Free Software Foundation

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,[4] with the organization's preference for software being distributed under copyleft ("share alike") terms,[5] such as with its own GNU General Public License.[6] The FSF was incorporated in Boston,[7] Massachusetts, US, where it is also based.[8]

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, the FSF aims to use only free software on its own computers.[9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[citation needed] Typically, GPL violations during this time were cleared up by short email exchanges between Stallman and the violator.[citation needed] 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.[12][13][14]

GPL enforcement and educational campaigns on GPL compliance was a major focus of the FSF's efforts during this period.[15][16]

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.[17] 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.[18][19]

From 2003 to 2005, FSF held legal seminars to explain the GPL and the surrounding law.[20] 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.[19][21][22]

In 2007, the FSF published the third version of the GNU General Public License after significant outside input.[23][24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.
FSF maintains many of the documents that define the free software movement.

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".[34] The FSF considers these projects ""[34]

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.[34]

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).[35]

The effort has been criticized by Michael Larabel for either not instigating active development or for being slow at the work being done, even after certain projects were added to the list.[36][37]

The FSF maintains a list of approved Linux operating systems that maintain free software by default:

The project also maintains a list of operating systems that are not versions of the GNU system:

The following are previously endorsed operating systems that are no longer actively maintained:

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.[38]

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.

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

The FSF Articles of Organization state that the board of directors are elected.[51]

At any given time, there are usually around a dozen employees.[54] Most, but not all, work at the FSF headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts.[55]

On November 25, 2002, the FSF launched the FSF Associate Membership program for individuals.[56] Bradley M. Kuhn (FSF executive director, 2001–2005) launched the program and also signed up as the first Associate Member[57]

Associate members hold a purely honorary and funding support role to the FSF.[53]

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.[58]

Most of the FSF funding comes from patrons and members.[59] 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.[2]

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.[60]

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.[61] 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."[62]

In 2009, a license update of LibDWG/LibreDWG to the version 3 of the GNU GPL,[63] made it impossible for the free software projects LibreCAD and FreeCAD to use LibreDWG legally.[64] Many projects voiced their unhappiness about the GPLv3 license selection for LibreDWG, such as FreeCAD, LibreCAD, Assimp, and Blender.[65] Some suggested the selection of a license with a broader license compatibility, for instance the MIT, BSD, or LGPL 2.1.[65] A request went to the FSF to relicense GNU LibreDWG as GPLv2, which was rejected in 2012.[66]

The project has stalled since 2011 for various reasons, including license issues.[67]

Key players and industries that have made honorific mention and awards include: