Molly de Blanc: Free Software Superstar
byon November 27, 2018
I recently interviewed the inestimable Molly de Blanc. Molly is on the Board of Directors for the Open Source Initiative, works as a Campaigns Manager for the Free Software Foundation and also happens to be an amazing baker. She has been working in free software for 4 years, and involved for 10 years -- plus she is the driving force behind the individual super-donor part of our year-end donation match. Molly and several other outstanding individuals are joining Private Internet Access and a big anonymous donor in offering a total of $90K in matching funds to Conservancy for our continued work to provide both a "back-office" for free software and a clear voice in favor of community-driven licensing and governance practices.
Deb: I know you're passionate about free software and an enthusiastic supporter of non-profit work. Can you tell me why you think non-profits are important for free software?
Molly: Honestly, I think we just can't trust corporate actors to do the right thing for user freedom without financial incentives. Nonprofits are powered by their donors, members, and supporters. This means that they're working for those people -- people who care -- rather than typical corporate and financial interests. When you have a nonprofit working on a cause, you have someone working for that cause.
Creating good free and open source software and infrastructure isn't enough. We need organizational support for those projects. We also need organized advocacy, which best comes from nonprofits and foundations, whose entire mission is supporting user freedom.
Deb: How did MollyGive start? Who named it?
Molly: For a little background context, starting somewhere around 2013 or 2014 I began to offer to match people's end of year donations from my own donation fund. I don't remember the exact year, but my blog references it "happened again" in 2015. I forget what I called it for the first year/s, but David Nusinow dubbed it MollyGive, which was catchy if not a little egotistical when I need to refer to it.
I liked donating, but had trouble deciding where to most effectively donate. I wanted to reach out to causes that mattered, but were outside of the sphere of my volunteer work, which at the time was around free software, libraries, and music. I have amazing people in my life, and trust them. It was nice to contract out my decision making to others. I've gotten to reach groups like the American Indian College Fund, Black and Pink, and MassCare. (Check out the complete list here.)
I also wanted to encourage others to give. I started donating when I didn't have a lot of money -- and understand how demoralizing it can feel when you're only able to give $5. I hoped to encourage people to give by helping them to realize how much their giving matters.
It's important to note that I don't consider this an extension of MollyGive -- for me it is how I'm using a large chunk of the MollyGive funds this year. [We] didn't explicitly ask others to participate in MollyGive -- we asked them to help Conservancy.
Deb: How hard was it to find folks to join you on this match after you had the idea?
Molly: Well, Karen helped me! The first few donors were easy to find. Between Linux Conf Australia 2018 and DebConf 18, I picked up a few enthusiastic individuals. After that, I got a lot of "nos." Karen and I together helped them change their minds -- that's how we got two of our matchers. At least one person approached us after hearing about it, which was really inspiring.
Deb: What do you hope to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?
Molly: Conservancy is slowly gathering all of my favorite free software projects (that aren't already 501(c)3s) under its umbrella, like the Debian Copyright Aggregation Project, Etherpad, Git, Outreachy, and Reproducible Builds. I expect that in the next five years you'll get the rest.
As someone who has worked at nonprofits for most of their career, I'd say I probably think about the Conservancy differently. For example, I'd like to see the staff expanded, especially to include more organizational infrastructure roles, like a development director. It would be great if it hosted a summit for its member projects.
From a programmatic perspective, I'd really like to see others recognize the Conservancy's role on the cutting edge of working for user freedom. This includes things like being recognized by media outlets as an authority on issues relating to ethics in technology; providing support for developers and engineers looking to build freedom respecting contracts at their work places; and increased copyleft compliance. One of my hopes is to see strong legal wins for copyleft, and I think the Conservancy will play an integral role in that happening.
I see Conservancy as the organization that can do what no other nonprofit can do for software freedom. I see a deep understanding across its entire staff of the necessity of free and open source software. I think that you and I have similar visions for a world where user freedom is built into every piece of technology. I look forward to seeing how the Conservancy helps turn that vision into reality.
Deb: Anything else you'd like to add?
Please donate! I love giving away money -- especially other people's! By donating you're not just helping free and open source software, you're helping me, personally, because I get to have another successful year of matching donations.
I'd like to express my deep gratitude to the other people participating in the match -- whether they're choosing to be public about their identity or staying anonymous. I'd also like to express my gratitude to you, reading this, and everyone else who is choosing to support Conservancy.
Thoughts on IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat
byon October 31, 2018
There’s been quite a stir in our communities following the announcement that IBM is acquiring Red Hat. As I considered the announcement, one part of the email to employees by Jim Whitehurst posted on the Red Hat blog really struck me:
I appreciate that everyone will experience a range of emotions as a result of this news. Excited, anxious, surprised, fear of the unknown, including new challenges and working relationships - these are all ways I would describe my emotions. What I know is that we will continue to focus on growing our culture as part of a new organization. We will continue to focus on the success of our customers. We will continue to nurture our relationships with partners. Collaboration, transparency, participation, and meritocracy - these values make us Red Hat and they are not changing. In fact, I hope we will help bring this culture across all of IBM.
In addition to the normal anxiety, surprise and fear experienced by employees of companies in the wake of an announcement of a merger, takeover or ordinary reorganization, this transaction will also reverberate through the community outside of the company. Free software contributors across many communities and industries are feeling some of the same apprehension and unease that ordinarily would be reserved for employees.
