All posts by Bradley M. Kuhn

Organzational Proliferation Is Not the Problem You Think It Is

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ This blog post
was cross-posted
from the blog at Software Freedom Conservancy where I work. ]

I’ve been concerned this week about aggressive negative reaction (by some)
to the formation of an additional organization to serve the Free and Open
Source (FOSS) community. Thus it seems like a good moment to remind
everyone why we all benefit when we welcome newcomer organizations
in FOSS.

I’ve been involved in helping found many different organizations —
in roles as varied as co-founder, founding Board member, consultant, spin-off
partner, and “just a friend giving advice”. Most of these
organizations fill a variety of roles; they support, house, fiscally sponsor,
or handle legal issues and/or trademark, copyright, or patent matters for
FOSS projects. I and my colleagues at Conservancy speak regularly about why
we believe a 501(c)(3) charitable structure in the USA has huge advantages,
and you can find plenty of blog posts on our site about that. But you can
also find us talking about how 501(c)(6) structures, and other structures
outside the USA entirely, are often the right choices — depending on
what a FOSS project seeks from its organization. Conservancy also makes our
policies, agreements, and processes fully public so that organizations can
reuse our work, and many have.

Meanwhile, FOSS organizations must
avoid the classic
invented here” anti-pattern
. Of course I believe that
Conservancy has great ideas for how to help FOSS, and our work
— such as fiscal sponsorship, GPL enforcement work, and the
Outreachy internship program — are the highest priorities in FOSS. I
also believe the projects we take under our auspices are the most important
projects in FOSS today.

But not everyone agrees with me, nor should they. Our Executive Director,
Karen Sandler, loves the aphorism “let a thousand flowers
bloom”. For example, when we learned of the launch
of Open Collective, we at
Conservancy were understandably concerned that since they were primarily a
501(c)(6) and didn’t follow the kinds of fiscal sponsorship models and
rules that we preferred, that somehow it was a “threat” to
Conservancy. But that reaction is one of fear, selfishness, and
insecurity. Once we analyzed what the Open Collective folks were up to, we
realized that they were an excellent option for a lot of the projects that
were simply not a good fit for Conservancy and our model. Conservancy is
deeply steeped in a long-term focus on software freedom for the general
public, and some projects — particularly those that are primarily in
service to companies rather than individual users (or who don’t want the
oversight a charity requires) — just don’t belong with us. We
regularly refer projects to Open Collective.

For many larger projects, Linux Foundation — as a 501(c)(6)
controlled completely by large technology companies — is also a great
option. We’ve often referred Conservancy applicants there, too. We do
that even
Linux Foundation
for choosing proprietary software for many tasks,
including proprietary software they write from scratch for their
outward-facing project services

Of course, I’m thinking about all this today because Conservancy has been
asked what we think
about the
Open Usage Commons
. The fact is they’re just getting started and both
the legal details of how they’re handling trademarks, and their governance
documents, haven’t been released yet. We should all give them an
opportunity to slowly publish more and review it when it comes along. We
should judge them fairly as an alternative for fulfilling FOSS project
needs that no else addresses (or, more commonly are being addressed
very differently
by existing organizations). I’m going to hypothesize
that, like Linux Foundation, Open Usage Commons will primarily be of
interest to more for-profit-company focused projects, but that’s my own
speculation; none of us know yet.

No one is denying that Open Usage Commons is tied to Google as part of
their founding — in the same way that Linux Foundation’s founding
(which was originally founded as the “Open Source Development
Labs”) was closely tied to IBM at the time. As near as I can tell,
IBM’s influence over Linux Foundation is these days no more than any other
their Platinum
. It’s not uncommon for a trade association to jumpstart with a
key corporate member and eventually grow to be governed by a wider group of
companies. But while appropriately run trade associations do balance the
needs of all for-profit companies in their industry, they are
not neutral; they are chartered to favor business needs over
the needs of the general public. I encourage skepticism when you
hear an
organization claim “neutrality”
. Since a trade association
is narrowed to serving businesses, it can be neutral among the interests of
business, but their mandate remains putting business needs above community.
The ultimate proof of neutrality pudding is in the eating. As with
multi-copyright held GPL’d projects, we can trust the equal rights for all
in those — regardless of the corporate form of the contributors
— because the document of legal rights makes it so. The same
principle applies to any area of FOSS endeavor: examine the agreements and
written rules for contributors and users to test neutrality.

Finally, there are plenty of issues where software freedom activists
should criticize Google. Just today, I was sent a Google Docs link for a
non-FOSS volunteer thing I’m doing, and I groaned knowing that I’d have to
install a bunch of proprietary Javascript just to be able to participate.
Often, software freedom activists assume that bad actions by an entity
means all actions are de-facto problematic. But we must judge each policy
move on its own merits to avoid pointless partisanship.

Toward Copyleft Equality for All

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ This blog post was also crossposted to my blog at Software
Freedom Conservancy
. I hope you
will donate
the challenge match period ends
so that you can support work like this
that I’m doing at my day job. ]

I would not have imagined even two years ago that expansion of copyleft
would become such an issue of interest in software freedom licensing.
Historically and for good reason, addition of new forms of copyleft clauses
has moved at a steady pace. The early 2000s brought network
services clauses (such as that in the Affero GPL), which hinged primarily
on requiring provision of source to network-remote users. Affero GPL implemented this via
copyright-controlled permission of modification. These licenses began as
experiments, and were not approved by some license certification
authorities until many years later.

Even with the copyleft community’s careful and considered growth, there
have been surprising unintended consequences of copyleft licenses. The
specific outcome of proprietary relicensing has spread widely and — for
stronger copyleft licenses like Affero GPL — has become the more
common usage of the license.

As the popularity of Open Source has grown, companies have searched for
methods to combine traditional proprietary licensing business models with
FOSS offerings. Proprietary relicensing, originally
pioneered by MySQL AB (now part of Oracle by way of Sun),
uses software freedom licenses to compel purchase of proprietary licenses
for the same codebase. Companies accomplish this by assuring they collect
all copyright control of a particular codebase, thus being its sole
licensor, and offer the FOSS licenses as a loss-leader (often zero-cost) product.
Non-commercial users generally are ignored, and commercial users often
operate in fear of captious interpretations of the copyleft
license. The remedy for their fear is a purchase of a separate proprietary
license for the same codebase from the provider. Proprietary relicensing
seems to have been the first mixed FOSS/proprietary business model in history.

The toxicity of this business model has only become apparent in hindsight.
Initially, companies engaging in this business model did so somewhat
benignly — often offering proprietary licenses only to customers who sought to combine the
product with other proprietary software, or as supplemental income along with other
consulting businesses. This business model (for some codebases), however,
became so lucrative that some companies eventually focused exclusively on it. As a result, aggressive copyleft license overreading and inappropriate,
unprincipled enforcement typically came from such companies. For most, the
business model likely reached its crescendo when MongoDB began using the
Affero GPL for this purpose. I was personally told by large companies at the
time (late 2000s into early 2010s) that they’d listed Affero GPL as “Never Allowed Here”
specifically because of shake-downs from MongoDB.

Copyleft itself is not a moral philosophy; rather, copyleft is a strategy
that software freedom activists constructed to advance a particular set of
policy goals. Specifically, software copyleft was designed to assure that all users received complete, corresponding source
for all binaries, and that any modifications or improvements made anywhere
in the chain of custody of the software were available in source form to
downstream users. As orginially postulated, copyleft was a simple strategy to disarm
proprietarization as an anti-software-freedom tactic.

The Corruption of Copyleft

Copyleft is a tool to achieve software freedom. Any tool can be fashioned
into a weapon when wielded the wrong way. That’s
precisely what occurred with copyleft — and it happened early in
copyleft’s history, too. Before even the release of
GPLv2, Aladdin Ghostscript used a
a proprietary
relicensing model (which is sometimes confusingly called the “dual
licensing” model)
. This business model initially presented as
benign to software freedom activists; leaders declared the business model
“barely legitimate”, when it rose to popularity
through MySQL AB (later Sun, and later Oracle)’s proprietary relicensing of
the MySQL codebase.

In theory, proprietary relicensors would only offer the proprietary
license by popular demand to those who had some specific reason for wanting
to proprietarize the codebase —
a process that
has been called “selling exceptions”
. In practice, however,
every company I’m aware of that sought to engage in “selling exceptions”
eventually found a more aggressive and lucrative tack.

This problem became clear to me in mid-2003 when MySQL AB
attempted to hire me as a consultant. I was financially in need of
supplementary income so I seriously considered taking the work, but the initial conference call felt surreal and convinced me that
MySQL AB was engaging in problematic behavior . Specifically,
their goal was to develop scare tactics regarding the GPLv2. I never followed up, and I am glad I never made
the error of accepting any job or consulting gig when companies (not just MySQL AB, but also Black Duck and others)
attempted to recruit me to serve as part of their fear-tactics marketing departments.

Most proprietary relicensing businesses work as follows: a
single codebase is produced by a for-profit company, which retains 100%
control over all copyright in the software (either via
an ©AA or a CLA). That codebase is offered as a gratis product to the
marketplace, and the company invests substantial resources in marketing the
software to users looking for FOSS solutions. The marketing department
then engages in captious and unprincipled
copyleft enforcement
actions in an effort to “convert”
those FOSS users into paying customers for proprietary licensing for the
same codebase. (Occasionally, the company also offers additional
proprietary add-ons, improvements, or security updates that are not
available under the FOSS license — when used this way, the model is
often specifically called “Open Core”.)

Why We Must End The Proprietary Relicensing Exploitation of Copyleft

This business model has a toxic effect on copyleft at every level. Users don’t enjoy their software freedom under an assurance that a large
community of contributors and users have all been bound to each other under the same,
strong, and freedom-assuring license. Instead, they dread the vendor
finding a minor copyleft violation and blowing it out of proportion. The
vendor offers no remedy (such as repairing the violation and promise of
ongoing compliance) other than purchase of a proprietary license.
Industry-wide. I have observed to my chagrin that the
copyleft license that I helped create and once loved, the Affero GPL, was
seen for a decade as inherently toxic because its most common use was by
companies who engaged in these seedy practices. You’ve probably seen me
and other software freedom activists speak out on this issue, in our
ongoing efforts to clarify that the intent of the Affero GPL
was not to create these sorts of corporate code silos that vendors
constructed as copyleft-fueled traps for the unwary. Meanwhile, proprietary relicensing discourages contributions from
a broad community, since any contributor must sign a CLA giving special powers
to the vendor to continue the business model. Neither users nor co-developers benefit from copyleft protection.

The Onslaught of Unreasonable Copyleft

Meanwhile, and somewhat ironically, the success of Conservancy’s and the
FSF’s efforts to counter this messaging about the Affero GPL has created an
unintended consequence: efforts to draft even more restrictive
software copyleft licenses that can more easily implement the
proprietary relicensing business models. We have partially succeeded in
convincing users that compliance with Affero GPL is straightforward, and in the
backchannels we’ve aided users who were under attack from these proprietary
relicensors like MongoDB. In response, these vendors have responded with a forceful
political blow: their own efforts to redefine the future of copyleft, under
the guise of advancing software freedom. MongoDB even cast itself as a “victim”
against Amazon, because Amazon decided to reimplement their codebase from scratch (as proprietary software!)
rather than use the AGPL’d version of MongoDB.

These efforts began in earnest late last year when (against the advice of the
license steward)
forked the Affero GPL to create the SS Public License
. I, with the support of
Conservancy, rose
in opposition of MongoDB’s approach
, pointing out that MongoDB would not
itself agree to its own license (since MongoDB’s CLA would free it from the SS Public License terms). If an entity does
not gladly bind itself by its own copyleft license
(for example, by accepting third-party contributions to its codebases under
that license), we should not treat that entity as a legitimate license
steward, nor treat that license as a legitimate FOSS license. We should
not and cannot focus single-mindedly on interpretation of the
formalistic definitions when we recommend FOSS licensing policy. The message
of “technically it’s a FOSS license, but don’t use” is too complicated to be meaningful.

A Copyleft Clause To Restore Equality

My friend and colleague, Richard Fontana, and I are known for
our very public and sometimes heated debates on all manner of software
freedom policy. We don’t always agree on key issues, but I greatly respect
Fontana for his careful thought and his inventive solutions. Indeed,
Fontana first formulated “inbound=outbound” into that
simple phrasing to more easily explain how the lopsided rights and
permissions exchanges through CLAs actually create bad FOSS policy like
proprietary relicensing. In the copyleft-next project that Fontana began,
he further proposed
this innovative
copyleft clause
that could, when Incorporated in a copyleft license,
prevent proprietary licensing before it even starts! The clause still needs work, but Fontana’s basic idea is revolutionary for copyleft drafting. The essence in non-legalese is
this: If you offer a license that isn’t a copyleft license, the copyleft
provisions collapse and the software is now available to all under a
non-copyleft, hyper-permissive FOSS license.

This solution is ingenious in the way that copyleft itself was an
ingenious way to use copyright to “reverse” the rights and
assure software freedom. This provision doesn’t prohibit proprietary
relicensing per se, but instead simply deflates the power of copyleft
control when a copyright holder engages in proprietary relicensing

Given the near ubiquity of proprietary relicensing and the
promulgation of stricter copylefts by companies who seek to
engage (or help their clients engage) in such business models, I’ve come to
a stark policy conclusion: the community should reject any new copyleft
license without a clause that deflates the power of proprietary relicensing. Not only can we
incorporate such a clause into new licenses (such as copyleft-next), but Conservancy’s Executive Director,
Karen Sandler, came up with a basic approach to incorporating similar copyleft equality clauses into written exceptions for existing
copyleft licenses, such as the Affero GPL. I have received authorization to spend some of my Conservancy
time and the time of our lawyers on this endeavor, and we hope to publish more about it in the coming months.

We’ve finished the experiment. After thirty years of proprietary
relicensing, beginning with Aladdin and culminating with MongoDB and their
SS Public License, we now know that proprietary relicensing does not serve
or extend software freedom, and in most cases has the opposite effect. We
must now categorically reject it, and outright reject any new licenses that can be
used for it.

Donate to Conservancy Before End of 2019!

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

Yesterday, I sent out a version of this blog post to Conservancy’s donors
as a fundraising email. As most people reading this already know, I work
(remotely from the west coast) for a 501(c)(3) charity based in NY
called Software Freedom
, which is funded primarily
from individuals like you
who donate $120/year (or more 🙂
. My primary job and career since 1997
has been working for various charities, mostly related to the general cause
of software freedom.

More generally, I have dedicated myself since the late 1990s to software
freedom activism. Looking back across these two decades, I believe our
movement, focused on software users’ rights, faces the most difficult
challenges yet. In particular, I believe 2019 was the most challenging year
in our community’s history.

Our movement had early success. Most of our primary software development
tools remain (for the moment) mostly Free Software. Rarely do new
developers face the kinds of challenges that proprietary software
originally brought us. In the world today that seemingly embraces Open
Source, the problems are more subtle and complex than they once
were. Conservancy dedicates its work to addressing those enigmatic
problems. That’s why I work here, why I’m glad to support the organization
myself, and why I ask you to support it as well.

Early success was easy for software freedom because the technology
industry ignored us at first. Copyleft
was initially a successful antidote to the very first Digital Restrictions
Management (DRM) — separating the binaries from source code and using
copyright restrictions to forbid sharing. When companies attacked software
freedom and copyleft in the early 2000s, we were lucky that those attacks
backfired. However, today, we must solve the enigma that the technology
industry seems to embrace software freedom, but only to a
point. Most for-profit companies today ask a key question constantly:
“what Open Source technologies can we leverage while keeping an
unfair proprietary edge?”. FOSS is accepted in the enterprise but only if it
allows companies to proprietarize, particularly in areas that specifically
threaten user privacy and autonomy.

However, I and my colleagues at Conservancy are realists. We know that a
charity like us won’t ever have the resources to face well-funded companies
on their own playing field, and we’d be fools to try. So, we do what Free
Software has always done best: we pick work with the greatest potential to
maximize software freedom for as many users as we can.

At Conservancy’s founding, Conservancy focused exclusively on providing a
charitable home to FOSS projects, so they could focus on software freedom for
their users. Through Conservancy, projects make software freedom the
project’s top priority rather than an afterthought. In this new environment
where (seemingly) every company and trade association has set up a system for
organizational homes for projects, Conservancy focuses on projects that make
a big impact for the software freedom of individual users.

Today, Conservancy does much more beyond those basics. Given my early
introduction to licensing, I learned early and often that copyleft —
our community’s primary tool and strategy to assure companies and
individuals would always remain equals — was and would always be
constantly under attack. I’ve thus been glad to
help Conservancy publish and speak regularly about essential copyleft and FOSS policy.
(And, I’m personally working right now on even more writing on the subject
of copyleft policy.) I’m particularly proud of Conservancy’s work with
members of the Linux community to assure the software freedoms guaranteed
by copyleft for Linux-based devices. It’s a big task, and we’re the only
organization with that mission. But, Conservancy is resilient, unrelenting,
and dedicated to it.

If someone had predicted 28 years ago (when I first installed Linux) that,
by 2020, Linux would be the most popular operating system on the most
popular small devices in the world, but that almost no one would have the
basic freedoms assured by copyleft, the thought would have horrified
me. Manufacturers have treated Linux device users like the proverbial frogs
in slowly boiling water, so we saw once a trickle and now an onslaught of
non-upgradable, non-modifiable, Linux-based IoT and mobile devices as a
norm; we’re even sometimes tricked into believing such infringing usage
counts as success for software freedom. I’m glad to help Conservancy
support and organize the primary group who continues to demand that the GPL
matters and should be upheld for Linux. We shouldn’t ignore users; their
personal rights, privacy, and control of their own technology are at stake
— and copyleft should assure their path to software freedom. That
path is now deeply buried in complicated legal and political debris, but I
believe that Conservancy will clear that path, and I and my colleagues at
Conservancy have a plan for it.

As we close out 2018, I must admit how tough this year has been for all of
us with regard to leadership
in the broader software freedom movement
. I spent a large part of 2019
deeply involved with the political and social work of moving forward
together in the face of the leadership crises and assuring the software
freedom movement spans generations diversely. Having lived through this
troubled year, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: we must be loyal to the
principles of software freedom, not to individual people. We must build a
welcoming community that is friendly to those who are different from us;
those folks are most likely to bring us desperately needed new ideas and
perspectives. I’m thus proud that Conservancy continues to host the
Outreachy initiative, which is the
premier internship program that seeks to bring those who have faced
specific hardships related to diversity and inclusion into the wonders of
FOSS development and leadership.

We’ve all had a tough 2019 for many reasons, and I certainly believe it’s
the most challenging year I’ve seen in my many years of software freedom
activism. But, I don’t shy away from a challenge: I am looking forward to
helping Conservancy work tirelessly to lead the way out of difficulty, with
new approaches.

Obviously I’m going to help with my staff time at Conservancy , for which
I am (obviously) paid a salary. (As I always joke, my salary has been a
matter of public record since 2001, you just have
to read the 501(c)(3)
Form 990s of the organizations I’ve worked for
.) I am very lucky that
I was born into the middle class in a wealthy country. I believe it’s
important to acknowledge the privilege that comes with advantages we
receive due to sheer luck. In recent years, I’ve focused on how I can use
that privilege to help the social justice causes that I care about. In
addition to devoting my career to a charity, I also think giving back
financially to charity is important. Each year, I usually give my largest
charitable donation to the charity where I
work, Software Freedom

It does feel strange to me to give money back to an organization that also
pays me a salary. However, I do it because: (a) it’s entirely voluntary
(thus showing clearly that it isn’t merely a run-of-the-mill paycut :), (b)
it help Conservancy meet
our meet
our annual match challenge
, and (c) I spend some of my time each winter
asking everyone I know to also voluntarily give. I hope you’ll join me
today in becoming (or
renewing!) as a Conservancy Supporter
. I hope you’ll set your
Supporter contribution at a level higher than the minimum. Usually,
computer geeks love to give amounts that are even powers of 2. This year,
I suggested that was perhaps a bit hackneyed, so we set our donor challenge
around prime numbers (the original match amount was $113,093). So, I
planned ahead a frugal year so that I could give $1,021 today to
Conservancy. I generally planned all year to give “about a
thousand” at year’s
end for the
, but I picked $1,021 specifically because it’s the closest prime
number to 210. I think it makes sense to give to charity
amounts of about about $60-100/month, as that’s typically the amount that
any middle class person in a wealthy country can afford if they just cut
out a few luxuries (e.g., DRM-laden streaming services, cooking at home
rather than eating at restaurants, etc.).

So, please join me today in contributing to Conservancy. Most
importantly, perhaps, today is the last day to donate for a USA tax
deduction in 2019! If you pay taxes in the USA, do take a look at the
deduction, because I’ve found in my fiscal planning that it does make a
budgeting difference and means I can give a bit more, knowing that I’ll get
some of it back from both the USA and state government.

Last Chance to Submit for 2020 FOSS License Policy Events

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

I ask that everyone give a thought to proposing at session at one (or
both) of two great events on the Open Source and Free Software calendar:
Legal and Policy DevRoom

and Copyleft
. Both CFPs close tomorrow!

I’ve been co-organizing the Legal and Policy DevRoom, along with my
colleagues Tom Marble, Richard Fontana, and Karen Sandler for the last
eight years. Copyleft Conf grew out of this event a few years ago because
there was excitement by attendees for another on in Brussels after FOSDEM
for more specific content about copyleft policy and licensing.

This year, the DevRoom is taking a new, experimental approach: we’re
looking for proposals for debates. Take a look at the CFP and see if you’d
be willing to take a position (pro or con) on some important issue of
debate in Free Software, and perhaps submit a proposal to join a debate

Copyleft Conf will be a more traditional conference at an urgent time in
copyleft history. This past year, there has been an increasing push by
companies and VC-friendly lawyers to redefine the future of copyleft to
serve the interests of powerful companies rather than individual users. I
hope Copyleft Conf 2020 will be a premier venue to have community-oriented
discussion about how copyleft can help users and developers gain more
software freedom.

On Recent Controversial Events

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

The last 33 days have been unprecedentedly difficult for the software
freedom community and for me personally. Folks have been emailing, phoning, texting, tagging me
on social media (— the last of which has been funny, because all my
social media accounts are placeholder accounts). But, just about
everyone has urged me to comment on the serious issues that the software freedom
community now faces. Until now, I have stayed silent regarding all
these current topics: from Richard M. Stallman (RMS)’s public statements, to his
resignation from the Free Software Foundation (FSF)
, to the Epstein scandal
and its connection to MIT. I’ve also avoided generally commenting on software freedom organization governance during this period. I did this for good
reason, which is explained below. However, in this blog post, I now share
my primary comments on the matters that seem to currently be of the utmost
attention of the Open Source and Free Software communities.

I have been silent the last month because, until two days ago, I was an
at-large member
of FSF’s Board of
, and a Voting Member of the FSF. As a member of FSF’s two
leadership bodies, I was abiding by a reasonable request from the FSF
management and my duty to the organization. Specifically, the FSF asked
that all communication during the
crisis come directly
from FSF officers and not from at-large directors and/or Voting Members.
Furthermore, the FSF management asked all Directors and Voting Members to
remain silent on this entire matter — even on issues only
tangentially related to the current situation, and even when speaking in
our own capacity (e.g., on our own blogs like this one). The FSF is an
important organization, and I take any request from the FSF seriously
— so I abided fully with their request.

The situation was further complicated because folks at my employer, Software
Freedom Conservancy (where I also serve on the Board of Directors) had
strong opinions about this matter as well. Fortunately, the FSF and
Conservancy both had already created clear protocols for what I should do
if ever there was a disagreement or divergence of views between Conservancy
and FSF. I therefore was recused fully from the planning, drafting, and
timing of Conservancy’s statement on this matter. I thank
my colleagues at the Conservancy for working so carefully to keep me entirely outside the loop on their statement and
to diligently assure that it was straight-forward for me to manage any
potential organizational disagreements. I also thank those at the FSF who
outlined clear protocols (ahead of time, back in March 2019) in case a
situation like this ever came up. I also know my colleagues at Conservancy
care deeply, as I do, about the health and welfare of the FSF and its
mission of fighting for universal software freedom for all. None of us
want, nor have, any substantive disagreement over software freedom issues.

