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Displaying posts by Bradley M. Kuhn

Why You Should Speak At & Attend LinuxConf Australia

by Bradley M. Kuhn on August 4, 2016

Monday 1 February 2016 was the longest day of my life, but I don't mean that in the canonical, figurative, and usually negative sense of that phrase. I mean it literally and in a positive way. I woke up that morning Amsterdam in the Netherlands — having the previous night taken a evening train from Brussels, Belgium with my friend and colleague Tom Marble. Tom and I had just spent the weekend at FOSDEM 2016, where he and I co-organize the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom (with our mutual friends and colleagues, Richard Fontana and Karen M. Sandler).

Tom and I headed over to AMS airport around 07:00 local time, found some breakfast and boarded our flights. Tom was homeward bound, but I was about to do the crazy thing that he'd done in the reverse a few years before: I was speaking at FOSDEM and LinuxConf Australia, back-to-back. In fact, because the airline fares were substantially cheaper this way, I didn't book a “round the world” flight, but instead two back-to-back round-trip tickets. I boarded the plane at AMS at 09:30 that morning (local time), and landed in my (new-ish) hometown of Portland, OR as afternoon there began. I went home, spent the afternoon with my wife, sister-in-law, and dogs, washed my laundry, and repacked my bag. My flight to LAX departed at 19:36 local time, a little after US/Pacific sunset.

I crossed the Pacific ocean, the international dateline, left a day on deposit to pickup on the way back, and after 24 hours of almost literally chasing the sun, I arrived in Melbourne on the morning of Wednesday 3 February, road a shuttle bus, dumped my bags at my room, and arrived just in time for the Wednesday afternoon tea break at LinuxConf Australia 2016 in Geelong.

Nearly everyone who heard this story — or saw me while it was happening — asked me the same question: Why are you doing this?. The five to six people packed in with me in my coach section on the LAX→SYD leg are probably still asking this, because I had an allergic attack of some sort most of the flight and couldn't stop coughing, even with two full bags of Fisherman's Friends over those 15 hours.

But, nevertheless, I gave a simple answer to everyone who questioned my crazy BRU→AMS→PDX→LAX→SYD→MEL itinerary: FOSDEM and LinuxConf AU are two of the most important events on the Free Software annual calendar. There's just no question. I'll write more about FOSDEM sometime soon, but the rest of this post, I'll dedicate to LinuxConf Australia (LCA).

One of my biggest regrets in Free Software is that I was once — and you'll be surprised by this given my story above — a bit squeamish about the nearly 15 hour flight to get from the USA to Australia, and therefore I didn't attend LCA until 2015. LCA began way back in 1999. Keep in mind that, other than FOSDEM, no major, community-organized events have survived from that time. But LCA has the culture and mindset of the kinds of conferences that our community made in 1999.

LCA is community organized and operated. Groups of volunteers each year plan the event. In the tradition of science fiction conventions and other hobbyist activities, groups bid for the conference and offer their time and effort to make the conference a success. They have an annual hand-off meeting to be sure the organization lessons are passed from one committee to the next, and some volunteers even repeat their involvement year after year. For organizational structure, they rely on a non-profit organization, Linux Australia, to assist with handling the funds and providing infrastructure (just like Conservancy does for our member projects and their conferences!).

I believe fully that the success of software freedom and GNU/Linux in particular has not primarily come from companies that allow developers to spend some of their time coding on upstream. Sure, many Free Software projects couldn't survive without that component, but what really makes GNU/Linux, or any Free Software project, truly special is that there's a community of users and developers who use, improve, and learn about the software because it excites and interests them. LCA is one of the few events specifically designed to invite that sort of person to attend, and it has for almost an entire generation stood in stark contrast the highly corporate, for-profit/trade-assocation events that slowly took over our community in the years that followed LCA's founding. (Remember all those years of LinuxWorld Expo? I wasn't even sad when IDG stopped running it!)

