Software Freedom Conservancy

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Software Freedom Ensures the True Software Commons

by Bradley M. Kuhn on August 22, 2018

Proprietary software has always been about a power relationship. Copyright and other legal systems give authors the power to decide what license to choose, and usually, they choose a license that favors themselves and takes rights and permissions away from others.

The so-called “Commons Clause” purposely confuses and conflates many issues. The initiative is backed by FOSSA, a company that sells materiel in the proprietary compliance industrial complex. This clause recently made news again since other parties have now adopted this same license.

This proprietary software license, which is not Open Source and does not respect the four freedoms of Free Software, seeks to hide a power imbalance ironically behind the guise “Open Source sustainability”. Their argument, once you look past their assertion that the only way to save Open Source is to not do open source, is quite plain: If we can't make money as quickly and as easily as we'd like with this software, then we have to make sure no one else can as well.

These observations are not new. Software freedom advocates have always admitted that if your primary goal is to make money, proprietary software is a better option. It's not that you can't earn a living writing only Free Software; it's that proprietary software makes it easier because you have monopolistic power, granted to you by a legal system ill-equipped to deal with modern technology. In my view, it's a power which you don't deserve — that allows you to restrict others.

Of course, we all want software freedom to exist and survive sustainably. But the environmental movement has already taught us that unbridled commerce and conspicuous consumption is not sustainable. Yet, companies still adopt strategies like this Commons Clause to prioritize rapid growth and revenue that the proprietary software industry expects, claiming these strategies bolster the Commons (even if it is a “partial commons in name only”). The two goals are often just incompatible.

Here at Conservancy, we ask our projects to be realistic about revenue. We don't typically see Conservancy projects grow at rapid rates. They grow at slow and steady rates, but they grow better, stronger, and more diverse because they take the time to invite everyone to get involved. The software takes longer to mature, but when it does it's more robust and survives longer.

I'll take a bet with anyone who'd like. Let's pick five projects under the Affero GPL and five projects under the Commons Clause, and then let's see which ones survive longer as vibrant communities with active codebases and diverse contributors.

Finally, it's not surprising that the authors chose the name “Commons”. Sadly, “commons” has for many years been a compromised term, often used by those who want to promote licenses or organizational models that do not guarantee all four freedoms inherent in software freedom. Proprietary software is the ultimate tragedy of the software commons, and while it's clever rhetoric for our opposition to claim that they can make FOSS sustainable by proprietarizing it, such an argument is also sophistry.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, CLA, law

Death, taxes and free software at DebConf this year

by Deb Nicholson on August 14, 2018

In case you missed it, our most excellent Executive Director, Karen Sandler and FSF Campaigns Manager, Molly de Blanc presented together at DebConf in Taiwan earlier this month on what *really* constitutes a software freedom issue. Turns out that lots of things are affected by the absence or presence of software freedom including; many serious topics like depression treatments, automated devices in our homes, public transportation, domestic violence and government data. There were also some very funny moments, but I won't spoil the video for you.

This year is the first time this critical event has taken place in Asia. Over 300 free software enthusiasts attended talks, squashed bugs and discussed critical issues like reproducible builds, what contributing is like around the world and how to increase diversity in free software projects. Both Karen and Molly have been to DebConf multiple times and highly recommend this event.

You can catch Karen next in New York in early October where she'll be keynoting PyGotham.

Molly's next public appearance is at the end of the month in Vancouver where she'll be participating in a panel that will be discussing ways to use metrics to help create common understanding around diversity and inclusion goals.

Tags: conservancy, Reproducible Builds, events

Inkscape Developers Hacking in Kiel this September

by Deb Nicholson on August 9, 2018

As Inkscape gears up for its historic version 1.0 release, they've added a second hackfest to this year's calendar of events. Inkscape is an indispensable vector editing tool. In fact, we use it here at Conservancy for many of our promotional materials.

The community has been continually improving Inskcape for 14 years. Lots of exciting user facing improvements are planned for the next release including; smoother importing of fonts and other file types, support for pressured input tools, and cleaner, more international shortcut handling. You can take a look at the full list of planned changes on the release planning page.

"They are going to meet up in the Kieler Innovations- und Technologiezentrum startup center (Kitz) in Kiel, a town by the Baltic Sea in Germany. Core developers and community members are planning on five days of thorough testing, vigorous bug-squashing and improvement of documentation, translations, text features and the extension API, from September 9th to 13th, during Digitale Woche Kiel and right before Kieler Open Source und Linux Tage."

If you love Inkscape like we do, well... Conservancy makes it easy for you to financially support the Kiel hackfest. Your earmarked funds would help cover vital travel costs for Inkscape's volunteer developers. Of course, if rolling up your sleeves and getting involved is more your style, then you might want to head on over to Inkscape's Contribution page and see how you can help out.

Tags: conservancy, inkscape, Hackfests

Connect with the Conservancy in Portland during CLS/OSCON

by Deb Nicholson on July 11, 2018

First up, we've got folks presenting at the Community Leadership Summit on Saturday and Sunday before OSCON. The Community Leadership Summit is free so you can join us there, even if you're local and aren't planning to buy a ticket to OSCON.

Saturday, July 14th:

Deb Nicholson, our recently joined Director of Community Outreach leads a conversation on,"Handling Big Changes" at 11:45am.

Sunday, July 15th:

Sage Sharp, a member of the Outreachy project leadership committee as well as a consultant to Outreachy and founder of Otter Tech which help companies with diversity, will be speaking. At 2pm Sage will tackle, "The Nth Pull Request: Encouraging Intermediate Contributors."

Our Distinguished Technologist, Bradley Kuhn will be talking about our fiscal sponsorship work at 3pm, "There’s No Place Like Home: How Do We Provide Organizational Homes to FLOSS Communities?"

Monday, July 16th:

Join us from 7pm -10pm at McMenamin's Broadway Pub! The address is 1504 NE Broadway St, and it's about a 20 minute walk (or an 11 minute bus ride) from the Oregon Convention Center. All four of our full-time employees will be in attendance. There is nothing we'd like more than to spend an evening talking about the future of free software and its toughest problems with supporters and friends. Light snacks will be provided.

Wednesday and Thursday, July 18 & 19:

Once OSCON starts, we'll be on the expo floor all day Wednesday (10am-7pm) and Thursday (10am - 4pm). Swing by for stickers or "flossip" (or both.) Please help us by volunteering to help us on the expo floor. In person conversations are the single best way to get new people excited about our work. Let us know if you can help out by committing to a few hours of booth time. We'd really appreciate it!

Deb will give a short talk on Wednesday in the Open Source Initiative's Anniversary track. Deb speaks at 4:15pm about the history fo the free software movement, Free Software: Our Past and Our Future". Happy 20th Anniversary OSI!

Finally on the last day of OSCON, Deb will be talking about, "Blockchain: The Ethical Considerations" at 1:45pm in Portland 256. If you're in the area, we hope you'll find time to say hello, find out what's happening with your favorite Conservancy initiatives or tell us what you've been up to. Questions about our time in Portland? Feel free to email or swing by #conservancy on freenode.net

Tags: conservancy, conferences, events

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