I take very seriously my
duty to the various organizations where I have (or have had)
affiliations. More generally, I champion
non-profit organizational transparency. Unfortunately, the current crisis left me in a quandary between the overarching
goal of community transparency and abiding by FSF management’s directives. Now that
I’ve left the FSF Board of Directors, FSF’s Voting Membership, and all my
FSF volunteer roles (which ends my 22-year uninterrupted affiliation
with the FSF), I can now comment on the substantive issues that face
not just the FSF, but the Free Software community as a whole, while continuing to adhere to my past duty of
acting in FSF’s best interest. In other
words, my affiliation with the FSF has come to an end for many good and
useful reasons. The end to this affiliation allows me
to speak directly about the core issues at the heart of the community’s current crisis.

Firstly, all these events — from RMS’ public comments on the MIT
mailing list, to RMS’ resignation from the FSF to RMS’ discussions about the
next steps for the GNU project — seem to many to have happened
ridiculously quickly. But it wasn’t actually fast at all. In fact, these events were culmination of issues
that were slowly growing in concern to many people, including me.

For the last two years, I had been a loud internal voice in the FSF
leadership regarding RMS’ Free-Software-unrelated public statements; I felt
strongly that it was in the best interest of the FSF to actively seek to
limit such statements, and that it was my duty to FSF to speak out about this within the organization. Those who only learned of this story in the last
month (understandably)
believed Selam
G.’s Medium post
raised an entirely new issue. In fact, RMS’ views and statements posted on about sexual morality escalated for the worse over the last few years. When the escalation
started, I still considered RMS both a friend and colleague, and I
attempted to argue with him at length to convince him that some of his
positions were harmful to sexual assault survivors and those who are sex trafficked, and to the people who devote their lives in service
to such individuals. More importantly to the FSF, I attempted to persuade
RMS that launching a controversial campaign on sexual behavior and morality
was counter to his and FSF’s mission to advance software freedom, and told
RMS that my duty as an FSF Director was to assure the best outcome for the
FSF, which IMO didn’t include having a leader who made such statements.
Not only is human sexual behavior not a topic on which RMS has adequate
expertise, but also his positions appear to ignore significant research and
widely available information on the subject. Many of his comments, while
occasionally politically intriguing, lack empathy for people who
experienced trauma.

IMO, this is not and has never been a Free Speech issue. I do believe freedom of
speech links directly to software freedom: indeed, I see the freedom to
publish software under Free licenses as almost a corollary to the freedom
of speech. However, we do not need to follow leadership from those whose
views we fundamentally disagree. Moreover, organizations need not and
should not elevate spokespeople and leaders who speak regularly on
unrelated issues that organizations find do not
advance their mission, and/or that alienate important constituents. I, like many other software freedom leaders, curtail my public comments on issues not related to
FOSS. (Indeed, I would
not even be commenting on this issue if it had not become a
central issue of concern to the software freedom community.) Leaders have power, and they must exercise the power of their
words with restraint, not with impunity.

RMS has consistently argued that there was a campaign of “prudish
intimidation” — seeking to keep him quiet about his views on
sexuality. After years of conversing with RMS about how his
non-software-freedom views were a distraction, an indulgence, and downright
problematic, his general response was to make even more public
comments of this nature. The issue is not about RMS’
right to say what he believes, nor is it even about whether or not you
agree or disagree with RMS’ statements. The question is whether an
organization should have a designated leader who is on a sustained, public
campaign advocating about an unrelated issue that many consider
controversial. It really doesn’t matter what your view about the
controversial issue is; a leader who refuses to stop talking loudly about
unrelated issues eventually creates an untenable distraction from the
radical activism you’re actively trying to advance. The message of
universal software freedom is a radical cause; it’s basically
impossible for one individual to effectively push forward two unrelated
controversial agendas at once. In short, the radical message of software
freedom became overshadowed by RMS’ radical views about sexual

And here is where I say the thing that may infuriate many but it’s what I believe: I think RMS took
a useful step by resigning some of his leadership roles at the FSF.
I thank RMS for taking that step, and I wish the
FSF Directors well in their efforts to assure that the
FSF becomes a welcoming organization to all who care about universal software freedom.
The FSF’s mission is essential to our
technological future, and we should all support that mission. I care deeply about that mission myself
and have worked and will continue to work in our community in the best interest of the mission.

I’m admittedly struggling to find a way to work again with
RMS, given his views on sexual morality and his behaviors stemming
from those views. I explicitly do not agree with this “(re-)definition” of sexual assault).
Furthermore, I believe uninformed statements about sexual assault are irresponsible
and cause harm to victims. #MeToo is not a “frenzy”; it is a global movement by
individuals who have been harmed seeking to hold both bad
actors and society-at-large accountable for ignoring systemic
wrongs. Nevertheless,
I still am proud of the essay that I co-wrote with RMS
and still find
many of RMS’ other essays compelling,
important, and relevant.

I want the FSF to succeed in its mission and enter a new era of accomplishments. I’ve spent the last 22 years, without a break,
dedicating substantial time, effort, care and loyalty to the various FSF roles that I’ve had: including
employee, volunteer, at-large Director, and Voting Member. Even though my
duties to the FSF are done, and my relationship with the FSF is no longer
formal, I still think the FSF is a valuable institution worth helping and saving,
specifically because the FSF was founded for a mission that I deeply
support. And we should also realize that RMS — a human being (who is
flawed like the rest of us) — invented that mission.

As culture change becomes more
rapid, I hope we can find reasonable nuance and moderation on our complex
analysis about people and their disparate views, while we also hold
individuals fully accountable for their actions. That’s the difficulty we
face in the post-post-modern culture of the early twenty-first century.
Most importantly, I believe we must find a way to stand firm for software
freedom while also making a safe environment for victims of sexual assault,
gaslighting, and other deplorable actions.

Chasing Quick Fixes To Sustainability

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

This post is co-authored with my colleague, Karen M. Sandler, and is
crossposted from Software Freedom Conservancy’s

Various companies and trade associations have now launched their own tweak on answers to the question
of “FOSS sustainability”. We commented in March on Linux Foundation’s Community Bridge, and Bradley’s talk at SCALE 2019 focused on this issue (video). Assuring that
developers are funded to continue to maintain and improve FOSS is the focus of many organizations in our community,
including charities like ourselves, the Free Software Foundation, the GNOME Foundation, Software in the Public Interest, and others.

Today, another for-profit company, GitHub, announced their sponsors program.
We’re glad that GitHub is taking seriously the issue of assuring that those doing the work in FOSS are financially supported. We hope that GitHub will ultimately facilitate charities as payees, so that Conservancy membership projects can benefit. We realize the program is in beta, but our overarching concern remains that the fundamental approach of this new program fails to address any of the major issues that have already been identified in FOSS sustainability.

Conservancy has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund FOSS developers over the course of our existence. We find that managing the community goverance, carefully
negotating with communities about who will be paid, how paid workers interact with the unpaid volunteers, and otherwise managing and assuring that donor dollars are well
spent to advance the project are the great challenges of FOSS sustainability. We realize that newcomers to this discussion (like GitHub and their parent company, Microsoft) may not be aware of these complex problems. We also have
sympathy for their current approach: when Conservancy started, we too thought that merely putting up a donation button and routing payments was the primary and central activity to assure FOSS
sustainability. We quickly discovered that those tasks are prerequisite, but alone are not sufficient to succeed.

Just as important is how the infrastructure is implemented. GitHub is a proprietary software platform for FOSS development, and their sponsors program implements more proprietary software
on top of that proprietary platform. FOSS developers should have FOSS that helps them fund their work. Choosing FOSS instead of proprietary software is not always easy initially. Conservancy promotes free-as-in-freedom solutions like our Houdini project and other initiatives throughout our community.
We are somewhat alarmed at the advent of so many entrants into the FOSS sustainability space that offer proprietary software and/or proprietary network services as a proposed solution.
We hope that GitHub and others who have entered this space recently will collaborate with the existing community of charities who are already working on this problem and remain in search
of long-term sustainable, FOSS-friendly solutions.

Delta Airlines Crosses One Line Too Far in Union Busting

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

We create, develop, document and collaborate as users of Free and Open
Source Software (FOSS) from around the globe, usually by working remotely
on the Internet. However, human beings have many millennia of evolution
that makes us predisposed to communicate most effectively via in-person
interaction. We don’t just rely on the content of communication, but its
manner of expression, the body language of the communicator, and thousands
of different non-verbal cues and subtle communication mechanisms. In fact,
I believe something that’s quite radical for a software freedom activist to
believe: meeting in person to discuss something is always better
than some form of online communication. And this belief is why I attend so
many FOSS events, and encourage (and work in my day job to support)
programs and policies that financially assist others in FOSS to attend
such events.

When I travel, Delta Airlines often works out to be the best option for my
travel: they have many international flights from my home airport (PDX),
including a daily one to AMS in Europe — and since many
FOSS events are in Europe, this has worked out well.

Admittedly, most for-profit companies that I patronize regularly engage in
some activity that I find abhorrent. One of the biggest challenges of
modern middle-class life in an industrialized soceity is figuring out
(absent becoming a Thoreau-inspired recluse) how to navigate one’s comfort
level with patronizing companies that engage in bad behaviors. We all have
to pick our own boycotts and what vendors we’re going to avoid.

I realize that all the commercial airlines are some of the worst
environmental polluters in the world. I realize that they all hire
union-busting law firms to help them mistreat their workers. But,
Airlines recent PR campaign to frighten their workers about unions
one dirty trick too far.

I know unions can be inconvenient for organizational leadership; I
actually have been a manager of a workforce who unionized while I was an
executive. I personally negotiated that union contract with staff. The
process is admittedly annoying and complicated. But I fundamentally
believe it’s deeply necessary, because workers’ rights to collectively
organize and negotiate with their employers is a cornerstone of equality
— not just in the USA but around the entire world.

Furthermore, the Delta posters are particularly offensive because they
reach into the basest problematic instinct in humans that often becomes our
downfall: the belief that one’s own short-term personal convenience and
comfort should be valued higher than the long-term good of our larger
communityf. It’s that instinct that causes us to litter, or to shun public
transit and favor driving a car and/or calling a ride service.

We won’t be perfect in our efforts to serve the greater good, and
sometimes we’re going to selfishly
(say) buy
a video game system with money that could go to a better cause
. What’s
truly offensive, and downright nefarious here, is that Delta Airlines
— surely in full knowledge of the worst parts of some human instincts
— attempted to exploit that for their own profit and future ability
to oppress their workforce.

As a regular Delta customer (both personally, and through my employer when
they reimburse my travel), I had to decide how to respond to this act
that’s beyond the pale. I’ve decided on the following steps:

  • I’ve written the following statement via Delta’s complaint form:

    I am a Diamond Medallion (since 2016) on Delta, and I’ve flown
    more than 975,000 miles on Delta since 2000. I am also a (admittedly
    small) shareholder in Delta myself (via my retirement savings

    I realize that it is common practice for your company (and indeed
    likely every other airline) to negotiate hard with unions to get the
    best deal for your company and its shareholders. However, taking the
    step to launch what appears to be a well-funded and planned PR
    campaign to convince your workers to reject the union and instead
    spend union dues funds on frivolous purchases instead is a
    despicable, nefarious strategy. Your fiduciary duty to your
    shareholders does not mandate the use of unethical and immoral
    strategies with your unionizing labor force — only that you
    negotiate in good faith to get the best deal with them for the

    I demand that Delta issue a public apology for the posters. Ideally,
    such an apology should include a statement by Delta indicating that
    you believe your workers have the right to unionize and should take
    seriously the counter-arguments put forward by the union in favor
    of union dues and each employee should decide for themselves what is

    I’ve already booked my primary travel through the rest of the year, so
    I cannot easily pivot away from Delta quickly. This gives you some
    time to do the right thing. If Delta does not apologize publicly for
    this incident by November 1st, 2019, I plan to begin avoiding Delta
    as a carrier and will seek a status match on another airline.

