Free Software Foundation

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Free Software Foundation
Free Software Foundation logo and wordmark.svg
Abbreviation FSF
Motto Free Software, Free Society
Formation 1985-10-04
Type 501(c)(3) non-profit organization
Legal status Foundation
Purpose/focus Educational
Headquarters Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Region served Worldwide
Membership Private individuals and corporate patrons
President Richard Stallman
Affiliations Software Freedom Law Center
Staff 13[1]

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by Richard Stallman on 4 October 1985 to support the free software movement, which promotes the universal freedom to create, distribute and modify computer software,[2] with the organization's preference for software being distributed under copyleft ("share alike") terms,[3] such as with its own GNU General Public License.[4] The FSF was incorporated in Massachusetts, USA, where it is also based.[5]

From its founding until the mid-1990s, FSF's funds were mostly used to employ software developers to write free software for the GNU Project. Since the mid-1990s, the FSF's employees and volunteers have mostly worked on legal and structural issues for the free software movement and the free software community.

Consistent with its goals, only free software is used on FSF's computers.[6]


The Free Software Foundation was founded in 1985 as a non-profit corporation supporting free software development. It continued existing GNU projects such as the sale of manuals and tapes, and employed developers of the free software system.[7] Since then, it has continued these activities, as well as advocating for the free software movement. The FSF is also the steward of several free software licenses, meaning they publish them and have the ability to make revisions as needed.[8]

In March 2003, SCO filed suit against IBM alleging that IBM's contributions to various free software, including FSF's GNU, violated SCO's rights. While FSF was never a party to the lawsuit, FSF was subpoenaed on November 5, 2003.[9] During 2003 and 2004, FSF put substantial advocacy effort into responding to the lawsuit and quelling its negative impact on the adoption and promotion of free software.[10][11]

In 2007, the FSF published the third version of the GNU General Public License after significant outside input.[12][13]

The FSF holds the copyrights on many pieces of the GNU system, such as GNU Compiler Collection. As holder of these copyrights, it has the authority to enforce the copyleft requirements of the GNU General Public License (GPL) when copyright infringement occurs on that software. While other copyright holders of other software systems adopted the GPL as their license, FSF was the only[by whom?] organization to regularly assert its copyright interests on software so licensed[citation needed] until Harald Welte launched in 2004.[citation needed]

From 1991 until 2001, GPL enforcement was done informally, usually by Stallman himself, often with assistance from FSF's lawyer, Eben Moglen.[citation needed] Typically, GPL violations during this time were cleared up by short email exchanges between Stallman and the violator.[citation needed]

In late 2001, Bradley M. Kuhn (then Executive Director), with the assistance of Moglen, David Turner, and Peter T. Brown, formalized these efforts into FSF's GPL Compliance Labs. From 2002-2004, high profile GPL enforcement cases, such as those against Linksys and OpenTV, became frequent.[14][15][16]

GPL enforcement and educational campaigns on GPL compliance was a major focus of the FSF's efforts during this period.[17][18]

In December 2008 FSF filed a lawsuit against Cisco for using GPL-licensed components shipped with Linksys products. Cisco was notified of the licensing issue in 2003 but Cisco repeatedly disregarded its obligations under the GPL.[19] In May 2009, FSF dropped the lawsuit when Cisco agreed to make a monetary donation to the FSF and appoint a Free Software Director to conduct continuous reviews of the company's license compliance practices.[20]

From 2003 to 2005, FSF held legal seminars to explain the GPL and the law around it.[21] Usually taught by Bradley M. Kuhn and Daniel Ravicher, these seminars offered CLE credit and were the first effort to give formal legal education on the GPL.[11][22][23]

Current and ongoing activities[edit]

The GNU project
The original purpose of the FSF was to promote the ideals of free software. The organization developed the GNU operating system as an example of this.
GNU licenses
The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a widely used license for free software projects. The current version (version 3) was released in June 2007. The FSF has also published the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), and the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL).
GNU Press
The FSF's publishing department, responsible for "publishing affordable books on computer science using freely distributable licenses."[24][25]
The Free Software Directory 
This is a listing of software packages that have been verified as free software. Each package entry contains 47 pieces of information such as the project's homepage, developers, programming language, etc. The goals are to provide a search engine for free software, and to provide a cross-reference for users to check if a package has been verified as being free software. FSF has received a small amount of funding from UNESCO for this project. It is hoped[by whom?] that the directory can be translated into many languages in the future.
Maintaining the Free Software Definition 
FSF maintains many of the documents that define the free software movement.
Project hosting
FSF hosts software development projects on their Savannah website.
Political campaigns 
FSF sponsors a number of campaigns against what it perceives as dangers to software freedom, including software patents, digital rights management (which the FSF has re-termed "digital restrictions management", as part of their effort to highlight their view that such technologies are "designed to take away and limit your rights,"[26]) and user interface copyright. Defective by Design is an FSF-initiated campaign against DRM. They also have a campaign to promote Ogg+Vorbis, a free alternative to proprietary formats like MP3 and AAC. They also sponsor some free software projects that are deemed to be "high-priority".
Annual awards
"Award for the Advancement of Free Software" and "Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit"

