Displaying posts by Karen Sandler
Our fundraiser and awesome Supporters pitching in
byon November 24, 2015
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.
Linaro Connect, Volkswagen and Developer Ethics
byon September 30, 2015
Last week I had the privilege of delivering Friday's keynote address at Linaro Connect. I was so excited and pleased that I had been asked to speak about compliance there. As Linaro is a consortium for Linux kernel related initiatives on ARM, I was excited and curious as to what the conference was like and thrilled to be given the chance to talk about why copyleft and GPL compliance are so fundamental to the success of collaborative engineering initiatives like Linaro. The fact that the conference is so developer focused was a huge bonus.
One of the topics I touched on, given its newsworthiness was the situation with Volkswagen. Many people have talked about the implications of so-called dieselgate and its implications for free and open source software. In my talk I focused on another aspect of this - engineer and developer culture.
When I was in engineering school at The Cooper Union we had a mandatory course during our first year where we read the book To Engineer Is Human (which incidentally, if you buy you can sign up to support Conservancy on Amazon Smile first). The book discusses prominent engineering failures (including the dramatic Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse “Galloping Gertie”), why they failed and how such failure is ultimately a part of successful societal engineering. In the class we talked about the culture of engineering ethics and how engineers ultimately have a special responsibility in society on behalf of the people who are impacted by the work they do.
In the recent case of Volkswagen, the failure of the company to behave ethically not only caused a negative impact on the environment and alienated VW's customer base, but also had a massively negative effect on the company's bottom line and financial outlook. How many engineers at the company felt horribly about what was happening and felt powerless to do anything about it? And in that case, the failure of Volkswagen to do the right thing was bad for the company in a number of levels.
As we see that copyleft and best security are linked (I talked about the Honeymoon Effect during the talk, and you can read my old paper on medical device safety plus many great discussions by folks like Matthew Garrett and even Bruce Schneier) and we embark upon an Internet of Things network, the ethical implications of software freedom become all the more poignant. In addition to the ethical aspects inherent in sharing code and the ethical considerations of following a license under which you received software for your use, there's an additional ethics layer in the safety implications of keeping GPL'd code closed. Because software so often interacts in complex ways (as shown in the car vulnerability demonstrations that go through the wheel maintenance system to exploit the critical ignition and brake systems), it's impossible to predict which software the next failure will be based on.
We need companies to understand that complying with the GPL isn't just good community participation or a safeguard from lawsuits - it is fundamental to their longterm financial success in a myriad of ways. Developers play a key role in that process. It's not always easy to stand up for the right thing in a corporate context. Doing so can cause reprisal in the form of some penalty. Obviously, if an engineer had been able to take action at Volkswagen, they would have saved the company a lot of embarrassment and lost revenue but without the hindsight of seeing how that situation actually played out it's likely that there was a real fear of penalty for speaking up.
Fortunately, where copylefted software is involved there are external mechanisms to help with some of these issues. Because companies must make good on providing source when they distribute, an outsider could determine that a company is not meeting its obligations. This is the main reason why having the option of participating anonymously in our coalition of developers who want to enforce the GPL is so important. In software development, coming out in favor of enforcement may not cause you any negative repercussions with your current employer but many developers rightly worry that other future employers may negatively view their participation in the coalition.
In the same vein as my ethical education in engineering school, developers should include the long term ethical considerations in their core technical analysis of what free and open source software licenses their companies should use and how they comply with it on a long term basis. While failures are terrible to have, they're essential to learn from and work towards better technical and ethical infrastructure.
Reflecting on FISL16
byon July 14, 2015
I'm back from Brazil where I attended FISL. I had the honor of presenting three talks! And they were three of my favorite topics: the importance of compliance and the suit against VMware, bringing more women to free and open source software and why I care so much about software freedom in the first place. It was a very fun conference. Besides doing the talks I was able to do a few press interviews too. And of course I loved meeting Brazilian hackers and software freedom activists.
Attendees seemed very interested in enforcement and the VMware suit. I was happy to see support for this work, and there was discussion about local copyright holders signing up to the coalition. It really seems that folks are starting to see the downsides of noncopylefted projects and are frustrated by the pervasiveness of GPL violations.
One of my favorite moments of the conference was the response to my talk about gender diversity. I admit that it's disappointing that this talk is always attended disporportionately by women. As I sometimes say in the talk itself, it doesn't make a lot of sense for the burden of this work to fall only on women. There are so few women right now in free software (1-11% at most) that it would be impossible for us to do it on any meaningful scale alone. Plus it's not fair to expect women to undertake this work on top of their other contributions to free software (many women understandably don't want to think about gender issues at all). Men can make a tremendous impact on this area. Most of our Outreachy mentors are men, and as the dominant group in free and open surce software, it's men who can fundamentally change the culture to be more welcoming to women and other underrepresented groups. Nonetheless, it was amazing that the "mob" after my talk was mostly women. It was great to meet so many women who are leaders in Latin America and to hear about their extraordinary work. I was interviewed after the talk and was askd to give some tips for women getting started in free software.
The conference had a very different feel to it than a lot of the other conferences I attend. It was a community run conference (along with that awesome community feeling, a lot of students, etc.) but it's such a big conference that it has some things that community conferences often don't have. Like GNU and Tux mascots (thanks to Deb Nicholson for the photo)!
I loved seeing schoolkids excited to be there and quite a number of really little kids with GNU and Freedo shirts and toys.
There was also a lot of love for GNOME, and it was great to meet up with people I don't get to see very often, especially since I'm missing GUADEC this year. Plus we got to settle some outstanding Linux kernel/systemd issues.
FISL is an excellect conference - a wonderful alternative to the corporate trade association conference ciruit. I hope to be able to return some time in the future. Now to get ready for OSCON next week...
byon April 20, 2015
I just have to share this picture from last week in Barcelona. It was fantastic to see Conservancy Supporters showing off their shirts and by proxy their support of Conservancy's activities. I was so happy to hear so much positive feedback on the VMWare lawsuit, filed by Christoph Hellwig. Last month, Donald Robertson got a round of applause during my LibrePlanet keynote just for wearing a Conservancy t-shirt! When we first launched the Supporter program I wrote about how impressed I was by the caliber of the intitial wave of Supporters, and as you can see from the notable folks in this picture, the trend has continued as we more than double our numbers. You can get yours by becoming a Conservancy Supporter today!