    I realize that this complaint email will likely primarily be read by
    labor, not by management. I thus also encourage you to do
    two things: (a) I hope you’ll share this message, to the extent you are
    permitted under your employment agreement, with your coworkers. Know
    that there are Diamond Medallions out here in the Delta system who
    support your right to unionize. (b) I hope you escalate this matter
    up to management decision-makers so they know that regular customers
    are unhappy at their actions.

  • Given that I’m already booked on many non-refundable Delta flights in
    the coming months, I would like to make business-card-sized flyers that say
    something like: I’m a Delta frequent flyer & I support a unionizing
    and maybe on the other side: Delta should apologize for
    the posters
    . It would be great if these had some good graphics or
    otherwise be eye-catching in some way. The idea would be to give them out
    to travelers and leave them in seat pockets on flights for others to find.
    If anyone is interested in this project and would like to help, email me
    — I have no graphic design skills and would appreciate help.
  • I’m encouraging everyone
    to visit Delta’s
    complaint form
    and complain about this. If you’ve flown Delta before
    with a frequent flyer account, make sure you’re logged into that account
    when you fill out the form — I know from experience their system
    prioritizes how seriously they take the complaint based on your past
  • I plan to keep my DAL stock shares until the next annual meeting, and
    (schedule-permitting), I plan to attend the annual meeting and attempt to
    speak about the issue (or at least give out the aforementioned business
    cards there). I’ll also look in to whether shareholders can attend
    earnings calls to ask questions, so maybe I can do something of this nature
    before the next annual meeting.

Overall, there is one positive outcome of this for me personally: I am
renewed in my appreciation for having spent most of my career working for
charities. Charities in the software freedom community have our problems,
but nearly everyone I’ve worked with at software freedom charities
(including management) have always been staunchly pro-union. Workers have
a right to negotiate on equal terms with their employers and be treated as
equals to come to equitable arrangements about working conditions and
workplace issues. Unions aren’t perfect, but they are the only way to
effectively do that when a workforce is larger than a few people.

Understanding LF’s New “Community Bridge”

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ This blog post was co-written by me and Karen M. Sandler, with input from
Deb Nicholson, for
our Conservancy
blog, and that its canonical location.
I’m reposting here just for
the convenience of those who are subscribed to my RSS feed but not get
Conservancy’s feed. ]

Yesterday, the Linux Foundation (LF) launched a new service, called
“Community Bridge” — an ambitious
platform that promises a self-service system to handle finances, address security issues, manage CLAs and license compliance, and also bring mentorship to projects. These tasks are difficult work that typically require human intervention, so we understand the allure of automating them; we and our peer organizations have long welcomed newcomers to this field and have together sought collaborative assistance for these issues. Indeed, Community Bridge’s offerings bear some similarity to the work of organizations like Apache Software Foundation, the Free
Software Foundation (FSF), the GNOME Foundation (GF), Open Source Initiative (OSI), Software in the Public Interest (SPI) and Conservancy. People have already begun to ask us to compare this initiative to our work and the work of our peer organizations. This blog post
hopefully answers those questions and anticipated similar questions.

The first huge difference (and the biggest disappointment for the entire FOSS community) is that LF’s Community Bridge
is a proprietary software system. §4.2 of
their Platform
Use Agreement
requires those who sign up for this platform to agree to
a proprietary software license, and LF has remained silent
about the proprietary nature of the platform in its explanatory materials. The LF, as an organization dedicated to Open Source, should release the source for Community Bridge.
At Conservancy, we’ve worked since 2012 on
a Non-Profit Accounting Software system,
including creating
a tagging system for transparently documenting ledger transactions
, and
various support
software around that
. We and SPI both now use these methods daily. We also funded the creation of
a system to
manage mentorship programs
, which we now runs the Outreachy mentorship program. We believe
fundamentally that the infrastructure we provide for FOSS fiscal
sponsorship (including accounting, mentorship and license compliance) must itself be FOSS, and developed in public as a FOSS
project. LF’s own research already shows that transparency is impossible for systems that are not FOSS. More importantly, LF’s new software could directly benefit so many
organizations in our community, including not only Conservancy but also
the many others (listed above) who do some form of fiscal sponsorship. LF shouldn’t behave like a proprietary software company like Patreon or
Kickstarter, but instead support FOSS development.
Generally speaking, all Conservancy’s peer organizations (listed above) have been fully dedicated to the idea that any infrastructure
developed for fiscal sponsorship should itself be FOSS. LF has deviated
here from this community norm by unnecessarily requiring FOSS developers to use proprietary software to receive these services, and also failing to collaborate over a FOSS
codebase with the existing community of organizations. LF Executive Director Jim Zemlin has said that he “wants more participation in open source … to advance its sustainability and … wants organizations to share their code for the benefit of their fellow [hu]mankind”; we ask him to apply these principles to his own organization now.

The second difference is that LF is not a charity, but a trade association
— designed to serve the common business interest
of its paid
, who control its Board of Directors. This means that donations
made to projects through their system will not be tax-deductible in the
USA, and that the money can be used in ways that do not necessarily benefit
the public good. For some projects, this may well be an advantage: not all
FOSS projects operate in the public good. We believe charitable commitment
remains a huge benefit of joining a fiscal sponsor like Conservancy, FSF, GF, or SPI.
While charitable affiliation means there are more constraints on how projects can spend
their funds, as the projects must show that their spending serves the public
benefit, we believe that such constraints are most valuable. Legal
requirements that assure behavior of the organization always benefits the
general public are a good thing. However, some projects may indeed prefer to
serve the common business interest of LF’s member companies rather than
the public good, but projects should note such benefit to the common
business interest is mandatory on this platform —
it’s explicitly
unauthorized to use LF’s platform to engage in activities in conflict with
LF’s trade association status
). Furthermore, (per
the FAQ) only one maintainer
can administer a project’s account, so the platform currently only
supports the “BDFL”
FOSS governance model
, which has already been widely discredited. No
governance check exists to ensure that the project’s interests align with
spending, or to verify that the maintainer acts with consent of a larger
group to implement group decisions. Even worse, (per §2.3 of the Usage Agreement) terminating the relationship means ceasing use of the account; no provision allows transfer of the money somewhere else when projects’ needs change.

Finally, the LF offers services that are mainly orthogonal and/or a
subset of the services provided by a typical fiscal sponsor. Conservancy,
for example, does work to negotiate contracts, assist in active
fundraising, deal with legal and licensing issues, and various other
hands-on work. LF’s system is similar to Patreon and other platforms in
that it is a hands-off system that takes a cut of the money and provides
minimal financial services. Participants will still need to worry about
forming their own organization if they want to sign contracts, have an
entity that can engage with lawyers and receive legal advice for the project, work through governance issues, or the many
other things that projects often want from a fiscal sponsor.

Historically, fiscal sponsors in FOSS have not treated each other as
competitors. Conservancy collaborates often with SPI, FSF, and GF in
particular. We refer applicant projects to other entities, including
explaining to applicants that a trade association may be a better fit for
their project. In some cases, we have even referred such
trade-association-appropriate applicants to the LF itself, and the LF then
helped them form their own sub-organizations and/or became LF Collaborative
Projects. The launch of this platform, as proprietary
software, without coordination with the rest of the FOSS organization
community, is unnecessarily uncollaborative with our community and
we therefore encourage some skepticism here. That said, this new
LF system is probably just right for FOSS projects that (a) prefer to use
single-point-of-failure, proprietary software rather than FOSS for their infrastructure, (b) do not
want to operate in a way that is dedicated to the public good, and (c) have very minimal
fiscal sponsorship needs, such as occasional reimbursements of project

What Debian Does For Me

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

I woke up early this morning, and those of you live above 45 parallel
north or so are used to the “I’m wide awake but it’s still dark as
night” feeling in the winter. I usually don’t turn on the lights,
wander into my office, and just bring my computer out of hibernate; that
takes a bit as my 100% Free-Software-only computer is old and slow, so I
usually go to make coffee while that happens.

As I came back in my office this morning I was a bit struck by both
displays with the huge Debian screen lock image, and it got me thinking of
how Debian has been my companion for so many years.
I spoke about this at
a bit, and wrote
about a similar concept years before
. I realize that it’s been almost
nine years that I’ve been thinking rather deeply about my personal
relationship with Debian and why it matters.

This morning, I was inspired to post this because, echoing back to my
thoughts at my DebConf 15 talk, that I can’t actually do the work I do
without Debian. I thought this morning about a few simple things that
Debian gets done for me that are essential:

  • Licensing assurance. I really can trust that Debian will not put
    something in main that fails to respect my software
    freedom. Given my lifelong work on Free Software licensing, yes, I can
    vet a codebase to search for hidden proprietary software among the Free,
    but it’s so convenient to have another group of people gladly do that job
    for me and other users.
  • Curated and configured software, with connection to the
    . Some days it seems none of the new generation of
    developers are a fan of software packaging anymore. Anytime you want to
    run something new these days, someone is trying to convince you to
    download some docker image or something like that. It’s not that I don’t
    see the value in that, but what I usually want is that software I just
    read about installed on my machine as quickly as possible. Debian’s
    repository is huge, and the setup of Debian as a project allows for each
    package maintainer to work in relative independence to make the software
    of their interest run correctly as part of the whole. For the user, that
    means when I hear about some interesting software, Debian immediately
    connects me, via apt, with the individual expert who knows about that
    and my operating system /
    both. Apt, Debian’s Bug Tracker, etc. are actually a
    rudimentary but very usable form of a social networking that allows me to
    find the person who did the job to get this software actually working on
    my system. That’s a professional community that’s amazing
  • Stability. It’s rather amusing, All the Debian
    developers I know run testing on their laptop and stable only on their
    servers. I run stable on my laptop. I have a hectic schedule and always
    lots of work to do that, sadly, does not usually include “making my
    personal infrastructure setup do new things”. While I enjoy that
    sort of work, it’s a rabbit hole that I rarely have the luxury to enter.
    Running Debian stable on my laptop means I am (almost) never surprised by
    any behavior of my equipment. In the last nine years, if my computer does
    something weird, it’s basically always a hardware problem.

Sure, maybe you can get the last two mostly with other
distributions, but I don’t think you can get the first one anywhere
better. Anyway, I’ve gotta get to work for the day, but those of you out
there that make Debian happen, perhaps you’ll see a bit of a thank you from
me today. While I’ve thanked you all before, I think that no one does it

My Views on GNU Kind Communication Guidelines and Related Material

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

I have until now avoided making a public statement about my views on the
various interrelated issues regarding the GNU Kind Communication
that came up over the last month. However, given
increasing interest in our community on these issues, and the repeated
inquiries that I received privately from major contributors in our
community, I now must state my views publicly. I don’t have much desire to
debate these topics in public, nor do I think such is particularly useful,
but I’ve been asked frequently about these GNU policy statements. I feel,
if for no other reason than efficiency, that I should share them in one
place publicly for easy reference:

  • I think
    the GNU
    Kind Communication Guidelines
    , as a stand-alone document, are useful
    suggestions and helpful to the GNU project and would be helpful, if
    adopted, for any software freedom project.
  • However, I think that the GNU Kind Communication
    Guidelines standing alone are inadequate for a project of GNU’s
    size and number of contributors to address the stated problems.
    Traditional Codes of Conduct, particularly those that offer mechanisms
    for complaint resolution when bad behavior occurs, are necessary in Free
    Software projects of GNU’s size. Codes of Conduct are the best mechanism
    known today in our community to ensure welcoming environments for those
    who might be targeted by inappropriate and unprofessional behavior.
  • I therefore disagree with
    the meta-material stated in
    the announcement of these Communication Guidelines
    . First, I
    disagree with the decision to reject any Code of Conduct for the GNU
    project. Second, I believe that diversity is an important goal for
    advancing software freedom and human equality generally. I am a supporter of
    Outreachy and work hard to help it
    succeed as part of my day job. I have publicly supported affirmative
    action since the early 1990s, and continue to support it. I agree with
    “making diversity a goal”; Richard Stallman (RMS), speaking
    on behalf of GNU, states
    perse disagrees with that.
  • I also disagree with GNU’s encouragement that GNU project
    contributors ignore the request of non-binary-gendered individuals who
    ask for the pronouns they/them, as
    in RMS’ personal essay linked to from the GNU Kind Communication
    . My position is that refusing to use the pronouns
    people ask for is the same unkindness as refusing to call transgendered
    people by a name that is not their legal name when they request it. I
    don’t think the grammatical argument that “pronouns are different
    from proper nouns” is compelling enough to warrant unwelcoming
    behavior toward these individuals. The words people use matter. RMS has
    insisted for years that people make a clear distinction between open
    source and free software — for good reason —. I believe that
    how we say things makes a political statement in itself.
  • Related to the last point, I am concerned with the conflating of GNU
    project views with RMS’ personal views. RMS seems to have decided
    unilaterally that GNU would take a position that requests for use of
    they/them pronouns need not be honored. I think it is essential that RMS
    keeps per personal views separate from official GNU policy; I have said
    so many times to the FSF Board of Directors in various contexts. It was
    a surprise to me that RMS’ personal view on this issue was referenced as
    part of GNU project guideline.
  • I think
    the GNU
    Kindness Communication Guidelines should apply to all communication from
    the project, including GNU manuals themselves, and I also believe the
    glibc abort() joke
    should be removed. I don’t believe
    free speech of anyone is impacted if a Free Software project forbids
    certain types of off-topic communication in its official channels.
    Everyone can have their own website and blog to express their personal
    views; they don’t need to do so through project channels.

