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Matcher Interview - Tony Sebro

by Daniel Takamori on January 3, 2022

Portrait of Tony Sebro

The second of our series of interviews with donors, we have another longtime Software Freedom Conservancy supporter (and former employee!) Tony Sebro. Tony recently served as Deputy and Interim General Counsel to the Wikimedia Foundation and is now General Counsel at Change.org. We "sat down" with him to talk a bit about us and what he's excited about right now.

Software Freedom Conservancy: “Why do you care about software freedom?”

Tony Sebro: “For one, I am inspired by people dedicating their time, creative energy, and technical talents to the public interest. I am also impressed by what they produce: FOSS communities have created some of the most important, innovative, and irreplaceable products that societies rely on.  ”

SFC: “What do you appreciate about Software Freedom Conservancy?”

TS: “I appreciate that Conservancy supports the creation of ethical technology from multiple vantage points. Conservancy supports FOSS developer communities through services, education, and mentorship. Conservancy supports end users by defending their rights. And, Conservancy advocates for groups underrepresented in technology by providing them with gateways into FOSS communities -- which, in turn, infuses these communities with fresh talent.”

SFC: “What's got you most excited from the past year of our work?”

TS: “While I am intrigued to see what happens with the lawsuit against Vizio, I am most excited by Outreachy's continued growth, as evidenced by the record number of interns admitted into the December 2021 cohort. I admit, I'm biased. :) ”

SFC: “you think we are doing a good job reaching a wider audience and do you see us at places you expect?”

TS: “I got a good chuckle out of seeing Karen and Bradley pop up in this recent NFT project.”

SFC: “What other (non-tech) organizations are you supporting this year?”

TS: “My wife and I support other charities, as well as our local church.”

SFC: “You were Software Freedom Conservancy's second employee! What are your thoughts about how the organization has changed and grown since the beginning of your involvement in the organization?”

TS: “Conservancy has grown in virtually every direction! More projects; more commentary and scholarship. Greater investment in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Conservancy has also expanded into providing resources to educate tech employees about their employment rights.”

SFC: “Until recently, you were Deputy General Counsel at Wikimedia. Did the principles of software freedom impact your work there?”

TS: “Certainly! Free knowledge isn't just freely-licensed content, it should also be freely consumed. The Wikimedia Foundation hosts Wikipedia and its other free knowledge projects on a FOSS stack. The public can inspect the code, and can trust that Wikimedia isn't hiding anything that would bias or pervert the editorial decisions of the communities who maintain the project content Wikimedia hosts.”

SFC: “As a former employee, a member of the board of directors and as an organizer of Outreachy you've participated in many facets of Software Freedom Conservancy and have such a unique perspective. What are you most proud of? What do you think the organization should do in the future?”


TS: “I enjoyed providing advice and counsel to the various member projects -- getting to understand their specific cultures and needs. Outreachy continues to have a special place in my heart. That said: my favorite part of working at Conservancy was the deep conversations about ideology and strategy that I'd have with Karen, Bradley, and Denver. The team cares deeply about the work they do, and their passion for the mission was and is infectious.”

SFC: “Congratulations on starting your role at change.org! What can we look forward to seeing you work on there?”

TS: “Change.org's mission is to empower individuals to make a difference, and more than 450 million people use the platform to amplify their voice. I am leading the Legal & Policy department, which includes the organization's legal, trust and safety, platform policy and public policy functions.”

Tags: conservancy

Matcher Interview - Mark Galassi

by Daniel Takamori on December 27, 2021

This fundraising season we were incredibly fortunate to be supported by so many individuals. In addition to our large anonymous donors, we had a few people contribute to bump up the number. One of donors was a board member, Mark Galassi, who runs The Institute for Computing in Research. We asked him a few questions about free software and his passion and motivations for interdisciplinary research.

Software Freedom Conservancy: “Why do you care about software freedom?”

Mark Galassi: “I started working on developing software for others to use in 1984. At that time my brother and some friends of ours worked to develop a public access UNIX system so that people who were not in a university or big company could have the joy of doing advanced computing.

Soon after a fellow student at Reed College pointed me to the birth of the free software movement, and its goal and principle perfectly matched what I thought was important for the world.

A robust idea can last a long time, and more than 35 years later I feel that just as strongly.”

SFC: “What is it that you see Software Freedom Conservancy does that other groups are not?”

MG: “Conservancy is firmly focused on the importance of software freedom, while at the same time carrying out practical steps to allow it to flourish. It also expands and adapts its role as new areas become relevant to software freedom, as the embracing of Outreachy and the Institute for Computing in Research have shown.

I'm not sure if I would say that other organizations are not doing important things: we benefit from other orgs in various ways. But combining stewardship and principle and adaptation is hard work, and I think that only Conservancy takes it on in full.”

SFC: “How do you see our role amongst the various FOSS organizations?”

MG: “I think that Conservancy should lead other FOSS organizations in a few ways. At least:

  1. Being the steward of principles and legal ideas behind software freedom.
  2. Being the umbrella for many of the key projects in the FOSS world.
  3. Being the organization that is flexible and intelligent and far/wide-seeing enough to adapt to the shifts in the landscape, while still being firm on important principles.

SFC: “Do you think we do a good job standing up to the organizations with more corporate funding?”

MG: “Yes. The current action against Vizio's violations renews that clarity.”

SFC: “What's got you most excited from the past year of our work?”

MG: “I am particularly excited by Conservancy's picking up of the Institute for Computing in Research (2021 was our first full year as part of Conservancy). This addition of a focus on free software in the academic world will be important: the free software movement was born in the research and university world, and I believe that academic research should be the steady keel of the free software movement.”

SFC: “Have you been involved with any of our member projects in the past?”

MG: “Yes: I have used many of Conservancy's member projects over the years, and I am co-founder of the Institute for Computing in Research.”

SFC: “What other (non-tech) organizations are you supporting this year?”

MG: “I donate a bit to my college, and I donate to Planned Parenthood, but Conservancy and the Institute are where I donated the most this year.”

SFC: “Why did you start the Institute for Computing in Research? How did you wind up teaching kids these important skills?”

MG: “I have loved my career so much that it seems impossible.

Here is how that happened:

I entered the world of physics just at the time when computing was becoming a key part of research (since then this has extended to all other academic areas). The free software movement was born at the same time. Being a free software developer, I was in a position to promote the use of FOSS in research, and to really love the research work because I did not have to use proprietary software.

When you love something so much, you want to pass on the recipe that makes it work so well -- in my case that has been the use of advanced software development based on free software, applied to academic research.”

SFC: “As the chair of Software Freedom Conservancy's board, what unique place do you think we have in the field of FLOSS organizations?”

MG: “I enjoy serving on the board, and my fellow board members are a cross-section of all that is amazing in the world of research and development.

But more than us, I think that our staff has the real angle on what's important: in many ways they teach us what is happening and what should happen in the world. So maybe one of the coordinates of our "unique place" is that Karen and Bradley have created a staff of world class thought leaders who also do detailed practical work.”

SFC: “You are a strong proponent of interdisciplinary research, what avenues do you think free software has to help promote both academic and civil freedom?”

MG: “Ahhh, the academic side is an easy one: research software can only be free software, for all the reasons that makes science honest. This is already mostly true, but we need to go the rest of the way.

You also ask about civil freedom. What is also quite clear to me is that corporate control and vendor lock-in are real problems in any society. They are the cause of a good amount of economic and cultural alienation. Most of this lock-in is in software, and software freedom is our strongest tool against that.”

SFC: “Given your academic background, what are your thoughts on projects like Reproducible Builds and the effects it might have on reproducibility in the academic community?”

MG: “Reproducible builds is one of the coolest projects we have in Conservancy - both its fundamental idea, and the impressive intelligence of the people working on it. Much of its motivation comes from the security angle, but a sign of a deep project is that other important angles naturally come up. In my case, for example, I talk to members of the project regularly to get advice on how to improve reproducibility in research software. They also help me think about how to frame those issues.”

Tags: conservancy

First Update on the Vizio lawsuit

by Bradley M. Kuhn and Karen M. Sandler on November 30, 2021

Yesterday, we received from Vizio their first official response in our pending litigation against Vizio for their copyleft license violations. So, what was their response?

Did Vizio release the source code — as the GPL and LGPL require — for the modified versions of Linux, alsa-utils, GNU bash, GNU awk, BusyBox, dmesg, findutils, dmsetup, GNU tar, mount and selinux found in their TV’s firmwares? No.

Did Vizio propose a CCS candidate for us to review, provide them with additional feedback, so that we could help them get consumers who bought their TVs the source code they deserve? Nope.

Did Vizio argue that we had erred, and in fact, none of those programs we list above appear in their firmware? Not that either. (Unlikely though — after all, they surely know those programs are in their firmware!)

Instead, Vizio filed a request to “remove” the case from California State Court (into US federal court), which indicates Vizio's belief that consumers have no third-party beneficiary rights under copyleft! In other words, Vizio’s answer to this complaint is not to comply with the copyleft licenses, but instead imply that Software Freedom Conservancy — and all other purchasers of the devices who might want to assert their right under GPL and LGPL to complete, corresponding source — have no right to even ask for that source code.

That’s right: Vizio’s filing implies that only copyright holders, and no one else, have a right to ask for source code under the GPL and LGPL. While we expected Vizio held this position (since they ultimately ignored us during our discussions with them in years past), Vizio has gone a disturbing step further and asked the federal United States District Court for the Central District of California to agree to the idea that not only do you as a consumer have no right to ask for source code, but that Californians have no right to even ask their state courts to consider the question!