High priority projects[edit]

gNewSense is a distribution officially supported by the FSF

The FSF maintains a list of "high priority projects" to which the Foundation claims that "there is a vital need to draw the free software community's attention".[27] The FSF considers these projects "important because computer users are continually being seduced into using non-free software, because there is no adequate free replacement."[27]

Previous projects highlighted as needing work included the Free Java implementations, GNU Classpath, and GNU Compiler for Java, which ensure compatibility for the Java part of, and the GNOME desktop environment (see Java: Licensing).[citation needed]

The effort has been criticized[according to whom?] for either not instigating active development or for being slow at the work being done, even after certain projects were added to the list.[28]

Hardware endorsements[edit]

The FSF maintains a "Respects Your Freedom hardware certification" program. To be granted certification, a product must use 100% Free Software, allow user installation of modified software, be free of back doors and conform with several other requirements.[29]

Currently, a total of four products have been granted the certification:[30]

  • The Gluglug X60 laptop
  • Aleph Objects, Inc. LulzBot 3D printers
  • The ThinkPenquin TPE-N150USB Wireless N USB Adapter
  • The ThinkPenquin TPE-N150USBL



The FSF's board of directors includes:

Previous board members include:

The FSF Board of Directors is elected by the Voting Membership, whose powers include at least this are outlined in the by-laws:[39]

In addition to the right to elect Directors as provided in the by-laws and such other powers and rights as may be vested in them by law, these Articles of Organization or the by-laws, the Voting Members shall have such other powers and rights as the Directors may designate.

—Articles of Amendment, Free Software Foundation, Inc.

There are currently no known documents available that indicate the composition of the FSF's Voting Membership.[citation needed]

John Sullivan is the current FSF Executive Director. Previous members that occupied the position were Peter Brown (2005–2010) and Bradley M. Kuhn (2001–2005).

At any given time, there are usually around a dozen employees.[40] Most, but not all, work at the FSF headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.[41]

Eben Moglen and Dan Ravicher previously served individually as pro bono legal counsel to the FSF. Since the forming of the Software Freedom Law Center, legal services to the FSF are provided by that organization.

On November 25, 2002, the FSF launched the FSF Associate Membership program for individuals.[42] Bradley M. Kuhn (FSF Executive Director, 2001–2005) launched the program and also signed up as the first Associate Member[43]

Associate members hold a purely honorary and funding support role to the FSF.[39]


Linus Torvalds has criticized FSF for using GPLv3 as a weapon in their fight against DRM. Torvalds argues that the issue of DRM and that of a software license should be treated as two separate issues.[44]