Speaking particularly of earlier this year, LCA 2016 in Geelong, Australia was a particular profound event for me. LCA is one of the few events that accepts my rather political talks about what's happening in Open Source and Free Software, so I gave a talk on Friday 5 February 2016 entitled Copyleft For the Next Decade: A Comprehensive Plan, which was recorded, so you can watch it, or read the LWN article about it. I do warn everyone that the jokes did not go over well (mine never do), so after I finished, I was feeling a bit down that I hadn't made the talk entertaining enough. But then, something amazing happened: people started walking up to me and telling me how important my message was. One individual even came up and told me that he was excited enough that he'd like to match any donation that Software Freedom Conservancy received during LCA 2016. Since it was the last day of the event, I quickly went to one of the organizers, Kathy Reid, and asked if they would announce this match during the closing ceremonies; she agreed. In a matter of just an hour or two, I'd gone from believing my talk had fallen flat to realizing that — regardless of whether I'd presented well — the concepts I discussed had connected with people.

Then, I sat down in the closing session. I started to tear up slightly when the organizers announced the donation match. Within 90 seconds, though, that turned to full tears of joy when the incoming President of Linux Australia, Hugh Blemings, came on stage and said:

[I'll start with] a Software Freedom Conservancy thing, as it turns out. … I can tell that most of you weren't at Bradley's talk earlier on today, but if there is one talk I'd encourage you to watch on the playback later it would be that one. There's a very very important message in there and something to take away for all of us. On behalf of the Council I'd like to announce … that we're actually in the process of making a significant donation from Linux Australia to Software Freedom Conservancy as well. I urge all of you to consider contributing individual as well, and there is much left for us to be done as a community on that front.

I hope that this post helps organizers of events like LCA fully understand how much something like this means to us who run a small charities — and not just with regard to the financial contributions. Knowing that the organizers of community events feel so strongly positive about our work really keeps us going. We work hard and spend much time at Conservancy to serve the Open Source and Free Software community, and knowing the work is appreciated inspires us to keep working. Furthermore, we know that without these events, it's much tougher for us to reach others with our message of software freedom. So, for us, the feeling is mutual: I'm delighted that the Linux Australia and LCA folks feel so positively about Conservancy, and I now look forward to another 15 hour flight for the next LCA.

And, on that note, I chose a strategic time to post this story. On Friday 5 August 2016, the CFP for LCA 2017 closes. So, now is the time for all of you to submit a talk. If you regularly speak at Open Source and Free Software events, or have been considering it, this event really needs to be on your calendar. I look forward to seeing all of you Hobart this January.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, supporter, conferences

The VMware Hearing and the Long Road Ahead

by Bradley M. Kuhn on February 29, 2016

On last Thursday, Christoph Hellwig and his legal counsel attended a hearing in Hellwig's VMware case that Conservancy currently funds. Harald Welte, world famous for his GPL enforcement work in the early 2000s, also attended as an observer and wrote an excellent summary. I'd like to highlight a few parts of his summary, in the context of Conservancy's past litigation experience regarding the GPL.

First of all, in great contrast to the cases here in the USA, the Court acknowledged fully the level of public interest and importance of the case. Judges who have presided over Conservancy's GPL enforcement cases USA federal court take all matters before them quite seriously. However, in our hearings, the federal judges preferred to ignore entirely the public policy implications regarding copyleft; they focused only on the copyright infringement and claims related to it. Usually, appeals courts in the USA are the first to broadly consider larger policy questions. There are definitely some advantages to the first Court showing interest in the public policy concerns.

However, beyond this initial point, I was struck that Harald's summary sounded so much like the many hearings I attended in the late 2000's and early 2010's regarding Conservancy's BusyBox cases. From his description, it sounds to me like judges around the world aren't all that different: they like to ask leading questions and speculate from the bench. It's their job to dig deep into an issue, separate away irrelevancies, and assure that the stark truth of the matter presents itself before the Court for consideration. In an adversarial process like this one, that means impartially asking both sides plenty of tough questions.

