Software Freedom Conservancy

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Tony Sebro speaks on stage in front of a slide comparing 1800’s Eschatology and Golden Era Hip Hop

Tony Sebro, delivering the keynote address at Copyleft Conf 2020.
Photo © Remy DeCausemaker, licensed CC BY-SA

2020 has been a difficult year. We’ve all scrambled to keep ourselves and our loved-ones safe and healthy, coped with the isolation connected to lockdowns and quarantines, and dealt with the disconnection from our support networks — including friends, family and even childcare. We worried about racial equality and hope the fight for social justice will result in basic rights that everyone deserves.

Throughout all of this, Conservancy remained focused on its mission and on the free and open source software community. While cheering those working to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and those fighting for racial equality, we know our expertise, skills, and mission can only tangentially improve those situations. While contributing where we can, we remain focused on the long-term nature of software freedom. We keep working to grow and support FOSS communities to plan for ethical technology down the road, so that software freedom can be in the service of human freedom.

We’re proud of how much we’ve been able to accomplish in the last year, even in the face of so many obstacles.

Staying Connected

We helped folks stay connected, even when travel and in-person meetings could not happen. We gathered digitally every Thursday with all who wanted to join since early March to discuss important issues or just reach out to other people who care about software freedom. The topics of these chats varied widely from helping family and friends to use FOSS tools to discussing impactful presentations concerting copyleft to how to dismantle systemic racism in free software to important software freedom policy issues like standing up to fight the DMCA.

Paying People to Work on Software Freedom

Our Outreachy internship program became even more essential during this difficult time. Everyone needs remote work now, and to learn how to effectively work remotely. This year, we achieved the most internships in a single year yet! We funded over 100 interns across two cohorts, generating new code, new documentation, and essential FOSS contributions. Outreachy also prepares its interns for remote-work careers in FOSS, providing access to opportunities after their internship is over. Since traveling is unsafe during a pandemic, interns could not use the Outreachy travel stipend for in-person conferences or events. We moved quickly to pay all 127 active travel stipends simply as additional intern bonuses, helping both current interns and many alums during this stressful time.

We hear the news consistently that this pandemic has hit underrepresented groups harder for the same reasons of systemic bias that we’ve talked about for years in Outreachy. We’ve worked to make the program more stable and to diversify its funding so that we can support even more internships going forward. We’re proud to help in our own small way.

It’s not just interns we fund. Overall, Conservancy funded 27 contractors for a total of about $650,000 and 16 grantees about $100,000 in the last 12 months. That’s three-quarters of a million dollars of funded FOSS work for the public good in just one year! And along with our internships, we spent a total of $1.5 million! The contractors spanned 15 projects and accomplished some impressive work. Our contractors report publicly on their work and you can see the Reproducible Builds team helping us know we can rely on the software we use, the Outreachy team organizing the complex and resource intensive internship program, phpMyAdmin continuing their longstanding work to maintain and improve one of the most popular MySQL administration tools and the Godot team as they work to make the best game engine ever.

Our contractors write, document, and share great FOSS that benefits the general public; there is no other organization in the world that pays contractors that much money with that as their primary directive. Sure, companies write lots of FOSS, but they focus only on projects that benefit their profit motive and self-interest. We fund FOSS development that benefits everyone and we only fund software development that completely respects your software freedom and rights.

Policy

This year, we expanded our plans and involvement on key issues of software freedom policy. We are known throughout the FOSS community as the organization that knows the details of FOSS policy — from project governance, to licensing to Codes of Conduct — and gets those details right. We help our projects with everything from minor disagreements among leadership to major licensing challenges that threaten the future of their project. While we can’t tell every one of these stories on our blog, just ask anyone in our Project Leadership Committees and they’ll surely tell you that Conservancy knows our stuff and handles any issues of this nature that occur.

Whenever possible, though, Conservancy does our policy work in public as key activists for software freedom. We added our voice to important legal cases like Google v. Oracle. We provided context to interpret issues arising over the year, such as the launch of new organizational solutions for FOSS and DMCA aggression towards FOSS projects. We presented new ways to think about our critical problems, like legal mechanisms to achieve copyleft equality in the face of proprietary relicensing, ways to support maintainers in employment contracts, and extend protection of FOSS projects from aggressive DMCA takedowns. We successfully filed for a renewal of the Smart TV DMCA exemption that we achieved in 2015. We went even further this year, and applied for three more exemptions that would protect the rights of those who use interconnected devices that have become critical fixtures in everyone’s lives.

Most importantly, Conservancy remains the only charity actively fighting for the rights ensured by GPL on Linux. Our focus remains on IoT and embedded devices that are now ubiquitous and used by everyone. While we can only occasionally discuss GPL enforcement matters publicly, we launched this year our Strategic GPL Enforcement Plan, and our companion Firmware Liberation Project. These two new initiatives have just begun and they need your support and help to succeed.

New Member Projects and New Board Member

In 2020, Conservancy welcomed two important new projects. The Institute for Computing in Research runs a mentoring program designed to bridge inequities in tech by training teenage students to do rigorous scientific research using free software. OpenWrt is a critical FOSS wireless router project that demonstrates the long lasting positive results of strategic GPL enforcement. We also recognize that communities change over time. In addition to adding new projects, we took the time this past year to sunset some of our projects that no longer had a charitable focus.

We were also pleased to welcome Allison Randal, a steadfast advocate of software freedom, to our Board of Directors.

