants and their neighbors through multimedia storytelling, and Rail Passengers Association advocates on behalf of America's rail passengers for improved, expanded, and safer train service.
Justin W. Flory is one of our individual matchers this year. He is originally from the Greater Atlanta Area in the United States. Travel is one of his passions, especially traveling by rail. He knows a profuse amount about espresso and coffee, and once studied the secrets of wine from a Croatian winemaker. Music is one of his favorite artistic expressions and he curates both a physical and digital music collection. It isn't surprising when he ends up flipping through crates at a record store. The best way to find him online is through his blog at blog.jwf.io.
How we all develop and support free software
byon November 29, 2022
Today is Giving Tuesday, and I'd like to share part of my story that brought me to Software Freedom Conservancy. Having started as a donor over 5 years ago, I find myself now with even more passion for our mission as an employee.
I've been using software for close to 30 years; I wrote my first program around 25 years ago, and I've been working in non-profit free software for over a decade. Over all that time the thing that keeps bringing me back is that software is for people. Made by and for people.
Having worked in technical roles as a systems administrator, site reliability engineer and CIengineer, the last year and a half at Software Freedom Conservancy is the first non-technical role I've had. Stepping into the Community Organizer role has allowed me to reinvigorate my passion for FOSS by working directly with people. There have been the usual differences that have cropped up: feedback cycles with people are much longer than just pushing a new patch to see if the tests pass, prose is a lot harder to write than even the more esoteric programming languages (different people use different compilers!). I certainly never thought I'd have to help wih fundraising! But it turns out as a developer I often felt disconnected and distant from the people my code was supposed to support. So while stressful and juggling many things at once, it's a grounding activity that really drives home how connected our mission is to the people who help support us.
There are a few differences between non-technical and technical roles in free software development that I have noticed.
The first is bugs. There are bugs you learn to live with (screen sharing with Wayland and free software video conferencing is still a pain), and some that need the highest priority attention (it's been just over a year since the Log4J incident). Unlike debugging code, in community building spaces we don't have the luxury of thinking of problems as bottlenecks, with absolute solutions. With people, there are often no right or wrong answers. We work cooperatively over a long period of time to build a shared history that informs how we deal with issues that arise.
While in the technical context, I would often think of community building in terms of making it easier to get code upstream, or work with developers of an adjacent library. Community building itself has an intrinsic value, which is something we don't get when writing abstract code. The time scale for human interaction and relations is longer than the half life of an arbitrary patch and can thus use a bit more nuance and care when dealing with each other. Especially in the volunteer context of FOSS projects, understanding each others lives and timelines removes the ambiguity that text based communication often leaves.
Most starkly, the thing I never truly had to worry about in other jobs was fundraising. I thought I could dodge this aspect of my career by not continuing as an academic mathematician, but real work needs real resources. The technology field is an interesting one, we often have large amounts of money floating through what is often touted as a meritocracy. So in my mind if we could just talk about all the great work we do as a non-profit, by the meritocratic principles, we should have money flowing out our gills! Alas, the investors don't flock to non-profits as much as they do to startups.
So how can we work around the absence of a meritocracy to fund our work? I think it all comes back to finding the people who believe in software freedom as much as we do. And extending open arms to those people who haven't heard about it, but are equally affected by the encroaching proprietary software corporations. By sticking to our mission and actively creating a more equitable world in which software freedom is the default (and not an alternative we have to fight for) is how we'll gain momentum and win people over. Our dedication to software freedom speaks for itself through the projects we host, the diversity and inclusion efforts we sustain and by being the only organization in the world doing widespread license compliance.
The human side of open source is complex and requires deliberate, relationship-driven work. That deliberate work can be slow and doesn’t fit neatly under the profit and efficiency models that the tech industry often revolves around. The same mindset that coders apply to “bugs” doesn’t work for conflict resolution in communities, because people’s values and interests are multi-faceted. SFC works to sustain a thriving community around technology that works for people’s needs.
We at SFC do this work with your help. We are able to pursue a more just world, not just through code, but through relationship building with sustainers like you. Our community is incredible and I wouldn't trade writing unit tests for the joy and passion I feel working alongside contributors from all over the world. Please consider becoming a sustainer and helping us all year, or donating to us so we can work together to create a more just future for all.
Trademark Was Made to Prevent Attack of the “Clones” Problem in App Stores
byon July 11, 2022
Suppose you go to your weekly MyTown market. The market runs Saturday and Sunday, and vendors set up booths to sell locally made products and locally grown and produced food. On Saturday, you buy some delicious almond milk from a local vendor — called Al's Awesome Almond Milk. You realize that Al's Awesome would make an excellent frozen dessert, so you make your new frozen dessert, which you name Betty's Best Almond Frozen Dessert. You get a booth for Sunday for yourself, and you sell some, but not as much as you'd like.
The next week, you realize you might sell more if you call it Al's Awesome Almond Frozen Dessert instead of your own name. Folks at the market know Al, but not you. So you change the name. Is this a morally and legally acceptable thing to do?
