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Compliance Feedback Sessions in 2017

by Karen Sandler on January 13, 2017

While we continue our principled defense of copyleft software on behalf of developers who ask us to do it, Conservancy is committed to examining whether we’re doing things the best we we can. As we publicly promised, we’ve been running feedback sessions on GPL compliance to hear from everyone who is interested in our work.

Bradley conducted a session at Embedded Linux Conference Europe and Brett and I ran one at Linux Plumbers Conference. Both were informative and, honestly, reassuring. While there are some areas we can improve (as a free software organization, we know we can always improve!), our fundamental approach is sound and seems to be in line with what developers and other stakeholders would like us to be doing. Of course, we also have received some mixed messages. Some people strongly criticize us for not being aggressive enough, while others think our rhetoric is a little too strident. What’s been great is to have everything on the table and get people involved. As a public charity, we want to be sure that we are in fact acting in the public’s interest in everything we do.

We’ve got another feedback session scheduled next week at the Linux Kernel Miniconf at on Monday afternoon. If you’re there I hope you’ll join us. I’ll also be facilitating a fishbowl discussion on GPL compliance at the Legal & Policy Miniconf Tuesday morning. Please let us know if you have any other suggestions for where we should hold more feedback sessions. We’ve been trying to strategically propose these sessions where they’ll be the most effective (we did propose a feedback session with an eye towards getting key corporate leadership feedback at the upcoming Open Source Leadership Summit, but the session was unfortunately not accepted). Other conferences we’ll be at this year include FOSDEM, Campus Party Brasil, SCaLE, LibrePlanet and OSCON. We’ll have a booth at most of these, so even if we don’t have a session please just stop by our booth and tell us what you think!

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are only days left for us to earn our generous match from Private Internet Access. We’ve made great progress, but we’re only about 70% there! Please sign up as a Supporter - you’ll be donating to the support of our many member projects, copyleft defense, diversity work via Outreachy as well as the overall promotion and advocacy of free software. There’s still time for your donation to be amplified, but only if you sign up now!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

ICYMI: “Companies, Free Software, and You”

by Karen Sandler on December 8, 2016

At this year’s LibrePlanet, I presented “Companies, Free Software, and You” as a keynote presentation. In the talk, I take a hard look at companies’ engagement in the free software community, dissecting which contributions are productive and weighing them against instances where their interests might diverge from the rest of the community’s.

When that happens, Conservancy is a strong independent voice fighting for the community’s interests, in project leadership, employment agreements, license compliance, and more. Please support Conservancy today to keep the conversation balanced!

Thanks to the Free Software Foundation for running another great conference and preparing this video! Both the talk and the recording are released under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Tags: conservancy, conferences, Year In Review 2016

Come see Conservancy at 2017

by Brett Smith on December 5, 2016

Are you coming to in January? So are we! We’re presenting a variety of sessions, so whether you’re just starting to learn about free and open source software, or a seasoned contributor who wants to hear about cutting-edge issues, we’ve got something for you.

On Thursday Karen and Bradley offer A Practical Guide to Compliance with the GNU GPL, a pragmatic tutorial on how to comply with the most popular FOSS license. The focus is on providing concrete actions you can take to comply. There’s something for everyone who works with GPL’ed software, whether you’re an upstream contributor, distributor, or lawyer.

On Friday Karen presents Surviving the Next 30 Years of Free Software. As the FOSS community matures and time marches on, we’re starting to see cases where a contributor passes away and a project has to work out legalities with their estate. Karen will explain the law in this area, and suggest next steps for projects and the broader community to make these transitions easier.

As part of the Kernel Miniconf, we’ll also run another feedback session about our GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers. Just like the sessions at ELC EU and LPC, this is your opportunity to hear more about what the program does, how it works, ask questions, and offer ideas for improvement. All interested contributors are welcome to attend. We’ll announce schedule details as they’re available.

We’re looking forward to seeing everyone in Hobart!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

Conservancy's First GPL Enforcement Feedback Session

by Bradley M. Kuhn on October 27, 2016

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I had the privilege of attending Embedded Linux Conference Europe (ELC EU) and the OpenWrt Summit in Berlin, Germany earlier this month. I gave a talk (for which the video is available below) at the OpenWrt Summit. I also had the opportunity to host the first of many conference sessions seeking feedback and input from the Linux developer community about Conservancy's GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers.

