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Key Charities That Advance Software Freedom Are Worthy of Your Urgent Support

by Bradley M. Kuhn on January 25, 2016

I've had the pleasure and the privilege, for the last 20 years, to be either a volunteer or employee of the two most important organizations for the advance of software freedom and users' rights to copy, share, modify and redistribute software. In 1996, I began volunteering for the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and worked as its Executive Director from 2001–2005. I continued as a volunteer for the FSF since then, and now serve as a volunteer on FSF's Board of Directors. I was also one of the first volunteers for Software Freedom Conservancy when we founded it in 2006, and I was the primary person doing the work of the organization as a volunteer from 2006–2010. I've enjoyed having a day job as a Conservancy employee since 2011.

These two organizations have been the center of my life's work. Between them, I typically spend 50–80 hours every single week doing a mix of paid and volunteer work. Both my hobby and my career are advancing software freedom.

I choose to give my time and work to these organizations because they provide the infrastructure that make my work possible. The Free Software community has shown that the work of many individuals, who care deeply about a cause but cooperate together toward a common goal, has an impact greater than any individuals can ever have working separately. The same is often true for cooperating organizations: charities, like Conservancy and the FSF, that work together with each other amplify their impact beyond the expected.

Both Conservancy and the FSF pursue specific and differing approaches and methods to the advancement of software freedom. The FSF is an advocacy organization that raises awareness about key issues that impact the future of users' freedoms and rights, and finds volunteers and pays staff to advocate about these issues. Conservancy is a fiscal sponsor, which means one of our key activities is operational work, meeting the logistical and organizational needs of volunteers so they can focus on the production of great Free Software and Free Documentation. Meanwhile, both Conservancy and FSF dedicated themselves to sponsoring software projects: the FSF through the GNU project, and Conservancy through its member projects. And, most importantly, both charities stand up for the rights of users by enforcing and defending copyleft licenses such as the GNU GPL.

Conservancy and the FSF show in concrete terms that two charities can work together to increase their impact. Last year, our organizations collaborated on many projects, such as the proposed FCC rule changes for wireless devices, jointly handled a GPL enforcement action against Canonical, Ltd., published the principles of community-oriented GPL enforcement, and continued our collaboration on copyleft.org. We're already discussing lots of ways that the two organizations can work together in 2016!

I'm proud to give so much of my time and energy to both these excellent organizations. But, I also give my money as well: I was the first person in history to become an Associate Member of the FSF (back in November 2002), and have gladly paid my monthly dues since then. Today, I also signed up as an annual Supporter of Conservancy, because I'm want to ensure that Conservancy's meets its current pledge match — the next 215 Supporters who sign up before January 31st will double their donation via the match.

For just US$20 each month, you make sure the excellent work of both these organizations can continue. This is quite a deal: if you are employed, University-educated professional living in the industrialized world, US$20 is probably the same amount you'd easily spend on a meals at restaurants or other luxuries. Isn't it even a better luxury to know that these two organizations can have employ a years' worth of effort of standing up for your software freedom in 2016? You can make the real difference by making your charitable contribution to these two organizations today:

Please don't wait: both fundraising deadlines are just six days away!

Tags: conservancy, supporter

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

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

A Special Appeal for Support by Bradley M. Kuhn

by Bradley M. Kuhn on December 29, 2015

In this video, Bradley M. Kuhn, Conservancy's Distinguished Technologist and President, asks you to support Conservancy. Bradley explains a few details of what Conservancy does for its member projects and the Free Software community and the benefits of becoming a Supporter.

Note that if you are in the USA, you should renew or join in the next few days to be eligible for a tax deduction on your 2015 taxes (to the extent permitted). Also, Conservancy currently has a match provided by Private Internet Access, which will double your supporter donation if you make it soon!

This video is also available on Youtube.

Tags: conservancy, supporter

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