This is a question primarily regarding trademarks. We spend a lot of time in the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) community talking about copyrights and patents, but another common area of legal issues that face FOSS projects (in addition to copyright and patent) is trademark.
In fact, FOSS projects probably don't spend enough time thinking about their trademark. Nearly ten years ago, Pam Chestek — a lawyer and expert in trademark law as it relates to FOSS and board member of OSI — gave an excellent talk at FOSDEM (2013), wherein she explored how FOSS projects can use trademarks better and to ensure rights of consumers — particularly when dealing with bad actors. Our own Executive Director, Karen Sandler, had also spoken about this issue as well. These older talks, in turn, spawned an ongoing conversation that continues to this day in FOSS policy circles.
Specifically, last week, we learned that the Microsoft Store was changing their policies, ostensibly to deal with folks (probably some of whom are unscrupulous) rebuilding binaries for well-known FOSS projects and uploading them to the Microsoft Store. Yet, this is a longstanding issue in FOSS policy. FOSS experts in this area would have been happy to share what's been learned over the last ten years of studying this issue.
The problem Microsoft faces here is the same problem that the MyTown market folks face if you show up trying to sell Al's Awesome Almond Frozen Dessert. The store/market can set rules that you will no longer be able to sell if you are found to infringe the trademark of another seller. The market could simply require the trademark holder to take trademark action themselves, or it could offer some form of assistance, arbitration, or other-extra-legal resolution mechanism0.
There is often temptation in FOSS to give special status to maintainers, or the original developer, or the copyright holder, or some other entity that is considered “official”. In FOSS, though, the only mechanism of officialness is the trademark — the name of the upstream project (or the fork). The entire point of FOSS is that for the code itself, everyone should have equal rights to the original developers, to the maintainers, or to any other entity.
We have faced this with our member project, Inkscape. While the Inkscape Project Leadership Committee has chosen not to charge for the version of Inkscape that they upload on Microsoft Store, we did see this very problem for many years before these app stores even existed. Namely, it was common for third-parties to sell Windows binaries on CD's for Inkscape in an effort to make a quick buck. We did trademark enforcement in these cases — not forbidding these vendors from selling — but simply requiring the vendors to clearly say that the product was a modified version of Inkscape. Or, if it was unmodified redistribution of Inkscape's own binaries, we required the vendor to note that the Inkscape project's website was the official source for these binaries.
I have often written to complain about copyright and patent law. I have my complaints about trademark law (and I've seen trademark grossly abused, even), but trademark laws tenets are really reasonable and solid: to ensure consumers know the source and quality of the products they receive.
The problem of concern here is one well handled by trademark. It doesn't need excessive app store rules; we don't need FOSS licenses to be usurped or superseded by Draconian policy. And, this solution to this particular problem has been long-known by FOSS. Pam's talk in 2013 explained it quite well!
The MyTown Market doesn't need to create a policy that forbids you from buying Al's Awesome Almond Milk on Saturday and reselling a product based on it on Sunday. They just need to let Al know his rights under trademark, and maybe offer a lightweight provisional suspension of your booth if the trademark complaint seems primia facie valid. But, most importantly, before it announces new rules with a 30 day clock, MyTown's leadership really should discuss it with the citizens first to find a policy that takes into account concerns of the people. Even if they fail to do that, there are MyTown's elected officials whose actions are accountable to the people. App store companies are accountable only to their shareholders, not the authors of the apps. Companies could benefit by learning that the FOSS community prioritizes respecting authors, protecting consumers' and users' rights, and by understanding that the line between user and contributor should blur. The FOSS marketplace functions because the community works.
0 I hesitate to even suggest that an app store should create an extra-legal process regarding trademark enforcement beyond the typical governmental mechanisms — lest they decide they have to do it. A major problem with app stores is that they create rules for software distribution that are capricious, and arbitrary. We all do want FOSS available on Microsoft, Apple, and Google-based platforms — and as such are forced to negotiate (or, rather, try to negotiate) for FOSS-friendly terms. Ultimately, though, the story of major vendor-controlled app stores is always the story of “just barely” being able to put FOSS on them, because the goal of these entities is to profit themselves, not serve the community. We prefer app stores like F-Droid that are community-organized and are not run for-profit.
Microsoft To Ban Commercial Open Source from App Store
byon July 7, 2022
Microsoft Will Even Prohibit Charitable FOSS Fundraising Through the “Microsoft Store”
A few weeks ago, Microsoft quietly updated its Microsoft [app] Store Policies, adding new policies (which go into effect next week), that include this text:
all pricing … must … [n]ot attempt to profit from open-source or other software that is otherwise generally available for free [meaning, in price, not freedom].
Yesterday, a number of Microsoft Store users discovered this and started asking questions. Quickly, those of us (including our own organization) that provide Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) via the Microsoft Store started asking our own questions too. While Microsoft has acknowledged the ensuing community outrage, they have not clarified their policy. In the meantime, this clause reverses long-standing app store policies, and is already disrupting commerce on their platform (with its tight countdown clock to implementation). In particular, Microsoft now forbids FOSS redistributors from charging any money for nearly all FOSS (i.e., “profit”). Since all (legitimate) FOSS is already available (at least in source code form) somewhere “for free” (as in “free beer”), this term (when enacted) will apply to all FOSS.