ELC EU has no “BoF Board” where you can post informal sessions. So, we scheduled the session by word of mouth over a lunch hour. We nevertheless got an good turnout (given that our session's main competition was eating food :) of about 15 people.

Most notably and excitingly, Harald Welte, well-known Netfilter developer and leader of, was able to attend. Harald talked about his work with enforcing his own copyrights in Linux, and explained why this was important work for users of the violating devices. He also pointed out that some of the companies that were sued during his most active period of are now regular upstream contributors.

Two people who work in the for-profit license compliance industry attended as well. Some of the discussion focused on usual debates that charities involved in compliance commonly have with the for-profit compliance industry. Specifically, one of them asked how much compliance is enough, by percentage? I responded to his question on two axes. First, I addressed the axis of how many enforcement matters does the GPL Compliance Program for Linux Developers do, by percentage of products violating the GPL? There are, at any given time, hundreds of documented GPL violating products, and our coalition works on only a tiny percentage of those per year. It's a sad fact that only that tiny percentage of the products that violate Linux are actually pursued to compliance.

On the other axis, I discussed the percentage on a per-product basis. From that point of view, the question is really: Is there a ‘close enough to compliance’ that we can as a community accept and forget about the remainder? From my point of view, we frequently compromise anyway, since the GPL doesn't require someone to prepare code properly for upstream contribution. Thus, we all often accept compliance once someone completes the bare minimum of obligations literally written in the GPL, but give us a source release that cannot easily be converted to an upstream contribution. So, from that point of view, we're often accepting a less-than-optimal outcome. The GPL by itself does not inspire upstreaming; the other collaboration techniques that are enabled in our community because of the GPL work to finish that job, and adherence to the Principles assures that process can work. Having many people who work with companies in different ways assures that as a larger community, we try all the different strategies to encourage participation, and inspire today's violators to become tomorrow upstream contributors — as Harald mention has already often happened.

That same axis does include on rare but important compliance problem: when a violator is particularly savvy, and refuses to release very specific parts of their Linux code (as VMware did), even though the license requires it. In those cases, we certainly cannot and should not accept anything less than required compliance — lest companies begin holding back all the most interesting parts of the code that GPL requires them to produce. If that happened, the GPL would cease to function correctly for Linux.

After that part of the discussion, we turned to considerations of corporate contributors, and how they responded to enforcement. Wolfram Sang, one of the developers in Conservancy's coalition, spoke up on this point. He expressed that the focus on for-profit company contributions, and the achievements of those companies, seemed unduly prioritized by some in the community. As an independent contractor and individual developer, Wolfram believes that contributions from people like him are essential to a diverse developer base, that their opinions should be taken into account, and their achievements respected.

I found Wolfram's points particularly salient. My view is that Free Software development, including for Linux, succeeds because both powerful and wealthy entities and individuals contribute and collaborate together on equal footing. While companies have typically only enforce the GPL on their own copyrights for business reasons (e.g., there is at least one example of a major Linux-contributing company using GPL enforcement merely as a counter-punch in a patent lawsuit), individual developers who join Conservancy's coalition follow community principles and enforce to defend the rights of their users.

At the end of the session, I asked two developers who hadn't spoken during the session, and who aren't members of Conservancy's coalition, their opinion on how enforcement was historically carried out by, and how it is currently carried out by Conservancy's GPL Compliance Program for Linux Developers. Both responded with a simple response (paraphrased): it seems like a good thing to do; keep doing it!

I finished up the session by inviting everyone to the join the principles-discuss list, where public discussion about GPL enforcement under the Principles has already begun. (Note: discussion about this specific feedback session can be found on the thread on the list that starts hereI also invited everyone to attend my talk, that took place an hour later at the OpenWrt Summit, which was co-located with ELC EU.

In that talk, I spoke about a specific example of community success in GPL enforcement. As explained on the OpenWrt history page, OpenWrt was initially made possible thanks to GPL enforcement done by BusyBox and Linux contributors in a coalition together. (Those who want to hear more about the connection between GPL enforcement and OpenWrt can view my talk.)

Since there weren't opportunities to promote impromptu sessions on-site, this event was a low-key (but still quite nice) start to Conservancy's planned year-long effort seeking feedback about GPL compliance and enforcement. Our next session is an official BoF session at Linux Plumbers Conference, scheduled for next Thursday 3 November at 18:00. It will be led by my colleagues Karen Sandler and Brett Smith.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, conferences

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