Vizio’s strategy is to deny consumers their rights under copyleft licenses, and we intend to fight back.

We believe in complete transparency of the copyleft compliance process, and so encourage everyone to read the filings. We’ve even paid the Pacer fees and used the Recap browser plugin, so that all the documents in the case are freely available via the Recap project archives.

Software Freedom Conservancy’s annual fundraiser is happening right now! Please help us continue our work by becoming a Sustainer. Donate now and have your donation matched by a group of generous individuals who care deeply about software freedom.

Tags: conservancy, law, licensing

Trump's Social Media Platform and the Affero General Public License (of Mastodon)

by Bradley M. Kuhn on October 21, 2021

An analysis: Trump's Group has 30 days to remedy the violation, or their rights in the software are permanently terminated

In 2002, we used phrases like “Web 2.0” and “AJAX” to describe the revolution that was happening in web technology for average consumers. This was just before names like Twitter and Facebook became famous worldwide. Web 2.0 was the groundwork infrastructure of the “social media” to come.

As software policy folks, my colleagues and I knew that these technologies were catalysts for change. Software applications, traditionally purchased on media and installed explicitly, were now implicitly installed through web browsers — delivered automatically, or even sometimes run on the user's behalf on someone else's computer. As copyleft activists specifically, we knew that copyleft licensing would have to adjust, too.

In late 2001, I sat and read and reread section 2(c) of the GPLv2. After much thought, I saw how it could be adapted, using the geeky computer science concept called a quine — a program that has a feature to print its own source code for the user. A similar section to GPLv2§2(c) could be written that would assure that every user of a copylefted program on the Internet would be guaranteed the rights and freedoms to copy, modify, redistribute and/or reinstall their software — which was done by offering a source-code provision feature to every user on the network. The key concept behind the Affero GPL (AGPL) version 1 was born. Others drafted and released AGPLv1 based on my idea. Five years later, I was proudly in the “room where it happened” when Affero GPL version 3 was drafted. Some of the words in that section are ones I suggested.

We were imagining a lot about the future in those days; the task of copyleft licensing drafting requires trying to foresee how others might attempt to curtail the software rights and freedoms of others. Predicting the future is difficult and error-prone. Today, a piece of Affero GPLv3's future came to pass that I would not have predicted back in November 2007 at its release.

I invented that network source code disclosure provision of the AGPL — the copyleft license later applied to the Mastodon software — in 2002 in light of that very problem: parties who don't share our values might use (or even contribute to) software written by the FOSS community. The license purposefully treats everyone equally (even people we don't like or agree with), but they must operate under the same rules of the copyleft licenses that apply to everyone else.

Today, we saw the Trump Media and Technology Group ignoring those important rules — which were designed for the social good. Once caught in the act, Trump's Group scrambled and took the site down.

Early evidence strongly supports that Trump's Group publicly launched a so-called “test site” of their “Truth Social” product, based on the AGPLv3'd Mastodon software platform. Many users were able to create accounts and use it — briefly. However, when you put any site on the Internet licensed under AGPLv3, the AGPLv3 requires that you provide (to every user) an opportunity to receive the entire Corresponding Source for the website based on that code. These early users did not receive that source code, and Trump's Group is currently ignoring their very public requests for it. To comply with this important FOSS license, Trump's Group needs to immediately make that Corresponding Source available to all who used the site today while it was live. If they fail to do this within 30 days, their rights and permissions in the software are automatically and permanently terminated. That's how AGPLv3's cure provision works — no exceptions — even if you're a real estate mogul, reality television star, or even a former POTUS.

I and my colleagues at Software Freedom Conservancy are experts at investigating non-compliance with copyleft license and enforcing those licenses once we confirm the violations. We will be following this issue very closely and insisting that Trump's Group give the Corresponding Source to all who use the site.

Finally, it's worth noting that we could find no evidence that someone illegally broke into the website. All the evidence available on the Internet (as of 2021-10-22) indicates that the site was simply deployed live early as a test, and without proper configuration (such as pre-reserving some account names). Once discovered, people merely used the site legitimately to register accounts and use its features.

Update (2021-10-22): Some have asked us how this situation relates to our Principles of Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement, since we are publicly analyzing a copyleft violation publicly. Historically, we did similarly with the Canonical, Ltd., Cambium, Ubiquiti, and Tesla (twice!) violations. We do believe that “confidentiality can increase receptiveness and responsiveness”, but once a story is already made widely known to the public by a third-party, confidentiality is no longer possible, since the public already knows the details. At that moment, the need to educate the public supersedes any value in non-disclosure.

Tags: conservancy, GPL, licensing

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