Free Software Foundation
|Motto||Free Software, Free Society|
|Formation||October 4, 1985|
|Type||501(c)(3) non-profit organization|
|Headquarters||Boston, Massachusetts, US|
|$1,373,645 in FY 2017|
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 study, distribute, create, and modify computer software, with the organization's preference for software being distributed under copyleft ("share alike") terms, such as with its own GNU General Public License. The FSF was incorporated in Massachusetts, US, where it is also based.
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.
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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. 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 it publishes them and has the ability to make revisions as needed.
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.
From 1991 until 2001, GPL enforcement was done informally, usually by Stallman himself, often with assistance from FSF's lawyer, Eben Moglen. Typically, GPL violations during this time were cleared up by short email exchanges between Stallman and the violator. In the interest of promoting copyleft assertiveness by software companies to the level that the FSF was already doing, in 2004 Harald Welte launched gpl-violations.org.
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.
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. 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.
From 2003 to 2005, FSF held legal seminars to explain the GPL and the surrounding law. 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.
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. 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.
Current and ongoing activities
- 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."
- 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 its Savannah website.
- An abbreviation for "Hardware-Node", the h-node website lists hardware and device drivers that have been verified as compatible with free software. It is user-edited and volunteer supported with hardware entries tested by users before publication.
- FSF sponsors a number of campaigns against what it perceives as dangers to software freedom, including software patents, digital rights management (which the FSF and others have re-termed "digital restrictions management", as part of its effort to highlight technologies that are "designed to take away and limit your rights,") and user interface copyright. Defective by Design is an FSF-initiated campaign against DRM. It also has a campaign to promote Ogg+Vorbis, a free alternative to proprietary formats like MP3 and AAC. FSF also sponsors free software projects it deems "high-priority".
- Annual awards
- "Award for the Advancement of Free Software" and "Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit"
- LibrePlanet wiki
- The LibrePlanet wiki organizes FSF members into regional groups in order to promote free software activism against Digital Restrictions Management and other issues promoted by the FSF.
High priority projects
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". 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."
Current high priority tasks include reverse engineering proprietary firmware; reversible debugging in GNU Debugger; developing automatic transcription and video editing software, Coreboot, drivers for network routers and creating replacements for Skype, Google Earth, OpenDWG libraries, BitTorrent Sync and Oracle Forms.
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 OpenOffice.org, and the GNOME desktop environment (see Java: Licensing).
- Dragora GNU/Linux-Libre
- GNU Guix system
- Hyperbola GNU/Linux-libre
- Parabola GNU/Linux-libre
The project also maintains a list of operating systems that are not versions of the GNU system:
Discontinued operating systems
The following are previously endorsed operating systems that are no longer actively maintained:
Hardware endorsements (RYF)
The FSF maintains a "Respects Your Freedom" (RYF) hardware certification program. To be granted certification, a product must use 100% Free Software, allow user installation of modified software, be free of backdoors and conform with several other requirements.
The FSF's board of governors includes amongst themselves professors at leading universities, senior engineers, and founders. A few high-profile activists, and software businessmen are admitted as well. Currently on the board there is one high-profile activist, and one world-class, software-campaign strategist (Windows 95, et al.). There was once a majorly contributing programmer (Mono and Gnome) and businessman who lost favor badly. Founders are also major software developers of the free software in the GNU Project.
Current board members:
- Geoffrey Knauth, senior software engineer at SFA, Inc. (served since October 23, 1997)
- Henry Poole, founder of CivicActions, a government digital services firm (served since December 12, 2002)
- Gerald Jay Sussman, professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (served since inception)
- Alexander Oliva, Vice President (served since August 28, 2019)
- Kat Walsh, copyright and technology attorney, free culture and free software advocate, and former chair of the Wikimedia Foundation
Previous board members include:
- Hal Abelson, founding member, professor of computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (served from inception until March 5, 1998, and rejoined circa 2005)
- Robert J. Chassell, founding treasurer, as well as a founding director (served from inception until June 3, 1997)
- Miguel de Icaza (served from August 1999 until February 25, 2002)
- Benjamin Mako Hill, assistant professor at the University of Washington (served from July 25, 2007 until October 2019)[unreliable source?]
- Matthew Garrett, software developer (served since October 16, 2014)
- Bradley Kuhn, executive director of the Software Freedom Conservancy and FSF's former executive director (served from March 25, 2010 to Oct 13, 2019)
- Lawrence Lessig, professor of law at Stanford University (served from March 28, 2004 until 2008)
- Eben Moglen (served from July 28, 2000 until 2007)
- Len Tower Jr., founding member, (served until September 2, 1997)
- Richard Stallman, founding president, launched the GNU project, author of the GNU General Public License (served as president since inception, until September 16, 2019)
The bylaws say who can vote for them.
The board can grant powers to the Voting Membership.
On November 25, 2002, the FSF launched the FSF Associate Membership program for individuals. Bradley M. Kuhn (FSF executive director, 2001–2005) launched the program and also signed up as the first Associate Member
Associate members hold a purely honorary and funding support role to the FSF.
Eben Moglen and Dan Ravicher previously served individually as pro bono legal counsel to the FSF. After forming the Software Freedom Law Center, Eben Moglen continued to serve as the FSF's general counsel until 2016.
Most of the FSF funding comes from patrons and members. Revenue streams also come from free-software-related compliance labs, job postings, published works, and a web store. FSF offers speakers and seminars for pay, and all FSF projects accept donations.
Revenues fund free-software programs and campaigns, while cash is invested conservatively in socially responsible investing. The financial strategy is designed to maintain the Foundation's long-term future through economic stability.
The FSF is a tax-exempt organization and posts annual IRS Form 990 filings online.
Position on DRM
Linus Torvalds has criticized FSF for using GPLv3 as a weapon in the fight against DRM. Torvalds argues that the issue of DRM and that of a software license should be treated as two separate issues.
Defective by Design campaign
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. 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."
GNU LibreDWG license controversy
In 2009, a license update of LibDWG/LibreDWG to the version 3 of the GNU GPL, made it impossible for the free software projects LibreCAD and FreeCAD to use LibreDWG legally. Many projects voiced their unhappiness about the GPLv3 license selection for LibreDWG, such as FreeCAD, LibreCAD, Assimp, and Blender. Some suggested the selection of a license with a broader license compatibility, for instance the MIT, BSD, or LGPL 2.1. A request went to the FSF to relicense GNU LibreDWG as GPLv2, which was rejected in 2012.
The project has stalled since 2011 for various reasons, including license issues.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (May 2014)
Key players and industries that have made honorific mention and awards include:
- 2001: GNU Project received the USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award for "the ubiquity, breadth, and quality of its freely available redistributable and modifiable software, which has enabled a generation of research and commercial development".
- 2005: Prix Ars Electronica Award of Distinction in the category of "Digital Communities"
- "Corporations Division Entity Summary for ID Number: 042888848". Secretary of Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Retrieved 2014-10-04.
- "2014 Free Software Foundation IRS Form 990" (PDF). Retrieved 24 November 2015.
- "Staff of the Free Software Foundation". Retrieved 5 October 2019.
- "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "Frequently Asked Questions about the GNU Licenses". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "What Is Copyleft?". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2012-07-22.
- "FREE SOFTWARE FOUNDATION, INC. Summary Screen". The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Secretary of the Commonwealth, Corporations Division. Archived from the original on 2013-05-25.
- Stallman, Richard M. (2002). "Linux, GNU, and freedom". Philosophy of the GNU Project. GNU Project. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
- "The GNU Project". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- "Licenses". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- 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.
- Gillmor, Dan (2003-05-21). "GPL Legal Battle Coming?". SiliconValley.com (a division of the San Jose Mercury News). Archived from the original on 2003-05-24. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- Turner, David; Bradley M. Kuhn (2003-09-29). "Linksys/Cisco GPL Violations". LWN.net. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- Kennedy, Dennis (2004-01-11). "A Great Learning Opportunity for Software Lawyers – Upcoming GPL Seminar". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28.