That process can be a rollercoaster for anyone who feels, as we do, that the Court will rule on the specific legal issues around which we have built our community. We should of course not fear the hard questions of judges; it's their job to ask us the hard questions, and it's our job to answer them as best we can. So often, here in the USA, we've listened to Supreme Court arguments (for which the audio is released publicly), and every pundit has speculated incorrectly about how the justices would rule based on their questions. Sometimes, a judge asks a clarification question regarding a matter they already understand to support a specific opinion and help their colleagues on the bench see the same issue. Other times, judges asks a questions for the usual reasons: because the judges themselves are truly confused and unsure. Sometimes, particularly in our past BusyBox cases, I've seen the judge ask the opposing counsel a question to expose some bit of bluster that counsel sought to pass off as settled law. You never know really why a judge asked a specific question until you see the ruling. At this point in the VMware case, nothing has been decided; this is just the next step forward in a long process. We enforced here in the USA for almost five years, we've been in litigation in Germany for about one year, and the earliest the Germany case can possibly resolve is this May.

Kierkegaard wrote that it is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards. Court cases are a prime example of this phenomenon. We know it is gut-wrenching for our Supporters to watch every twist and turn in the case. It has taken so long for us to reach the point where the question of a combined work of software under the GPL is before a Court; now that it is we all want this part to finish quickly. We remain very grateful to all our Supporters who stick with us, and the new ones who will join today. That funding makes it possible for Conservancy to pursue this and other matters to ensure strong copyleft for our future, and handle every other detail that our member projects need. The one certainty is that our best chance of success is working hard for plenty of hours, and we appreciate that all of you continue to donate so that the hard work can continue. We also thank the Linux developers in Germany, like Harald, who are supporting us locally and able to attend in person and report back.

Tags: conservancy, GPL

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

A Requiem for Ian Murdock

by Bradley M. Kuhn on December 30, 2015

I first met Ian Murdock gathered around a table at some bar, somewhere, after some conference in the late 1990s. Progeny Linux Systems' founding was soon to be announced, and Ian had invited a group from the Debian BoF along to hear about “something interesting”; the post-BoF meetup was actually a briefing on his plans for Progeny.

Many of the details (such as which conference and where on the planet it was), I've forgotten, but I've never forgotten Ian gathering us around, bending my ear to hear in the loud bar, and getting one of my first insider scoops on something big that was about to happen in Free Software. Ian was truly famous in my world; I felt like I'd won the jackpot of meeting a rock star.

More recently, I gave a keynote at DebConf this year and talked about how long I've used Debian and how much it has meant to me. I've since then talked with many people about how the Debian community is rapidly becoming a unicorn among Free Software projects — one of the last true community-driven, non-commercial projects.

A culture like that needs a huge group to rise to fruition, and there are no specific actions that can ensure creation of a multi-generational project like Debian. But, there are lots of ways to make the wrong decisions early. As near as I can tell, Ian artfully avoided the project-ending mistakes; he made the early decisions right.

Ian cared about Free Software and wanted to make something useful for the community. He teamed up with (for a time in Debian's earliest history) the FSF to help Debian in its non-profit connections and roots. And, when the time came, he did what all great leaders do: he stepped aside and let a democratic structure form. He paved the way for the creation of Debian's strong Constitutional and democratic governance. Debian has had many great leaders in its long history, but Ian was (effectively) the first DPL, and he chose not to be a BDFL.

The Free Software community remains relatively young. Thus, loss of our community members jar us in the manner that uniquely unsettles the young. In other words, anyone we lose now, as we've lost Ian this week, has died too young. It's a cliché to say, but I say anyway that we should remind ourselves to engage with those around us every day, and to welcome new people gladly. When Ian invited me around that table, I was truly nobody: he'd never met me before — indeed no one in the Free Software community knew who I was then. Yet, the mere fact that I stayed late at a conference to attend the Debian BoF was enough for him — enough for him to even invite me to hear the secret plans of his new company. Ian's trust — his welcoming nature — remains for me unforgettable. I hope to watch that nature flourish in our community for the remainder of all our lives.

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