Events and Conferences

FOSS events and conferences have always been an essential component of FOSS, but this year, the pandemic thwarted our usual event system an infrastructure. Conservancy has been at the center of transitioning events to online formats for both our member projects and other third party other FOSS conferences and event groups. People around the world took huge losses in travel and event cancellations, but we were adept. We acted early and saved tens of thousands for our member projects by negotiating with canceled venues. We quickly adjusted our travel policy to handle pandemic refund procedures, and we posted those changes publicly for other organizations to benefit. When it’s safe and healthy for everyone to travel again, we plan to organize Copyleft Conf, SeConf, and the dozens of in-person hackfests. Meanwhile, we have and will continue to help our projects cancel or reschedule their events and, as we did for our member projects like Racket and Selenium, to operate as virtual events this year.

We were lucky that Copyleft Conf 2020 was timed before the pandemic was upon us, and that event was an amazing success. We reached out and welcomed non-FOSS licensors who seek to use copyleft for social justice to begin dialogue. To this day, it remains the only discussion of its kind, and the videos are still available for your virtual viewing. We plan to turn Copyleft Conf 2021 into a year-long series of online sessions about issues in copyleft as we look hopefully forward to an in-person Copyleft Conf 2022.

Bradley on stage at LinuxConf Australia 2020

Bradley M. Kuhn, delivering a talk with Karen at LCA 2020.
Photo © by Linux Australia, licensed CC BY-SA

We participated in many exciting events organized by others. Before travel was canceled, we presented multiple talks at LCA and on the FOSDEM main stage, helped organize the Legal & Policy DevRoom at FOSDEM, spoke to students and faculty at Oxford University, ran a workshop at Open Source 101 and delivered keynotes at CHAOSScon, Git Merge and the OpenUK Healthcare event. Once in-person events were no longer possible, we participated in many virtual events, including GUADEC, DebConf, ÖzgürKon and State of the Source. Our Executive Director was a featured speaker at VentCon, a conference urgently organized in May for folks working on FOSS projects for ventilators at a time when making sure that hospitals had enough access to ventilators to treat the surge in COVID-19 patients was a top concern.

We also remain ready to continue our work of helping to sponsor travel for our member projects and their events when travel becomes safe again. Before we ceased our conferences and travel, we funded over $60,000 worth of travel to important events, on pace for what could have been one of our biggest travel sponsorship years. We invested remaining travel funds into improving online infrastructure and planning for how to keep FOSS engaged without these essential in-person events.

Help Us Continue our Mission

We know this year brought unforeseen financial challenges. Some of you have faced unemployment, and many others are underemployed right now due to the pandemic. As you think about where to route your limited charitable dollars this year, we ask that you think about how far your donation goes with Conservancy. We’ve remained a small, agile organization (some even have called us scrappy) precisely because we have the most experienced non-profit management team in FOSS. We couldn’t have predicted the pandemic, but we did plan for the worst. We’re frugal, careful, and we plan ahead, so you can know that every dollar you give to Conservancy is used to support critical work. While companies sell you products this end of year season, we offer you a chance to donate to something much bigger. By becoming a Conservancy Supporter, you can put your money to work fighting for the freedom and rights of all software users.

Zack, Karen, John and Jim pose, mostly wearing the vintage t-shirt!

Vintage-shirt-wearing Supporters pose with Karen!
From left: Stefano “Zack” Zacchiroli, Karen M. Sandler, John Sullivan, and Jim Wright

Vintage T-Shirt Promotion

If you're a Supporter, you've already received or will soon receive a t-shirt in our 2018 design shown here. But, would you like to take advantage of a last chance to get our vintage design — seen sported so often by our earliest Supporters at conferences and events? If so, read on!

Brett wears the 2018 t-shirt!

Brett Smith wears the current t-shirt design.

UPDATE: Just give $256 total for this year's fundraiser and receive an additional vintage T-shirt!

But first, as a note to how difficult this year has been, we know that many of our 2019 Supporters are still awaiting their t-shirts, which have the wonderful 2018 design. We've had difficulty working through keeping our staff safe during the pandemic lock downs and making trips to the post office — historically, we on staff all shared the post office trips, but we all have different COVID-19 risk factors and thus it's all moving slowly. We appreciate the patience of our Supporters waiting for t-shirts, and we do have plan to safely send out the backlog by years' end.

As part of those preparations, we found a treasure trove and now have an exciting promotion for renewing Supporters. We found an old stash of vintage t-shirts, in the old style! Supplies are limited, but for those few supporters who would like to receive one, we have a special offer. Supporters who give $256 or more between 2020-01-15 and 2021-01-15 can receive one of these vintage t-shirts! To claim your vintage t-shirt, do the following:

Neil McGovern, Executive Director of the GNOME Foundation, wears the vintage t-shirt!

Neil McGovern wearing that stylish vintage shirt!

  • Renew as a an annual supporter for $256 or more. (Alternatively, if you already gave this year, make a separate donation so that your 2020 total is $256.)
  • Email <vintaget@sfconservancy.org> and include the email address and date(s) of your donation(s) that total $256 and your desired size. (We have all sizes except MenM in stock. Supplies are limited; we cannot necessarily guarantee your size selection, and we'll continue to update here as sizes run out.)

A big stack of vintage Conservancy t-shirts!

Supplies won't last; give $256 and make one of these vintage shirts yours today!

You too can look cool in the vintage design. Or maybe your original has faded and you're ready to spruce up with a new one? As we said, supplies are limited so make a big donation today, support Conservancy, and show you've always been old-school — or just want to look that way!

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