- Lord, Timothy (2003-07-18). "Seminar On Details Of The GPL And Related Licenses". Slashdot. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- Heise, Mark (2003-11-05). "SCO Subpoena of FSF" (PDF). Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- Kuhn, Bradley (2004-05-18). "The SCO Subpoena of FSF". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-11.
- "FSF To Host Free Software Licensing Seminars and Discussions on SCO v. IBM in New York" (Press release). Gnu.org. Retrieved 2011-08-30.
- "Seminar On Details Of The GPL And Related Licenses". 2003-07-18. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- Kuhn, Bradley M. (June 2003). "FSF Bulletin Issue 2, June 2003". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
On Friday 8 August 2003, we will hold a seminar on the GNU GPL. The seminar, titled “Free Software Licensing and the GNU GPL”, will be co-led by Daniel Ravicher, Outside Counsel to FSF from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, and Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director of FSF.
- Sullivan, John (2005-08-25). "FSF Seminar in NYC on September 28". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- "GNU General Public License". Retrieved 15 June 2012.
- "GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE". gplv3.fsf.org. Archived from the original on 2008-10-02. Retrieved 2012-06-25.
- Paul, Ryan (2007-12-13). "Free Software Foundation lawsuit against Cisco a first". Arstechnica.com. Retrieved 2008-12-11.
- Paul, Ryan (2009-05-21). "Cisco settles FSF GPL lawsuit, appoints compliance officer". Arstechnica.com. Retrieved 2009-10-06.
- "GNU Press -- Published Documentation". Free Software Foundation, Inc. Archived from the original on 2005-11-25.
- List of books published in GNU Press home site
- "FSF and Debian join forces to help free software users find the hardware they need". September 8, 2014.
- "FSFとDebian、GNU/Linuxハードウェア情報サイト「h-node.org」を共同支援へ | OSDN Magazine". OSDN.
- "home - h-node.org". h-node.org.
- Stross, Randall (January 14, 2007). "Want an iPhone? Beware the iHandcuffs". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 May 2014.
- "Digital Restrictions Management and Treacherous Computing". Free Software Foundation. September 18, 2006. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
- "High Priority Free Software Projects". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2017-01-07.
- "Changelog for the High Priority Projects list". www.fsf.org. Free Software Foundation.
- Larabel, Michael (2011-10-15). "The Sad State Of FSF's High Priority Projects". Phoronix. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
Long story short, being on the Free Software Foundation's high priority list really doesn't mean much with some of these "important" projects not even being actively developed or even discussed.
- Larabel, Michael (2012-04-22). "Many FSF Priority Projects Still Not Progressing". Phoronix. Retrieved 2014-12-29.
Most of the projects are basically not going anywhere. Many of them at the time were not really advancing in their goals, haven't had releases in a while, or coding hasn't even started. It's been more than a half-year and still there's no significant work towards clearing many of projects from the FSF list.
- Josh Gay (Jan 27, 2012). "Respects Your Freedom hardware certification requirements". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
- Gay, Joshua (October 9, 2012). "Respects Your Freedom hardware product certification". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
- "Alexandre Oliva joins Free Software Foundation board of directors". www.fsf.org. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- "Kat Walsh joins FSF board of directors". fsf.org. Free Software Foundation, Inc. 21 March 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "The Free Software Foundation (FSF) Lost Almost Half (3 Out of 8) Board Members in Only One Month". Techrights. 2019-10-17. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- "Matthew Garrett joins Free Software Foundation board of directors". Free Software Foundation. 16 October 2014. Retrieved 22 January 2015.
- "Bradley Kuhn Joins the FSF Board". 2010-03-25. Retrieved 2010-03-26.
- "On Recent Controversial Events - Bradley M. Kuhn ( Brad ) ( bkuhn )". ebb.org. Retrieved 2019-10-17.
- The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 1999 and 2000 show that Moglen was not on the board on November 1, 1999, and was as of November 1, 2000, 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.
- 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.