For decades, Microsoft spent great effort to scare the commercial software sector with stories of how FOSS (and Linux in particular) were not commercially viable products. Microsoft even once claimed that anyone who developed FOSS under copyleft was against the American Way. Today, there are many developers who make their living creating,supporting, and redistributing FOSS, which they fund (in part) by charging for FOSS on app stores. We in the FOSS community have long disagreed with Microsoft: we have touted that FOSS provides true neutrality regarding commercial and non-commercial activity — both are permitted equally. In short, our community proved Microsoft wrong with regard to the commercial viability and sustainability of FOSS.
Sadly, these days, companies like Microsoft have set up these app stores as gatekeepers of the software industry. The primary way that commercial software distributors reach their customers (or non-profit software distributors reach their donors) is via app stores. Microsoft has closed its iron grasp on the distribution chain of software (again) — to squeeze FOSS from the marketplace. If successful, even app store users will come to believe that the only legitimate FOSS is non-commercial FOSS.
This is first and foremost an affront to all efforts to make a living writing open source software. This is not a merely hypothetical consideration. Already many developers support their FOSS development (legitimately so, at least under the FOSS licenses themselves) through app store deployments that Microsoft recently forbid in their Store. The well-known Krita painting software and the video editing software ShotCut are both sold on Microsoft's app store (and will both soon be in violation of Microsoft's terms). Indeed, our own Inkscape project has unilaterally chosen to only request, rather than require, donations from Microsoft Store users, but this new term forces that decision upon Inkscape permanently. These represent just a few examples of developers and/or redistributors left out in the cold under Microsoft's new terms.
Microsoft counter-argues that this is about curating content for customers and/or limiting FOSS selling to the (mythical) “One True Developer”. But, even a redrafted policy (that Giorgio Sardo (General Manager of Apps at Microsoft) hinted at publicly early today) will mandate only toxic business models for FOSS (such as demo-ware, less-featureful versions available as FOSS, while the full-featured proprietary version is available for a charge). Any truly FOSS system is always “generally available for free” — since the developers do the work in public, and encourage others to remix and rebuild the software into binaries for all sorts of platforms. These are essential rights and freedoms that FOSS licenses give users and businesspeople alike. FOSS was designed specifically to allow both the original developers and downstream redistributors to profit fairly from the act of convenient redistribution (such as on app stores). No company that supports FOSS and its commercial methodologies would propose to curtail these rights and freedoms. So we're left quite suspect of Microsoft's constant claims that they've changed their tune about FOSS. They still oppose it; they've just gotten more crafty about the methods of doing so.
Selling open source software has been a cornerstone of open source's sustainability since its inception. Precisely because you can sell it, open source projects like Linux (which Microsoft claims to love) have been estimated to be worth billions of dollars. Microsoft apparently does not want any FOSS developers to be able to write open source in a sustainable way.
Finally, this is a known pattern of Microsoft's behavior. Rolling out unreasonable and unconscionable policies — only to “magnanimously” retract them weeks or months later — is a strategy that they've used before. Indeed, Microsoft employed this exact tactic when originally creating their app store (then marked under the predecessor brand name, “Windows Marketplace”). Initially, Microsoft banned all copyleft licenses from its app store, and when the obvious outrage came, Microsoft cast themselves as benevolently willing to amend the policy and allow FOSS on the Microsoft Store. Of course, we again (as we did then) immediately call on Microsoft to reverse their new anti-FOSS Microsoft Store Policies and make it explicitly clear in these Policies that selling open source is not only allowed but encouraged.
Nevertheless, we're cognizant that Microsoft probably planned all this, anyway — including the community outrage followed by their usual political theater of feigned magnanimity. It seems this is just Microsoft's latest effort to curtail the forms of FOSS activity that don't directly benefit them. Microsoft may say that they love Open Source, but only so far as they exclusively are the ones who profit from FOSS on their platforms.
Update on 2022-07-08: After we and others pointed out this problem, a Microsoft employee claimed via Twitter that they would “delay enforcement” of their new anti-FOSS regulation. We do hope Microsoft will ultimately rectify the matter, and look forward to the change they intend to enact later. Twitter is a reasonable place to promote such a change once it's made, but an indication of non-enforcement by one executive on their personal account is a suboptimal approach. This is a precarious situation for FOSS projects who currently raise funds on the Microsoft Store; they deserve a definitive answer.
Given the tight timetable (just five days!) until the problematic policy actually does go into effect, we call on Microsoft to officially publish a corrected policy now that addresses this point and move the roll-out date at least two months into the future. (We suggest September 16, 2022.) This will allow FOSS projects to digest the new policy with a reasonable amount of time, and give Microsoft time to receive feedback from the impacted projects and FOSS experts.
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