I have been encouraged many times this year by various prominent community
members to resign from the FSF’s Board of Directors (sometimes over these
issues, and sometimes over other, similar issues). I have also received
many private communications from other prominent community members
(including some GNU contributors) expressing similar concerns to the above,
but these individuals noted that they feel much better about the FSF and
its shepherding of the GNU project because I’m on the FSF Board of
Directors, even though I clearly pointed out to them that my views on these
matters will not necessarily become GNU and/or FSF policy. The argument
that many have made to me is that it’s valuable to have dissenting opinions
in the leadership on these issues, even if those dissenting opinions do not
become FSF and/or GNU policy.

I am swayed by the latter argument, and I have decided to continue as an
FSF Director indefinitely (assuming the other Directors wish me to
continue). However, these recent public positions are far enough out of
alignment with my own views that I feel it necessary to exercise my own
free speech rights here on my personal blog and state my disagreement with
them. I will continue to urge the FSF and GNU to change and/or clarify
these positions.

Governing well means working (and finding common ground) with those you
disagree. We oscillate a bit too much in software freedom communities:
either we air every last disagreement no matter how minor, or (perhaps as
an over-correction to the former) we seek to represent a seemingly perfect
consensus even when one isn’t present. I try to avoid both extremes; so
this is the first time in my many years on the FSF Board of Directors where
I’ve publicly disagreed with an FSF or GNU project policy. FSF and GNU
primarily fight for one principle: equal software freedom for all users and
developers. On other topics, there can easily exist disagreement, and
working through those disagreements together, in my opinion, usually make
the community stronger.

As always, this is my personal blog, and nothing here necessarily reflects
the official views of any organization with which I am affiliated,
including not only the Free Software Foundation and GNU, but also Software
Freedom Conservancy.

Toward Community-Oriented, Public & Transparent Copyleft Policy Planning

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ A similar version
was crossposted
on Conservancy’s blog
. ]

More than 15 years ago, Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS)
community activists successfully argued that licensing proliferation was a
serious threat to the viability of FLOSS. We convinced companies to end
the era of
“vanity” licenses. Different charities — from the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to
the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to the Apache Software Foundation — all agreed we were better
off with fewer FLOSS licenses. We de-facto instituted what my colleague
Richard Fontana once called the “Rule of Three” —
assuring that any potential FLOSS license should be met with suspicion
unless (a) the OSI declares that it meets their Open Source Definition,
(b) the FSF declares that it meets their Free Software Definition, and (c)
the Debian Project declares that it meets their Debian Free Software
. The work for those organizations quelled license proliferation
from radioactive threat to safe background noise. Everyone thought the
problem was solved. Pointless license drafting had become a rare practice,
and updated versions of established licenses were handled with public engagement
and close discussion with the OSI and other license evaluation experts.

Sadly, the age of
license proliferation has returned. It’s harder to stop this time, because
this isn’t merely about corporate vanity licenses. Companies now have complex FLOSS policy
agendas, and those agendas are not to guarantee software
freedom for all. While it is annoying that our community must again confront an
old threat, we are fortunate the problem is not hidden: companies proposing
their own licenses are now straightforward about their new FLOSS licenses’ purposes: to maximize profits.

licenses are now common, but seem like FLOSS licenses only to the most casual of readers.
We’ve succeeded in convincing everyone to “check the OSI license
list before you buy”. We can therefore easily dismiss licenses like Common
Clause merely
by stating they are non-free/non-open-source
and urging the community to
avoid them. But, the next stage of tactics have begun, and they are
harder to combat. What happens when for-profit companies promulgate their
own hyper-aggressive (quasi-)copyleft licenses that seek to pursue the key
policy goal of “selling proprietary licenses” over
“defending software freedom”? We’re about to find out,
because, yesterday,
MongoDB declared themselves the arbiter of what “strong copyleft” means.

Understanding MongoDB’s Business Model

To understand the policy threat inherent in MongoDB’s so-called
Side Public License, Version 1”
, one must first understand the
fundamental business model for MongoDB and companies like them. These
companies use copyleft for profit-making rather than freedom-protecting. First, they require full control (either via ©AA or CLA) of
all copyrights in the work, and second, they offer two independent lines of
licensing. Publicly, they provide the software under the strongest
copyleft license available. Privately, the same (or secretly improved)
versions of the software are available under fully proprietary terms. In
theory, this could be
merely selling
: a benign manner of funding more Free Software code —
giving the proprietary option only to those who request it. In practice
— in all examples that have been even mildly successful (such as
MongoDB and MySQL) — this mechanism serves as a warped proprietary
licensing shake-down: “Gee, it looks like you’re violating the
copyleft license. That’s a shame. I guess you just need to abandon the
copyleft version and buy a proprietary license from us to get yourself out
of this jam, since we don’t plan to reinstate any lost rights and
permissions under the copyleft license.” In other words, this
structure grants exclusive and dictatorial power to a for-profit company as
the arbiter of copyleft compliance. Indeed, we have never seen any of
these companies follow or endorse the Principles of
Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement
. While it has made me unpopular with some, I still make no apologies that I have since 2004
consistently criticized this “proprietary relicensing” business
model as “nefarious”, once I started hearing regular reports that MySQL AB (now
Oracle) asserts GPL violations against compliant uses merely to scare
users into becoming “customers”. Other companies,
including MongoDB, have since emulated this activity.

Why Seek Even Stronger Copyleft?

The GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) has done a wonderful job defending the software freedom of
community-developed projects
like Mastodon
and Mediagoblin.
So, we should answer with skepticism
a solitary
for-profit company coming
forward to claim
that “Affero GPL has not resulted in sufficient
legal incentives for some of the largest users of infrastructure software
… to participate in the community. Many open source developers are
struggling with a similar reality”. If the last sentence were on
Wikipedia, I’d edit it to add a Citation Needed tag, as I know
of nomulti-copyright-held or charity-based AGPL’d project
that has “struggled with this reality”. In fact, it’s only a
“reality” for those that engage in proprietary relicensing.
Eliot Horowitz, co-founder of MongoDB and promulgator of their new license, neglects to mention that.

The most glaring problem with this license, which Horowitz admits in his OSI license-review list post, is that there was no community drafting process. Instead, a for-profit company, whose primary goal is to
use copyleft as a weapon against the software-sharing community for the purpose of converting that “community” into paying
customers, published this license as a fait accompli without prior public discussion of the license text.

If this action were an isolated incident by one company, ignoring it is surely the best response. Indeed,
I urged everyone to simply ignore the Commons Clause. Now, we see
a repackaging of the Commons Clause into a copyleft-like box (with reuse of Commons Clause’s text
such as “whose value derives, entirely or substantially, from the functionality of the Software”). Since
both licenses were drafted in secret, we cannot know if the reuse of text was simply because the same lawyer was
employed to write both, or if MongoDB has joined a broader and more significant industry-wide strategy to replace
existing FLOSS licensing with alternatives that favor businesses over individuals.

The Community Creation Process Matters

Admittedly, the history of copyleft has been one of slowly evolving
community-orientation. GPLv1 and GPLv2 were drafted in private, too, by
Richard Stallman and FSF’s (then) law firm lawyer, Jerry Cohen. However, from
the start, the license steward was not Stallman himself, nor the law firm,
but the FSF, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to
serve the public good. As such, the FSF made substantial efforts in the
GPLv3 process to reorient the drafting of copyleft licenses as a public
policy and legislative process. Like all legislative processes, GPLv3 was
not ideal — and I was even personally miffed to be relegated to the
oft-ignored “GPLv3 Discussion Committee D” — but the GPLv3 process was
undoubtedly a step forward in FLOSS community license drafting.
Corporation made efforts for community collaboration in redrafting the
, and specifically included the OSI and the FSF (arbiters of the
Open Source Definition and Free Software Definition (respectively)) in
MPL’s drafting deliberations. The modern acceptable standard is a leap rather
than a step forward: a fully public, transparent drafting process with a fully
public draft repository, as the copyleft-next project
has done
. I think we should now meet with utmost suspicion any license
that does not use copyleft-next’s approach of “running licensing drafting
as a Free Software project”.

I was admittedly skeptical of that approach at first. What I have seen
six years since Richard Fontana started copyleft-next is that, simply put,
the key people who are impacted most fundamentally by a software
license are mostly likely to be
aware of, and engage in, a process if it is fully public, community-oriented,
and uses community tools, like Git.

Like legislation, the policies outlined in copyleft licenses impact the
general public, so the general public should be welcomed to the
drafting. At Conservancy, we don’t draft our own
licenses0, so our contracts with
software developers and agreements with member projects state that the
licenses be both “OSI-approved Open Source” and
“FSF-approved GPL-compatible Free Software”. However, you can
imagine that Conservancy has a serious vested interest in what licenses are
ultimately approved by the OSI and the FSF. Indeed, with so much money
flowing to software developers bound by those licenses, our very charitable
mission could be at stake if OSI and the FSF began approving proprietary
licenses as Open, Free, and/or GPL-compatible. I want to therefore see
license stewards work, as Mozilla did, to make the vetting process easier,
not harder, for these organizations.

A community drafting process allows everyone to vet the license text early and often,
to investigate the community and industry impact of the license, and to probe the license drafter’s intent through the acceptance and rejection of proposed modified text (ideally through a DVCS). With for-profit actors seeking to
gain policy control of fundamental questions such as “what is strong
copyleft?”, we must demand full drafting transparency and frank public

The Challenge Licensing Arbiters Face

OSI, FSF, and Debian have a huge challenge before them. Historically, the
FSF was the only organization who sought to push the boundary of strong
copyleft. (Full disclosure: I created the Affero clause while working for
the FSF in 2002, inspired by Henry Poole’s useful and timely demands for a true network
services copyleft.) Yet, the Affero clause was itself controversial. Many complained that it changed the fundamental rules of
copyleft. While “triggered only on distribution, not
modification” was a fundamental rule of the regular GPL, we
as a community — over time and much public debate — decided the Affero clause is a legitimate copyleft, and AGPL was
declared Open Source by OSI
and DFSG-free
by Debian

That debate was obviously framed by the FSF. The FSF, due
to public pressure, compromised by leaving the AGPL as an indefinite
fork of the GPL (i.e., the FSF did not include the Affero clause in plain GPL. While I
personally lobbied (from GPLv3 Discussion Committee D and elsewhere) for the merger
of AGPL and GPL during the GPLv3 drafting process, I respect the decision
of the FSF, which was informed not by my one voice,
but the voices of the entire community.

Furthermore, the FSF is a charity, chartered to serve the public good
and the advancement of software freedom for users and developers. MongoDB
is a for-profit company, chartered to serve the wallets of its owners.
While MongoDB (like any other company) should be welcomed on equal footing
to individuals, charities, and trade-associations to the debate about the
future of copyleft, we should not accept their active framing of that
debate. By submitting this license to OSI for approval without any public
community discussion, and without any discussion whatsoever with the key
charities in the community, is unacceptable. The OSI should now adopt a new requirement for license approval — namely, that licenses without a community-oriented drafting
process should be rejected for the meta-reason of “non-transparent
drafting”, regardless of their actual text. This will have the added
benefit of forcing future license drafters to come to OSI, on their public mailing
lists, before the license is finalized. That will save OSI the painstaking
work of walking back bad license drafts, which has in recent years consumed
much expert time by OSI’s volunteers.