On June 16, 2010, Joe Brockmeier, a journalist at Linux Magazine, criticized the Defective by Design campaign by the FSF as "negative" and "juvenile" and not being adequate for providing users with "credible alternatives" to proprietary software.[45] FSF responded to this criticism by saying "that there is a fundamental difference between speaking out against policies or actions and smear campaigns", and "that if one is taking an ethical position, it is justified, and often necessary, to not only speak about the benefits of freedom but against acts of dispossession and disenfranchisement."[46]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Staff of the Free Software Foundation". Retrieved 2013-05-03. 
  2. ^ "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  3. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about the GNU Licenses". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  4. ^ "What Is Copyleft?". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22. 
  5. ^ "FREE SOFTWARE FOUNDATION, INC. Summary Screen". The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Corporations Division. Retrieved 2009-04-06. 
  6. ^ Stallman, Richard M. (2002). "Linux, GNU, and freedom". Philosophy of the GNU Project. GNU Project. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  7. ^ "The GNU Project". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Licenses". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved June 24, 2012. 
  9. ^ Heise, Mark (2003-11-05). "SCO Subpoena of FSF" (PDF). Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  10. ^ Kuhn, Bradley (2004-05-18). "The SCO Subpoena of FSF". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  11. ^ a b "FSF To Host Free Software Licensing Seminars and Discussions on SCO v. IBM in New York". Retrieved 2011-08-30. 
  12. ^ "GNU General Public License". Retrieved 15 June 2012. 
  13. ^ " comments for discussion draft 4". 
  14. ^ Meeker, Heather (2005-06-28). "The Legend of Linksys". Archived from the original on 2009-04-19. Retrieved 2007-08-11.  Hosted on the Wayback machine.
  15. ^ Gillmor, Dan (2003-05-21). "GPL Legal Battle Coming?". (a division of the San Jose Mercury News). Archived from the original on 2003-05-24. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  16. ^ Turner, David; Bradley M. Kuhn (2003-09-29). "Linksys/Cisco GPL Violations". Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  17. ^ Kennedy, Dennis (2004-01-11). "A Great Learning Opportunity for Software Lawyers — Upcoming GPL Seminar". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  18. ^ Lord, Timothy (2003-07-18). "Seminar On Details Of The GPL And Related Licenses". Slashdot. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  19. ^ Paul, Ryan (2007-12-13). "Free Software Foundation lawsuit against Cisco a first". Retrieved 2008-12-11. 
  20. ^ Paul, Ryan (2009-05-21). "Cisco settles FSF GPL lawsuit, appoints compliance officer". Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  21. ^ "Seminar On Details Of The GPL And Related Licenses". 2003-07-18. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  22. ^ FSF Bulletin 3 notes that a seminar led by Kuhn and Ravicher occurred on 2003-08-08Free Software Foundation (June 2003). "FSF Bulletin — Issue No.2 - June 2003". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  23. ^ John Sullivan (2005-08-25). "FSF Seminar in NYC on September 28". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  24. ^ "GNU Press -- Published Documentation". Free Software Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on 2005-11-25. 
  25. ^ List of books published in GNU Press home site
  26. ^ "Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing". Free Software Foundation. September 18, 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-17. 
  27. ^ a b "High Priority Free Software Projects". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved January 4, 2009. 
  28. ^ FSF's High-Priority Driver Project Doesn't Move Phoronix, April 20, 2011 (Article by Michael Larabel)
  29. ^ Josh Gay (Jan 27, 2012). "Respects Your Freedom hardware certification requirements". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  30. ^ Gay, Josh (Oct 9, 2012). "Respects Your Freedom certified products". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 4 February 2014. 
  31. ^ Marsh, Ann (Jan–Feb 2002). "What I Saw at the Revolution". Stanford Magazine. Stanford Alumni Association. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  32. ^ Free Software Foundation (2005). "FSF honored with Prix Ars Electronica award". News Releases. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2006-12-10. 
  33. ^ a b c The first GNU's Bulletin ("GNU'S Bulletin, Volume 1, No.1". Free Software Foundation. February 1986. Retrieved 2007-08-11. ), indicates this list of people as round[ing] out FSF's board of directors.
  34. ^ "Bradley Kuhn Joins the FSF Board". 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2010-03-26. 
  35. ^ The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 1998 and 1999 show that De Icaza was not on the board on 1998-11-01 and was as of 1999-11-01, so he clearly joined sometime between those dates. Those documents further indicate that the 1999 Annual meeting occurred in August; usually, new directors are elected at annual meetings.
  36. ^ The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 2002 ("2002 Annual Report for Free Software Foundation, Inc." (PDF). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 2002-12-17. Retrieved 2007-08-11. ) show that De Icaza has left the board. Changes to board composition are usually made at the annual meeting; which occurred on February 25, 2002.
  37. ^ The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 1999 and 2000 show that Moglen was not on the board on 1999-11-01 and was as of 2000-11-01, so he clearly joined sometime between those dates. Those documents further indicate that the 2000 Annual meeting occurred on July 28, 2000; usually, new directors are elected at annual meetings.
  38. ^ Moglen announced his intention to resign in his blog (Moglen, Eben (2007-04-23). "And Now ... Life After GPLv3". Retrieved 2007-08-11. ). The resignation likely occurred at the 2007 annual meeting of the directors; the exact date of that meeting is unknown.
  39. ^ a b "Articles of Amendment". The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2011-06-19. 
  40. ^ "Meet the staff of the Free Software Foundation". 
  41. ^ "Certificate of Change of Principal Office" (PDF). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 2005-05-26. Retrieved 2008-07-04. 
  42. ^ The site first appears in the Internet Archive in December 2002, and that site lists the date of the launch as 25 November 2002. "FSF Membership Page, as of 2002-12-20". The Internet Archive. 2002-12-20. Archived from the original on 2002-12-20. Retrieved 2007-08-11. 
  43. ^ Kuhn has an FSF-generated member link that identifies him as the first member on his web page. "Homepage of Bradley M. Kuhn". Bradley M. Kuhn. 2008-01-05. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  44. ^ à 21:00. "Original version". Retrieved 2011-08-29. 
  45. ^ "The Party of Gno.". Retrieved 2010-06-22. 
  46. ^ In defense of negativity — Free Software Foundation — working together for free software. Retrieved on 2013-07-17.

External links[edit]