I wish IBM and Red Hat luck, and I’m optimistic that the partnership will yield good things for both companies and their employees. I hope that following the acquisition, Red Hat is able to maintain its special relationship to the free and open source communities it shepherds, and that its employees continue to feel empowered to support critical free software solutions in a community-focused way. I also hope that in its announcement to keep Red Hat its own unit within IBM is an indication of IBM’s support of Red Hat’s unique business and that the deal does wind up bringing that culture to more of IBM. While some folks at IBM are important contributors to free software, IBM’s is primarily a culture of proprietary software and Red Hat’s is one of open source, so in my view this solution is likely to yield the most success anyway.
I’ve heard people imagining the best from this deal, and also people imagining the worst. The one thing everyone can agree on is that there’s a lot of uncertainty, despite whatever reassurances are contained in corporate messaging. Because of this, I think it’s a good time to remind everyone of the ways we can protect ourselves now and in the future from these kinds of uncertainties related to changes in ownership, structure or motivations of corporate players in free and open source software:
Use copyleft. Quite a lot of the software projects that Red Hat plays a critical role in are licensed under a version of the GPL. When we use strong copyleft we set the ground rules for corporate actors to participate with each other and with the public. We get a level playing field and assurance that companies will be less incentivized to go their own way. (We also get other good benefits like the right to the source code, allowing us to be in control of the technology we rely on.)
Support strong charities. Nonprofits, and in particular charitable nonprofits, keep the community’s interests at the forefront. They can serve as copyright aggregators in a more trusted way, facilitate cooperation of different stakeholders and function in a variety of ways to forward the long term interest of software freedom. The more we invest in our critical foundations, the less vulnerable we are to changes in corporate actors. The stronger foundations like GNOME, Conservancy and the FSF are, the easier it is for communities to weather a new direction from a prominent company.
Encourage diversely held interests. Making sure that interests are not aggregated in single for-profit actors insulates communities against a change in ownership of a company. For effective success in using copyleft, copyrights must not only be with for-profit companies but have substantial copyright holding from charities and individuals. Also, technical leadership should include actors from different types of entities. When copyrights are held by many actors in the field (or by charitable nonprofits), it’s much harder to relicense projects as proprietary or on otherwise less ideal terms, and copyleft enforcement is a community-driven rather than for-profit activity. When care of the technical direction of a project isn’t significantly concentrated in one company, free software projects are more robust. Development may be slower with community-led contribution, but we can have greater confidence about the stability of the project and the community.
The interests of companies are not always aligned with the free software community or the public. Companies that seem to be in one stable condition today may change dramatically tomorrow. While I expect Red Hat to flourish under IBM ownership, the acquisition is a good example of the kinds of changes we must be prepared for down the road, whether it be with Red Hat or any of the other companies on which we’ve come to rely.
Why We Chose a Robust Code of Conduct for Copyleft Conf
byon October 30, 2018
We want all kinds of people to feel safe and comfortable participating as speakers or attendees at Copyleft Conf. Unfortunately, that is neither a given or even the default in many FOSS communities. In order to be credibly welcoming, it is incumbent on each free software community and event to proactively say, "Yes, you are welcome here" and, "No, we will not look away if someone attempts to belittle you, harass you or harm you." It is not enough to merely suggest good behavior. People need to know that those who willfully disrupt our community -- by making it unsafe or uncomfortable for others to participate -- will be asked to leave.
We feel strongly that the future of free software depends on an open, welcoming and evolving conversation around licensing practices and compliance. The copyleft licenses that many of the world's largest free software projects -- like Linux, Git, Drupal and Wordpress -- rely on must be both well understood and used in good faith. This conversation around copyleft is well overdue. We can't afford to turn away those who would help us build the bridges to increase adoption and achieve better compliance.
Free software is meaningless if it is only free for some or is alienating for large swathes of people. At Conservancy, we believe that control of our computing experience affects our democracy, our privacy, the news we have access to and our online relationships. Software freedom is important and it must be for everyone. Everyone must feel that they are welcome to participate in the crucial conversations about the future of the tools we use, the kinds of communities we build and the structures we put in place to ensure software freedom. If you don't agree with our starting principle -- that software freedom is for everyone -- then we will not allow you to alienate others who are willing to work with us, to achieve software freedom for everyone.
The first ever Copyleft Conf takes place on February 4th, in Brussels, the day after FOSDEM. The Call for Proposals is open now.
Bradley in Lisbon, then Bristol Next Week
byon October 26, 2018
Our Distinguished Technologist Bradley Kuhn will be in Europe to speak at OpenWrt Summit in Lisbon and keynoting freenode #live in Bristol next week. Bradley always enjoys connecting with Conservancy supporters when he is on the road at free software events.
The OpenWrt Summit will be most valuable for OpenWrt users and anyone who is interested in free and open source wireless networking, or embedded Linux. Bradley speaks right after lunch on October 29th about "GPL Compliance For Advancement of OpenWRT." The conference takes place in the Communications Museum in Lisbon, Portugal on Monday and Tuesday, October 29th and 30th, 2018.
freenode #live is a community-focused live event designed to build and strengthen relationships between free and open source software developers and users. The conference takes place at We The Curious in Bristol, UK on Saturday and Sunday, November 3rd and 4th, 2018. Bradley is one of four keynotes for the second iteration of this conference.