Article II, Sec. 1 - Number, Election and Qualification: The present members of the corporation shall constitute the voting members. Thereafter the voting members annually at its annual meeting shall fix the number of voting members and shall elect the number of voting members so fixed. At any special or regular meeting, the voting members then in office may increase the number of voting members and elect new voting members to complete the number so fixed; or they may decrease the number of voting members, but only to eliminate vacancies caused by the death, resignation, removal or disqualification of one or more voting members.— Amended By-laws, Nov. 25, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc.
In addition to the right to elect Directors as provided in the bylaws and such other powers and rights as may be vested in them by law, these Articles of Organization or the bylaws, the Voting Members shall have such other powers and rights as the Directors may designate.— Amended By-laws, Nov. 25, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc.
- "Amended Bylaws" (PDF). Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
- "Meet the staff of the Free Software Foundation".
- "Certificate of Change of Principal Office" (PDF). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 2005-05-26. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
- The site member.fsf.org 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". The Internet Archive. Archived from the original on 2002-12-20.
- 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.
- "FSF announces change in general counsel". www.fsf.org. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2017-05-18.
- Stallman, Richard. "About the GNU Project". Gnu Project. FSF. Retrieved 18 May 2014.
- patrick_g. "Linus Torvalds: the anniversary interview of the 20 years of the kernel". LinuxFr.org. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- "The Party of Gno". Retrieved 2010-06-22.
- "In defense of negativity". www.fsf.org. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2019-10-23.
- trunk/copying on sourceforge.net/p/libdwg
- Larabel, Michael (2013-01-24). "FSF Wastes Away Another "High Priority" Project". Phoronix. Archived from the original on 2016-11-09. Retrieved 2013-08-22.
Both LibreCAD and FreeCAD both want to use LibreDWG and have patches available for supporting the DWG file format library, but can't integrate them. The programs have dependencies on the popular GPLv2 license while the Free Software Foundation will only let LibreDWG be licensed for GPLv3 use, not GPLv2.
- Prokoudine, Alexandre (26 January 2012). "What's up with DWG adoption in free software?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
[Assimp's Alexander Gessler:] "Personally, I'm extremely unhappy with their [LibreDWG's — LGW] GPL licensing. It prohibits its use in Assimp and for many other applications as well. I don't like dogmatic ideologies, and freeing software by force (as GPL/GNU does) is something I dislike in particular. It's fine for applications, because it doesn't hurt at this point, but, in my opinion, not for libraries that are designed to be used as freely as possible." [Blender's Toni Roosendaal:] "Blender is also still "GPLv2 or later". For the time being we stick to that, moving to GPL 3 has no evident benefits I know of. My advice for LibreDWG: if you make a library, choosing a widely compatible license (MIT, BSD, or LGPL) is a very positive choice."
- Prokoudine, Alexandre (2012-12-27). "LibreDWG drama: the end or the new beginning?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from the original on 2016-11-09. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
[...]the unfortunate situation with support for DWG files in free CAD software via LibreDWG. We feel, by now it ought to be closed. We have the final answer from FSF. [...] "We are not going to change the license."
- Prokoudine, Alexandre (26 January 2012). "What's up with DWG adoption in free software?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
GPLv3 license. It doesn't work for end-user software, because they tend to use 3rd party components under different licenses that impose restrictions. FSF who are sole copyright holders of LibreDWG objected to relicensing. With regards to FreeCAD project and Yorik van Havre, its contributor, Richard Stallman stated:" You should not change the license of your library. Rather, it is best to make it clear to him what the conditions are." [...] Personally, I'm extremely unhappy with their [LibreDWG's — LGW] GPL licensing. It prohibits its use in Assimp and for many other applications as well. I don't like dogmatic ideologies, and freeing software by force (as GPL/GNU does) is something I dislike in particular. It's fine for applications, because it doesn't hurt at this point, but, in my opinion, not for libraries that are designed to be used as freely as possible.
- "USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award ("The Flame")". USENIX. Retrieved 2007-12-05.
- Free Software Foundation (2005). "FSF honored with Prix Ars Electronica award". News Releases. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
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