Welcoming All To Public Discussion

Earlier this year, Conservancy announced plans to host and organize
the first annual CopyleftConf.
Conservancy decided to do this because Conservancy seeks to create a truly
open, friendly, and
forum for discussion about the past and future of copyleft as
a strategy for defending software freedom. We had no idea when
Karen and I first mentioned the possibility of running CopyleftConf (during
the Organizers’ Panel at the end of the Legal and Policy DevRoom at FOSDEM
2018 in February 2018) that multiple companies would come forward and seek
to control the microphone on the future of copyleft. Now that MongoDB has
done so, I’m very glad that the conference is already organized and on the
calendar before they did so.

Despite my criticisms of MongoDB, I welcome Eliot Horowitz, Heather Meeker (the law firm lawyer who drafted MongoDB’s new license and the Commons Clause), or anyone else who was involved in the
creation of MongoDB’s new license to submit a talk.
Conservancy will be announcing soon the independent group of copyleft
experts (and critics!) who will make up the Program Committee and will
independently evaluate the submissions. Even if a talk is rejected, I
welcome rejected proposers to attend and speak about their views in the hallway track and
the breakout sessions.

One of the most important principles in copyleft policy that our community
has learned is that commercial, non-commercial, and individual actors
should have equal footing with regard to rights assured by the copyleft
licenses themselves. There is no debate about that; we all agree that
copyleft codebases become meeting places for hobbyists, companies, charities,
and trade associations to work together toward common goals and in harmony
and software freedom. With this blog post, I call on everyone to continue
on the long road to applying that same principle to the meta-level of how
these licenses are drafted and how
are enforced
. While we have done some work recently on the latter, not
enough has been done on the former. MongoDB’s actions today give us an
opportunity to begin that work anew.

0 While Conservancy does
not draft any main FLOSS license texts, Conservancy does
with the drafting of additional permissions
upon the request of our
member projects. Note that additional permissions (sometimes called license
exceptions) grant permission to engage in activities that the main license
would otherwise prohibit. As such, by default, additional permissions can
only make a copyleft license weaker, never stronger.

Thoughts on Microsoft Joining OIN’s Patent Non-Aggression Pact

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ A similar version
was crossposted
on Conservancy’s blog
. ]

Folks lauded today
that Microsoft
has joined the Open Invention Network (OIN)’s limited patent non-aggression
, suggesting that perhaps it will bring peace in our time regarding
Microsoft’s historical patent aggression.
While today’s announcement is a step forward, we call on Microsoft to make
this just the beginning of their efforts to stop their patent aggression
efforts against the software freedom community.

The OIN patent non-aggression pact is governed by something
called the
Linux System Definition
. This is the most important component of the OIN
non-aggression pact, because it’s often surprising what is not
included in that Definition especially when compared with Microsoft’s patent
aggression activities. Most importantly, the non-aggression pact only
applies to the upstream versions of software, including Linux itself.

We know
that Microsoft has done patent troll shakedowns in the past on Linux products
related to the exfat filesystem.
While we
at Conservancy were successful in getting the code that implements exfat for
Linux released under GPL (by Samsung)
, that code has not been upstreamed
into Linux. So, Microsoft has not included any patents they
might hold on exfat into the patent non-aggression pact.

We now ask Microsoft, as a sign of good faith and to confirm its intention
to end all patent aggression against Linux and its users, to now submit to
upstream the exfat code themselves under GPLv2-or-later. This would
provide two important protections to Linux users regarding exfat: (a) it
would include any patents that read on exfat as part of OIN’s
non-aggression pact while Microsoft participates in OIN, and (b) it would
provide the various benefits that GPLv2-or-later provides regarding
including an
implied patent license
and those protections provided
by GPLv2§7
(and possibly other GPL protections and assurances as well)

Challenges in Maintaining A Big Tent for Software Freedom

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ A similar version of this blog post
was cross-posted
on Software Freedom Conservancy’s blog

In recent weeks, I’ve been involved with a complex internal discussion by
a major software freedom project about a desire to take a stance on social
justice issues other than software freedom. In the discussion, many
different people came forward with various issues that matter to them,
including vegetarianism, diversity, and speech censorship, wondering how that
software freedom project should handle other social justices causes that are
not software freedom. This week, (separate and fully unrelated)
another project, called Lerna,
publicly had a similar
. The issues involved are challenging, and it deserves careful
consideration regardless of how the issue is raised.

One of the first licensing discussions that I was ever involved in the mid
1990s was with a developer, who was a lifelong global peace activist, objecting
to the GPL because it allowed the USA Department of Defense and the wider
military industrial complex to incorporate software into their destructive
killing machines. As a lifelong pacifist myself, I sympathized with his
objection, and since then, I have regularly considered the question of
“do those who perpetrate other social injustices deserve software

I ultimately drew much of my conclusion about this from activists for free
speech, who have a longer history and have therefore had longer time to
consider the philosophical question. I remember in the late 1980s when I
first learned of the ACLU, and hearing that they assisted the Klu-Klux Klan
in their right to march. I was flabbergasted; the Klan is historically
well-documented as an organization that was party to horrific murder. Why
would the ACLU defend their free speech rights? Recently, many people had
a similar reaction when, in defense of the freedom of association and free
speech of the National Rifle Association
(NRA), the
ACLU filed an amicus brief in a case involving the NRA
, an organization
that I and many others oppose politically. Again, we’re left wondering:
why should we act to defend the free speech and association rights of
political causes we oppose — particularly for those like the NRA and
big software companies who have adequate resources to defend

A few weeks ago, I heard a good explanation of this in an
interview with
ACLU’s Executive Director
, whom I’ll directly quote, as
he stated
succinctly the reason why ACLU has a long history of defending everyone’s
free speech and free association rights

[Our decision] to
give legal representation to Nazis [was controversial].… It is not for the
government’s role to decide who gets a permit to march based on the content
of their speech. We got lots of criticism, both
internally and externally. … We believe these rights are for
everyone, and we truly mean it — even for people we hate and whose
ideology is loathsome, disgusting, and hurtful. [The ACLU can’t be] just a
liberal/left advocacy group; no liberal/left advocacy group would take on
these kinds of cases. … It is important for us to forge a path that talks
about this being about the rights of everyone.

Ultimately, fighting for software freedom is a social justice cause
similar to that of fighting for free speech and other causes that require
equal rights for all. We will always find groups exploiting those freedoms
for ill rather than good. We, as software freedom activists, will have to
sometimes grit our teeth and defend the rights to modify and improve software for those we otherwise oppose.
Indeed, they may even utilize that software
for those objectionable activities. It’s particularly annoying to do that for
companies that otherwise produce proprietary software: after all, in another realm, they are
actively working against our cause. Nevertheless, either we believe the Four Software Freedoms are universal, or we don’t. If we do,
even our active political opponents deserve them, too.

I think we can take a good example from the ACLU on this matter. The
ACLU, by standing firm on its core principles, now has, after two
generations of work, developed the power to make impact on related causes. The
ACLU is the primary organization defending immigrants who have been
forcibly separated from their children by the USA government. I’d posit that only an
organization with a long history of principled activity can have both the
gravitas and adequate resources to take on that issue.

Fortunately, software freedom is already successful enough that we can do
at least a little bit of that now. For example,
Conservancy (where I work) already
took a public position, early, in opposition of Trump’s immigration
because of its negative impact on software freedom, whose
advancement depends on the free flow of movement by technologists around
the world. Speaking out from our microphone built from our principled
stand on software freedom, we can make an impact that denying software
freedom to others never could. Specifically, rather than proprietarizing
the license of projects to fight USA’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) and its software providers, I’d encourage us to figure out a specific
FOSS package that we can prove is deployed for use at ICE, and use that
fact as a rhetorical lever to criticize their bad behavior. For example,
has anyone investigated if ICE uses Linux-based servers to host their
otherwise proprietary software systems? If so, the Linux community is
already large and powerful enough that if a group of Linux contributors
made a public statement in political opposition to the use of Linux in
ICE’s activities, it would get national news attention here in the USA. We
could even ally with the ACLU to assure the message is heard. No license
change is needed to do that, and it will surely be more effective.

Again, this is how software freedom is so much like free speech. We give
software freedom to all, which allows them to freely use and deploy the
software for any purpose, just like hate groups can use the free speech
microphone to share their ideas. However, like the ACLU, software
freedom activists, who simultaneously defend all users equal rights in
copying, sharing and modifying the software, can use their platform —
already standing on the moral high ground that was generated by
that long time principled support of equal rights — to speak out against
those who bring harm to society in other ways.

Finally, note that the
Four Software Freedoms obviously should never be the only laws and/or rules of conduct of our society. Just
like you should be prevented from (proverbially) yelling Fire! in a crowded movie theater,
you still should be stopped when you deploy Free Software in a manner that violates some other
law, or commits human rights violations. However, taking away software freedom from bad actors, while it seems like a
panacea to other societal ills, will simply backfire. The
simplicity and beauty of copyleft is that it takes away someone’s software
freedom only at the moment when they take away someone else’s
software freedom; copyleft ensures that is the only reason your
software freedom should be lost. Simple tools work best when your social
justice cause is an underdog, and we risk obscurity of our software if we
seek to change the fundamental simple design of copyleft licensing to include licensing
penalties for other social justice grievances (— even if we could agree on which other
non-FOSS causes warrant “copyleft protection”). It
means we have a big tent for software freedom, and we sometimes stand under it with
people whose behavior we despise. The value we have is our ability to
stand with them under the tent, and tell them: “while I respect your
right to share and improve that software, I find the task you’re doing with
the software deplorable.”. That’s the message I deliver to any ICE
agent who used Free Software while forcibly separating parents from their children.

Software Freedom Ensures the True Software Commons

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

[ A similar version
was crossposted
on Conservancy’s blog. ]

Proprietary software has always been about
. Copyright and other legal systems give authors the power
to decide what license to choose, and usually, they choose a license that
favors themselves and takes rights and permissions away from others.

The so-called “Commons Clause” purposely confuses and
conflates many issues. The initiative is backed by FOSSA, a company that
sells materiel in the proprietary compliance industrial complex. This clause
recently made news again since other parties have now adopted this same

This proprietary software license, which is not Open Source and does not
respect the four freedoms of Free Software, seeks to hide a power imbalance
ironically behind the guise “Open Source sustainability”. Their
argument, once you look past their assertion that the only way to save Open
Source is to not do open source
, is quite plain: If we can’t make money as
quickly and as easily as we’d like with this software, then we have to make
sure no one else can as well

These observations are not new. Software freedom advocates have always
admitted that if your primary goal is to make money, proprietary software is
a better option. It’s not that you can’t earn a living writing only Free
Software; it’s that proprietary software makes it easier because you have
monopolistic power, granted to you by a legal system ill-equipped to deal
with modern technology. In my view, it’s a power which you don’t deserve — that allows you to
restrict others.

Of course, we all want software freedom to exist and survive sustainably.
But the environmental movement has already taught us that unbridled commerce
and conspicuous consumption is not sustainable. Yet,
companies still adopt strategies like this Commons Clause to prioritize rapid growth and
revenue that the proprietary software industry expects, claiming these strategies bolster
the Commons (even if it is a “partial commons in name only”).
The two goals are often just incompatible.

At Software Freedom Conservancy
(where I work), we ask our projects to be realistic about revenue. We
don’t typically see Conservancy projects grow at rapid rates. They grow at
slow and steady rates, but they grow better, stronger, and more diverse
because they take the time to invite everyone to get involved. The
software takes longer to mature, but when it does it’s more robust and
survives longer.

I’ll take a bet with anyone who’d like. Let’s pick five projects under the
Affero GPL and five projects under the Commons Clause, and then let’s see
which ones survive longer as vibrant communities with active codebases and
diverse contributors.

