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Remembering Shawn Pearce

by Jeff King on January 30, 2018

The Git project and Conservancy mourn the passing of Shawn Pearce, a long-time developer and member of the Git community.

Shawn joined the Git project in 20061, and over the past 12 years wore many hats.

He is the third most prolific contributor to Git by commit count, with over 1200 patches. His credits include many fundamental systems, such as the Git-over-HTTP protocol, the fast-import system (a format which has been adopted by many other version control systems!), and the concept of reflogs (including the beautiful hack of their @{} syntax).

Beyond individual technical contributions, Shawn had a knack for seeing what the greater ecosystem needed and wasn’t afraid to jump head-first into a new project. He wrote git-gui, the first graphical Git client. In order to provide Git support in the Eclipse IDE, he wrote JGit, a from-scratch Java re-implementation of Git. He also started the Gerrit Code Review project, which is used for all Android development.

But most of all, we will remember Shawn for his leadership in the project. He organized the first “GitTogether” of project developers in 2008. He served multiple tours as interim maintainer over the years. He was instrumental in getting the project involved in Google’s Summer of Code program. And since Git joined Software Freedom Conservancy in 2010, he has served on Git’s project leadership committee.

Shawn exemplified the kindness, patience, and technical excellence required of an open source contributor. And also the stubbornness and determination it takes to reimplement the entire project in Java, when that’s what’s called for. We’re grateful for his many years of service to the project, to the open source community, and to the field of programming.

We also know that his work on Git was just a small slice of who he was as a person, and our hearts goes out to his family. There’s a memorial fund, and his family has encouraged people to donate to cancer research in lieu of flowers.

Mostly, I really want people to understand the profound impact of the work Shawn did. There are many “unsung” heroes of open source, people who work behind the scenes that users never know about. A vast number of people use Git and without Shawn, Git would be really different. We will miss him.

1Shawn’s very first email to the list was the announcement of an alternate user interface for Git. The project ended up folding, but I’ll give him credit for ambition.

Thank you to all our donors and Supporters - we did it!

by Karen Sandler on January 17, 2018

On behalf of Conservancy's staff and all of our member projects, I am excited to thank all of the people who contributed to this year's match challenge. Thanks to your generosity, we exceeded the amounts offered by Private Internet Access and an anonymous donor set for this year's annual fundraising drive.

What inspires me the most about this success is that we could not have done it without a high level of engagement from our volunteers. You not only donated your money to help sustain Conservancy, but you also took time to become a promotion machine for us. You blogged about it, you tweeted and tooted about it, you wrote about it on chat forums and you put up banners on websites. One volunteer even forwent payment on a small consulting gig and asked instead that the amount be donated to us.

Two years ago, we decided to become an individual supported charity to ensure independence from large corporate donors.Your support demonstrates that we can succeed and be vibrantly independent. We are humbled by your commitment to our mission and your trust in us and our work. We will use the money as best as we can to advance software freedom. We're so excited for the work we can all do together in 2018!

Tags: conservancy, supporter

Why Scènes À Faire Should Apply to Command-Line Interfaces

by Bradley M. Kuhn on January 3, 2018

Today, Conservancy joined other amici in the Cisco v. Arista case. Specifically, the amicus brief discusses why the scènes à faire affirmative defense for copyright infringement is appropriate and actually necessary regarding imitation of command-line interfaces. I hope this blog post will convince you that software freedom contributors should care about the issue.

The easiest example to understand these issues is Unix. Most of us know the basics of Unix's user interface, which primarily consists of commands that live in /bin and /usr/bin, that each include various command-line options that we've memorized. When the GNU project started, as RMS has described in his talks, he chose to imitate this user interface. Many reasons were obvious, but the most important one was that Unix was already an industry standard and users already knew its interface.

At the time, no one would have considered that you'd be liable for copyright infringement merely writing some new programs — 100% from scratch — that happened to have the same names and the same command-line options that were found in Unix. That interface, in fact, has been reimplemented at least a hundred times — by many Unix vendors and by various software freedom projects (GNU of course, but also by Conservancy's BusyBox project and others). As developers, we'd be incredulous if told that GNU infringed Unix's original copyrights. But that's exactly the argument that Cisco made about Arista's imitation of Cisco's command-line interface.

I'm not a fan of either Cisco nor Arista; all the software in question is proprietary software. Indeed, GitHub, which is one of our joined amici here, produces much proprietary software around Git, and that's bothers me too. I don't like it when any company writes proprietary software to work along with FLOSS. However, I agree with GitHub and Arista that copyright restrictions should not extend too far; copyright should not stifle simple command-line interoperatiblity. Merely imitating a command-line interface of one program in another should not cause (by itself) a copyright infringement.

Now, the last part to discuss are the questions: What is an affirmative defense, and what is scènes à faire? So, to explain it roughly with as little legalese (IANAL) as possible, an affirmative defense is one that you must prove after you're accused, usually through a trial (which is what occurred here). The burden is on the Defendant to prove that affirmative defense. (By contrast, if Arista had shown that, in fact, their command-line interface bore no similarity to Cisco's, that would have been a “negating defense”. Such defenses are much more assured to win, as they don't place such a burden on the defense.)

So, what, specifically, is the affirmative defense of scènes à faire? It's a concept originally from fictional works that generally expresses this idea: “if you're going to tell this story at all, you need at least these elements”. In this example, the analogy works like this: if your users will give a router textual commands via the command-line, that user will expect certain commands to work. Cisco's commands are industry standard and expected by users, similar to those in Unix. The amicus brief argues that this is a reasonable application of scènes à faire, because there is great benefit to the public and users if such imitation is permitted on command-lines without copyright restriction. Remember, under the USA Constitution, copyright exists as an “exclusive Right to … Writings” only because such exclusive controls “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. Copyright is not an absolute right of control over written works by the authors, and its tentacles must be shortened by the public interest.

Finally, I call on the Linux Foundation to publicly ask their platinum member, Cisco, to stop this aggressive litigation on an edge case of copyright. Such a request would be consistent with the Linux Foundation's public criticism of others for copyright enforcement. This case is one where we all should stand together in the interests of free innovation.

Tags: conservancy, law

Judy Gichoya, Doctor & Developer of LibreHealth, Asks You to Support Conservancy

by Bradley M. Kuhn on December 31, 2017

About a year ago, we announced the joining of a newly formed project, LibreHealth, as a Conservancy member project. This year, I had the opportunity to meet, at various conferences, Judy Gichoya, who is a medical doctor specializing in Radiology from Kenya, and is also a software developer on the LibreHealth project.

Judy represents so much about why we at Conservancy continue to fight for software freedom: we foster technology that everyone can examine, improve, and share, and allow people from different backgrounds — including geographically, professionally and culturally — to come together to make that technology better.

Invariably, every time I go to a doctor's office here in the USA, the staff complains (or makes an excuse) for the proprietary software they use to handle my medical data. My colleague, Karen Sandler, has researched and spoken extensively about the health dangers of proprietary software on medical devices. LibreHealth is one of many projects which seeks to solve some of these problems by creating more medical-related software that gives doctors and patients the software freedom they deserve.

Judy recorded this video to ask you to become a Supporter of Conservancy. On this last day of 2017, we all ask you to donate generously to help our work continue!

Tags: conservancy, supporter, LibreHealth

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