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Displaying posts by Karen Sandler

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

We Matched our 50 Supporter Challenge!

by Karen Sandler on December 4, 2015

Thanks to all of you who signed up and helped us spread the word, we successful earned our $6,000 match! This brings our overall goal to continue our enforcement work down to 2,367. We've added a lot of Supporters in the week and a half since we launched our fundraiser but we have a long way to go. We must substantially increase our individual support to be able to continue defending software freedom for our member projects and the entire free and open source software community. You're showing us that with your help we can do this!

Tags: conservancy, GPL, supporter

Half Way to Our First Goal and a Message from Stefano Zacchiroli

by Karen Sandler on November 30, 2015

We're happy to celebrate Cyber Monday by getting half way to our first goal of 750 Supporters! We still have 16 Supporters to sign up to meet our match by Friday. Help us get the rest of the way!

Stefano Zacchiroli, Debian project member, former three-term Debian Project Leader and OSI board member recorded this video to encourage you to sign up as a Conservancy Supporter. Stefano talks about why he supports Conservancy and in particular how our activities are ethical, “ensuring that the amount of free software in the world increases year after year.”

Join Stefano and help us get all the way to our fundraising goals by signing up as a Conservancy Supporter today! and helping us to spread the word!

Tags: conservancy, supporter

Our fundraiser and awesome Supporters pitching in

by Karen Sandler on November 24, 2015

** Photo of Conservancy Supporters.  Photo by-Carlo-Piana under CC-0 **

You may have noticed that Conservancy launched a big fundraising campaign this week. As we talk about more fully on our Supporter sign up page, over the past year and in particular since we launched the VMware suit some of our corporate funding has been pulled because we tackle important but controversial issues, like GPL compliance. We have even have had talks blocked or canceled at conferences.

In order to ensure that we can continue our work, we must transition to a primarily individual-supported model. We will continue to seek corporate support, of course, and we're grateful for the corporate donors whose support has continued. But our constituency is the software freedom community, and that's where our support should ultimately come from. It's not enough for us to think that the work we do is right - a significant portion of the public must also agree and be willing to vote with their money. Without that support we simply cannot continue. The 10% that our member projects contribute doesn't cover even one staffer plus basic overhead.

We have structured the campaign with two make-or-break levels: a lower level that will just sustain the organization for a "bare minimum" service plan to our member projects, and a separate, higher level to continue doing copyleft enforcement. If we don't meet these goals we'll be forced to radically restructure.

You can see the names of some of our Supporters who choose to be acknowledged, and they are a very impressive bunch!

One Supporter, the very awesome Christopher Allan Webber took some time to sit down with Bradley and me to talk about the campaign and about GPL enforcement generally. You can hear it as the latest episode of Bradley's and my oggcast Free as in Freedom. It's the first episode of FaiF that we've released in some time, and I'm glad we were able to get it together in time for this important fundraiser.

In the coming weeks we will have a few videos from other Supporters about why they choose to support us. Carol Smith of Google was very kind to do one.

Many thanks to Carol for supporting sofware freedom and our organization! Join Carol and become a supporter of Conservancy today.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, supporter

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