Finally, it’s not surprising that the authors chose the name
“Commons”. Sadly, “commons” has for many years been
a compromised term, often used by those who want to promote licenses or
organizational models that do not guarantee all four freedoms inherent in
software freedom. Proprietary software is the ultimate tragedy of the
software commons, and while it’s clever rhetoric for our opposition to claim
that they can make FLOSS sustainable by proprietarizing it, such an argument
is also sophistry.

In Memoriam: Gervase Markham

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

Yesterday, we lost an important member of the FLOSS
community. Gervase
finally succumbed to his battle with cancer (specifically,
metastatic adenoid cystic carcinoma).

I met Gerv in the early 2000s, after he’d already been diagnosed. He has
always been very public about his illness. He was frank with all who knew
him that his life expectancy was sadly well below average due to that
illness. So, this outcome isn’t a surprise nor a shock, but it is
nevertheless sad and unfortunate for all who knew him.

I really liked Gerv. I found him insightful and thoughtful. His
insatiable curiosity for my primary field — FLOSS licensing —
was a source of enjoyment for me in our many conversations on the subject.
Gerv was always Socratic in his approach: he asked questions, rather than
make statements, even when it was pretty obvious he had an answer of his
own; he liked to spark debate and seek conversation. He thoughtfully
considered the opinions of others and I many times saw his positions change
based on new information. I considered him open-minded and an important
contributor to FLOSS licensing thought.

I bring up Gerv’s open-mindedness because I know that many people didn’t
find him so, but, frankly, I think those folks were mistaken. It is well
documented publicly that Gerv held what most would consider particularly
“conservative values”. And, I’ll continue with more frankness:
I found a few of Gerv’s views offensive and morally wrong. But Gerv was
also someone who could respectfully communicate his views. I never felt
the need to avoid speaking with him or otherwise distance myself. Even if
a particular position offended me, it was nevertheless clear to me that
Gerv had come to his conclusions by starting from his (a priori) care and
concern for all of humanity. Also, I could simply say to Gerv: I really
disagree with that so much
, and if it became clear our views were just
too far apart to productively discuss the matter further, he’d happily and
collaboratively find another subject for us to discuss. Gerv was a
reasonable man. He could set aside fundamental disagreements and find
common ground to talk with, collaborate with, and befriend those who
disagreed with him. That level of kindness and openness is rarely seen in
our current times.

In fact, Gerv gave me a huge gift without even knowing it: he really
helped me understand myself better. Specifically, I have for decades
publicly stated my belief that the creation and promulgation of proprietary
software is an immoral and harmful act. I am aware that many people (e.g.,
proprietary software developers) consider that view offensive. I learned
much from Gerv about how to productively live in a world where the majority
are offended by my deeply held, morally-founded and well-considered
beliefs. Gerv taught me how to work positively, productively and in a
friendly way alongside others who are offended by my most deeply-held
convictions. While I mourn the loss of Gerv today, I am so glad that I had
that opportunity to learn from him. I am grateful for the life he had and
his work.

Gerv’s time with us was too short. In response, I suggest that we look at
his life and work and learn from his example. Gerv set aside his illness
for as long as possible to continue good work in FLOSS. If he can do that,
we can all be inspired by him to set aside virtually any problem to work
hard, together, for important outcomes that are bigger than us all.

[Finally, I should note that the text above was vetted and approved by
Gerv, a few months ago, before his death. I am also very impressed that he
planned so carefully for his own death that he contacted Conservancy to
seek to assign his copyrights for safe keeping and took the time to review
and comment on the text above. ]

When Meat Salespeople Call Vegans “fundamentalists”

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

Someone linked me to this
blog by a boutique proprietary software company complaining about porting
to GNU/Linux systems
, in which David Power, co-founder of Hiri, says:

Unfortunately, the fundamentalist FOSS mentality we encountered
on Reddit is still alive and well. Some Linux blogs and Podcasts
simply won’t give us the time of day.

I just want to quickly share a few analogous quotes that show why that
statement is an unwarranted and unfair statement about people’s reasonably
held beliefs. First, imagine if Hiri were not a proprietary software
company, but a butcher. Here’s how the quote would sound:

Unfortunately, the fundamentalist vegan mentality we
encountered on Reddit is still alive and well. Some vegetarian blogs
and Podcasts simply won’t give us the time of day.

Should a butcher really expect vegetarian blogs and podcasts to talk about
their great new cuts of meat available? Should a butcher be surprised that
vegans disagree with them?

How about if Hiri sold non-recycled card stock paper?:

Unfortunately, the fundamentalist recycling mentality we
encountered on Reddit is still alive and well. Some environmentalist
blogs and Podcasts simply won’t give us the time of

If you make a product to which a large part of the potential customer
population has a moral objection, you should expect that objection, and
it’s reasonable for that to happen. To admonish those people because they
don’t want to promote your product really is akin to a butcher annoyed that
vegans won’t promote their prime cuts of meat.

On Avoiding Conflation of Political Speech and Hate Speech

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

If you’re one of the people in the software freedom community who is
attending O’Reilly’s Open Source Software Convention (OSCON) next week here
in Portland, you may have seen debate about O’Reilly and Associates
(ORA)’s surreptitious Code of Conduct change (and quick revocation thereof)
to name “political affiliation” as a protected class. If
you’re going to OSCON or plan to go to an OSCON or ORA event in the future,
I suggest that you familiarize yourself with this issue and the political
historical context in which these events of the last few days take

First, OSCON has always been political: software freedom is
inherently a political struggle for the rights of computer users, so any
conference including that topic is necessarily political. Additionally,
O’Reilly himself had stated his political positions many times at OSCON, so
it’s strange that, in
his response this morning, O’Reilly
admits that he and his staff tried to
require via agreements that speakers … refrain from all political
. OSCON can’t possibly be a software freedom community event if
ORA’s intent … [is] to make sure that conferences put on for the
exchange of technical information aren’t politicized
(as O’Reilly stated
today). OTOH, I’m not surprised by this tack, because O’Reilly, in large
part via OSCON, often pushes forward political views that O’Reilly likes, and
marginalizes those he doesn’t.

Second, I must strongly disagree with ORA’s new (as of this morning)
position that Codes of Conduct should only include “protected
classes” that the laws of a particular country currently recognize.
Codes of Conduct exist in our community not only as mechanism to assure the
rights of protected classes, but also to assure that everyone feels safe
and free of harassment and hate speech. In fact, most Codes of Conduct in
our community have “including but not limited to” language
alongside any list of protected classes, and IMO all of them should.

More than that, ORA has missed a key opportunity to delineate hate
speech and political speech in a manner that is sorely needed here in the
USA and in the software freedom community. We live in a political climate
where our Politician-in-Chief governs via Twitter and smoothly co-mingles
political positioning with statements that would violate the Code of
Conduct at most conferences. In other words, in a political climate where
the party-ticket-headline candidate is exposed for celebrating his own
sexual harassing behavior and gets elected anyway, we are culturally going
to have trouble nationwide distinguishing between political speech and hate
speech. Furthermore, political manipulators now use that confusion to
their own ends, and we must be ever-vigilant in efforts to assure that
political speech is free, but that it is delineated from hate speech, and,
most importantly, that our policy on the latter is zero-tolerance.

In this climate, I’m disturbed to see that O’Reilly, who is certainly
politically savvy enough to fully understand these delineations, is
ignoring them completely. The rancor in our current politics — which
is not just at the national level but has also trickled down into the
software freedom community — is fueled by bad actors who will gladly
conflate their own hate speech and political speech, and (in the irony that
only post-fact politics can bring), those same people will also
accuse the other side of hate speech, primarily by accusing intolerance of
the original “political speech” (which is of course was, from
the start, a mix of hate speech and political speech). (Examples of this
abound, but one example that comes to mind is Donald Trump’s public
back-and-forth with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.) None of ORA’s
policy proposals, nor O’Reilly’s public response, address this nuance.
ORA’s detractors are legitimately concerned, because blanketly adding
“political affiliation” to a protected class, married with a outright ban on
political speech, creates an environment where selective enforcement favors
the powerful, and furthermore allows the Code of Conduct to more easily
become a political weapon by those who engage in the conflation practice I

However, it’s no surprise that O’Reilly is taking this tack, either.
OSCON (in particular) has a long history — on political issues of
software freedom — of promoting (and even facilitating) certain
political speech, even while squelching other political speech. Given that
history (examples of which I include below), O’Reilly shouldn’t be
surprised that many in our community are legitimately skeptical about why
ORA made these two changes without community discussion, only to quickly
backpedal when exposed. I too am left wondering what political game
O’Reilly is up to, since I recall well
that Morozov
documented O’Reilly’s track record of political manipulation in his
article, The Meme Hustler
. I thus encourage everyone who
attends ORA events to follow this political game with a careful eye and a
good sense of OSCON history to figure out what’s really going on. I’ve
been watching for years, and OSCON is often a master class in achieving
what Chomsky critically called “manufacturing consent” in

For example, back in 2001, when OSCON was already in its third year,
Microsoft executives went on the political attack against copyleft (calling
it unAmerican and a “cancer”). O’Reilly, long unfriendly to
copyleft himself, personally invited Craig Mundie of Microsoft to have a
“Great Debate” keynote at the next OSCON — where Mundie
would “debate” with “Open Source leaders” about the
value of Open Source. In reality, O’Reilly put on stage lots of Open
Source people with Mundie, but among them was no one who
supported the strategy of copyleft, the primary component of Microsoft’s
political attacks. The “debate” was artfully framed to have
only one “logical” conclusion: “we all love Open Source
— even Microsoft (!) — it’s just copyleft that can be
problematic and which we should avoid”. It was no debate at all;
only carefully crafted messaging that left out much of the picture.

That wasn’t an isolated incident; both subtle and overt examples of
crafted political messaging at OSCON became annual events after that. As
another example, ten years later, O’Reilly did almost the same playbook
again: he invited the GitHub CEO to give a very political
and completely anti-copyleft keynote
. After years of watching how
O’Reilly carefully framed the political issue of copyleft at OSCON, I am
definitely concerned about how other political issues might be framed.

And, not all political issues are equal. I follow copyleft politics
because it’s my been my day job for two decades. But, I admit there are
stakes even higher with other political topics, and having watched how ORA
has handled the politics of copyleft for decades, I’m fearful that ORA is (at
best) ill-equipped to handle political issues that can cause real harm
— such as the current political climate that permits hate speech, and
even racist speech (think of Trump calling Elizabeth Warren
“Pocahontas”), as standard political fare. The stakes of
contemporary politics now leave people feeling unsafe. Since
OSCON is a political event, ORA should face this directly
rather than pretending OSCON is merely a series of technical lectures.

The most insidious part of ORA’s response to this issue is that, until the
issue was called out, it seems that all political speech (particularly that
in opposition to the status quo) violated OSCON’s policies by default.
We’ve successfully gotten ORA to back down from that position, but not
without a fight. My biggest concern is that ORA nearly ran OSCON this year
with the problematic combination of banning political speech in the speaker
agreement, while treating “political affiliation” as a
protected class in the Code of Conduct. Regardless of intent, confusing
and unclear rules like that are gamed primarily by bad actors, and O’Reilly
knows that. Indeed, just days later, O’Reilly admits that both items were
serious errors. But how could it be that an organization that’s been
running the same event for two decades only just began to realize
that these are complex issues? Paradoxically, I’m both baffled and not
surprised that ORA has handled this issue so poorly. They still have no
improved solution for the original problem that O’Reilly states they wanted
to address (i.e., preventing hate speech). Meanwhile, they’ve cycled
through a series of failed (and alarming) solutions without community
input. Would it have really been
that hard for them to publicly ask first: “We want to
welcome all political views at OSCON, but we also detest hate speech that
is sometimes joined with political speech. Does anyone want to join a
committee to work on improvements to our policies to address this
issue?” I think if they’d handled this issue in that (Open Source)
way, the outcome would have not be the fiasco it’s become.

The Everyday Sexism That I See In My Work

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

My friend, colleague, and boss, Karen Sandler,
yesterday tweeted
about one of the unfortunately sexist incidents
that she’s faced in her
life. This incident is a culmination of sexist incidents that Karen and I
have seen since we started working together. I describe below how these
events entice me to be complicit in sexist incidents, which I do my best to
actively resist.

Ultimately, this isn’t about me, Karen, or about a single situation, but
this is a great example of how sexist behaviors manipulate a situation and
put successful women leaders in no-win situations. If you read this tweet
(and additionally already knew about Software Freedom Conservancy where I

“#EveryDaySexism I'm Exec Director of a charity.  A senior tech exec is making his company's annual donation conditional on his speaking privately to a man who reports to me. I hope shining light on these situations erodes their power to build no-win situations for women leaders.” — Karen Sandler

… you’ve already guessed that I’m the male employee that this
executive meant. When I examine the situation, I can’t think of a single
reason this donor could want to speak to me that would not be more productive
if he instead spoke with Karen. Yet, the executive, who was previously well
briefed on the role changes at Conservancy, repeatedly insisted that the
donation was gated on a conversation with me.

Those who follow my and Karen’s work know that I was Conservancy’s first Executive Director.
Now, I
have a lower-ranking role
since Karen came to Conservancy.

Back in 2014, Karen and I collaboratively talked about what role would
make sense for her and me — and we made a choice together. We briefly
considered a co-Executive Director situation, but that arrangement has been
tried elsewhere and is typically not successful in the long term. Karen is
much better than me at the key jobs of a successful Executive Director.
Karen and I agreed she was better for the job than me. We took it to
Conservancy’s Board of Directors, and they moved my leadership role at
Conservancy to be honorary, and we named Karen the sole Executive Director.
Yes, I’m still nebulously a leader in the Free Software community (which I’m
of course glad about). But for Conservancy matters, and specifically donor
relations and major decisions about the organization, Karen is in charge.

Karen is an impressive leader and there is no one else that I’d want to
follow in my software freedom activism work. She’s the best Executive
Director that Conservancy could possibly have — by far. Everyone in
the community who works with us regularly knows this. Yet ever since Karen
was named our Executive Director, she faces everyday sexist behavior,
including people who seek to conscript me into participation in institutional
sexism. As outlined above, I was initially Executive Director of Conservancy,
and I was treated very differently than she is treated in similar situations,
even though the organization has grown significantly under her
leadership. More on that below, but first a few of the other everyday
examples of sexism I’ve witnessed with Karen:

Many times when we’re at conferences together, men who meet us assume
that Karen works for me until we explain our roles. This happens almost
every time both Karen and I are at the same conference, which is at least a
few times each year.

Another time: a journalist wrote an article about some of “Bradley’s
work” at Conservancy. We privately pointed out to the journalist how
strange it was that Karen was not mentioned in the article, and that it made
it sound like I was the only person doing this work at our organization. He
responded that because I was the “primary spokesperson”, it was
natural to credit me and not her. Karen in fact had been more recently giving
multiple keynotes on the topic, and had more speaking engagements than I did
in that year. One of those keynotes was just weeks before the article, and
it had been months since I’d given a talk or made any public statements. The
journalist fortunately did agree it was a mistake, but neverthless couldn’t
rewrite the article.

Another time: we were leaked (reliable) information about a closed-door
meeting where some industry leaders were discussing Conservancy and its
work. The person who leaked us the information told us that multiple
participants kept talking only about me, not Karen’s work. When someone in
the meeting said wait, isn’t Karen Sandler the Executive Director?,
our source (who was giving us a real-time report over IRC) reported that
that the (male) meeting coordinator literally said: Oh sure, Karen
works there, but Bradley is their guiding light
. Karen had been
Executive Director for years at that point.

I consistently say in talks, and in public conversations, that Karen is my
boss. I literally use the word “boss”, so there is no
confusion nor ambiguity. I did it this week at a talk. But instead of
taking that as the fact that it is, many people make comments like well,
Karen’s not really your boss, right; that’s just a thing you say?
. So,
I’m saying unequivocally here (surely not for the last time): I report to
Karen at Conservancy. She is in charge of Conservancy. She has the
authority to fire me. (I hope she won’t, of course :). She takes views and
opinions of our entire staff seriously but she sets the agenda and makes
the decisions about what work we do and how we do it. (It shows how bad
sexism is in our culture that Karen and I often have to explain in
intricate detail what it means for someone to be an Executive Director of
an organization.)

Interestingly but disturbingly, these incidents teach how institutional
sexism operates in practice. Every time I’m approached (which is often)
with some subtle situation where it makes Karen look like she’s not really
in charge, I’m given the opportunity to pump myself up, make myself look
more important, and gain more credibility and power. It is clear to me that
this comes at the expense of subtly denigrating Karen and that the
enticement is part of an institutionally sexist zero-sum game.

These situations are no-win. I know that in the recent situation, the
donation would be assured if I’d just agreed to a call right away without
Karen’s involvement. I didn’t do it, because that approach would make me
inherently complicit in institutional sexism.

These situations are sadly very common, particularly for women who are
banging cracks into the glass ceiling. For my part, I’m glad to help where
I can tell my side the story, because I think it’s essential for men to
assist and corroborate the fight against sexism in our industry without
mansplaining or white-knighting. I hope other men in technology will join
me and refuse to participate and support behavior that seeks to erode
women’s well-earned power in our community. When you are told that a woman
is in charge of a free software project, that a woman is the executive
director of the organization, or that a woman is the chair of the board,
take the fact at face value, treat that person as the one who is in charge
of that endeavor, and don’t (inadvertantly nor explicitly) undermine her

Supporting Conservancy Makes a Difference

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

Earlier this year, in
February, I wrote a blog post encouraging people to donate
to where I
work, Software Freedom Conservancy. I’ve not otherwise blogged too much
this year. It’s been a rough year for many reasons, and while I
personally and Conservancy in general have accomplished some very
important work this year, I’m reminded as always that more resources do
make things easier.

I understand the urge, given how bad the larger political crises have
gotten, to want to give to charities other than those related to software
freedom. There are important causes out there that have become more urgent
this year. Here’s three issues which have become shockingly more acute
this year:

  • making sure the USA keeps it commitment
    to immigrants to allow them make a new life here just like my own ancestors
  • assuring that the great national nature reserves are maintained and
    left pristine for generations to come,
  • assuring that we have zero tolerance abusive behavior —
    particularly by those in power against people who come to them for help and
    job opportunities.

These are just three of the many issues this year that I’ve seen get worse,
not better. I am glad that I know and support people who work on these
issues, and I urge everyone to work on these issues, too.

Nevertheless, as I plan my primary donations this year, I’m again, as I
always do, giving to the FSF and my
own employer, Software
Freedom Conservancy
. The reason is simple: software freedom is still
an essential cause and it is frankly one that most people don’t understand
(yet). I wrote almost
two years ago about the phenomenon I dubbed Kuhn’s
. Simply put: it keeps getting more and more difficult
to avoid proprietary software in a normal day’s tasks, even while the
number of lines of code licensed freely gets larger every day.

As long as that paradox remains true, I see software freedom as urgent. I
know that we’re losing ground on so many other causes, too. But those of
you who read my blog are some of the few people in the world that
understand that software freedom is under threat and needs the urgent work
that the very few software-freedom-related organizations,
like the FSF
and Software Freedom
are doing. I hope you’ll donate now to both of them. For
my part, I gave $120 myself to FSF as part of the monthly Associate
Membership program, and in a few minutes, I’m going to give $400 to
Conservancy. I’ll be frank: if you work in technology in an industrialized
country, I’m quite sure you can afford that level of money, and I suspect
those amounts are less than most of you spent on technology equipment
and/or network connectivity charges this year. Make a difference for us
and give to the cause of software freedom at least as much a you’re giving
to large technology companies.

Finally, a good reason to give to smaller charities like FSF and
Conservancy is that your donation makes a bigger difference. I do think
bigger organizations, such as (to pick an example of an organization I used
to give to) my local NPR station does important work. However, I was
listening this week to my local NPR station, and they said their goal
for that day was to raise $50,000. For Conservancy, that’s closer
to a goal we have for entire fundraising season, which for this year was
$75,000. The thing is: NPR is an important part of USA society, but it’s
one that nearly everyone understands. So few people understand the threats
looming from proprietary software, and they may not understand at all until
it’s too late — when all their devices are locked down, DRM is
fully ubiquitous, and no one is allowed to tinker with the software on
their devices and learn the wonderful art of computer programming. We are
at real risk of reaching that distopia before 90% of the world’s
population understands the threat!

Thus, giving to organizations in the area of software freedom is just
going to have a bigger and more immediate impact than more general causes
that more easily connect with people. You’re giving to prevent a future
that not everyone understands yet, and making an impact on our
work to help explain the dangers to the larger population.

Goodbye To Bob Chassell

Post Syndicated from Bradley M. Kuhn original

It’s fortunately more common now in Free Software communities today to
properly value contributions from non-developers. Historically, though,
contributions from developers were often overvalued and contributions from
others grossly undervalued. One person trailblazed as (likely) the
earliest non-developer contributor to software freedom. His name was
Robert J. Chassell — called Bob by his friends and colleagues. Over
the weekend, our community lost Bob after a long battle with a degenerative

I am one of the few of my generation in the Free Software community who
had the opportunity to know Bob. He was already semi-retired in the late
1990s when I first became involved with Free Software, but he enjoyed
giving talks about Free Software and occasionally worked the FSF booths at
events where I had begun to volunteer in 1997. He was the first person to
offer mentorship to me as I began the long road of becoming a professional
software freedom activist.

I regularly credit Bob as the first Executive Director of the FSF. While
he technically never held that title, he served as Treasurer for many years
and was the de-facto non-technical manager at the FSF for its first decade
of existence. One need only read
the earliest
issues of the GNU’s Bulletin
to see just a sampling of
the plethora of contributions that Bob made to the FSF and Free Software

Bob’s primary forte was as a writer and he came to Free Software as a
technical writer. Having focused his career on documenting software and how
it worked to help users make the most of it, software freedom — the
right to improve and modify not only the software, but its documentation as
well — was a moral belief that he held strongly. Bob was an early
member of the privileged group that now encompasses most people in
industrialized society: a non-developer who sees the value in computing and
the improvement it can bring to life. However, Bob’s realization that users
like him (and not just developers) faced detrimental impact from proprietary
software remains somewhat rare, even today. Thus, Bob died in a world where
he was still unique among non-developers: fighting for software freedom as an
essential right for all who use computers.

Bob coined a phrase that I still love to this day. He said once that the
job that we must do as activists was “preserve, protect and promote
software freedom”. Only a skilled writer such as he could come up
with such a perfectly concise alliteration that nevertheless rolls off the
tongue without stuttering. Today, I pulled up an email I sent to Bob in
November 2006 to tell him that (when Novell made their bizarre
software-freedom-unfriendly patent deal with Microsoft)
had coopted his language in their FAQ on the matter
. Bob wrote
back: I am not surprised. You can bet everything [we’ve ever come up
with] will be used against us.
Bob’s decade-old words are prolific
when I look at the cooption we now face daily in Free Software. I acutely
feel the loss of his insight and thoughtfulness.

One of the saddest facts about Bob’s illness is that his voice was quite
literally lost many years before we lost him entirely. His illness made it
nearly impossible for him to speak. In the late 1990s, I had the pleasure
of regularly hearing Bob’s voice, when I accompanied Bob to talks and
speeches at various conferences. That included the wonderful highlight of
his acceptance speech of GNU’s 2001 achievement award from the USENIX
Association. (I lament that no recordings of any of these talks seem to
be available anywhere.) Throughout the early 2000s, I
would speak to Bob on the telephone at least once a month; he would offer
his sage advice and mentorship in those early years of my professional
software freedom career. Losing his voice in our community has been a
slow-moving tragedy as his illness has progressed. This weekend, that
unique voice was lost to us forever.

I found out we lost Bob through the folks at the FSF, and I don’t at this
time have information about his family’s wishes regarding tributes to him.
I’ll update the post when/if I have them.

In the meantime, the best I can suggest is that anyone who would like to
posthumously get to know Bob please read (what I believe was) the favorite
book that he
wrote, An
Introduction to Programming in Emacs Lisp
. Bob was a huge
advocate of non-developers learning “a little bit” of
programming — just enough to make their lives easier when they used
computers. He used GNU Emacs from its earliest versions and I recall he
was absolutely giddy to discover new features, help document them, and
teach them to new users. I hope those of you that both already love and
use Emacs and those who don’t will take a moment to read what Bob had to
teach us about his favorite program.