Apple of contention Copyright Assignment: Free Software Foundation is rearranging itself


As the Free Software Foundation announces on its website, it is committed to changes in its own board governance. The goal is a transparent, community-supported process for determining new and evaluating current board members. Aim for an agreement that outlines the responsibilities of all board members. A code of ethics should be created within the next six months, which will lay down the values ​​of the foundation and set clear rules for all essential decision-making processes.

The “Code of Ethics” is also intended to regulate the personal conduct of board members, employees and volunteers. All processes should be on a new, transparent basis within six months.

Since the disputes about the return of the GNU founder Richard Stallman to the board of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the foundation’s house blessing has been crooked, criticism of the personnel has come from inside and outside. Major sponsors like Red Hat have meanwhile withdrawn from the foundation in protest. The FSF has been reorganizing itself since April 2021 and has now apparently drawn further conclusions from the debate.

According to the announcement, the Free Software Foundation is using external advice for the upcoming changes, which is supposed to moderate the structural change. Discussions with a number of companies, sponsors and stakeholders have apparently already taken place and serve as the basis for the planned organizational innovations. At the same time, the recruiting process for the successor to incumbent CEO John Sullivan, who has held the reins for 18 years, is running. Sullivan is currently taking care of the operational business and personnel issues. Until the successor has been clarified, he will remain in office as managing director, can be found in the blog entry.

The modernization that has now been initiated is the first structural change since 2002. The main focus of the revision is the preservation of the GNU General Public License (GPL), a kind of codification of the staffing of the foundation as well as regulations that have become necessary to renew the internal structures of the organization, especially its governance .

The fact that a critical revision has become necessary is particularly reflected in the current debate about copyright ownership in the open source world: A number of projects such as GCC and the GNU C Library (glibc) are currently allowing the community to vote on whether the mandatory copyright assignment to the FSF should be abolished (Copyright Assignment Policy) – at glibc, interested parties could comment on the proposal until July 1st.

In particular, the software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), headed by Bradley M. Kuhn, a former executive director and board member of the FSF with expertise in the licensing area, is currently taking a critical stance on copyright issues in the FOSS communities (Free and Open Source Software) and the Free Software Foundation’s refusal to allow more diversity in the granting of copyrights. Kuhn was Left the Free Software Foundation in 2019. Some of the existing copyright policies have been in force since the 1980s and the establishment of the Free Software Foundation.

Anyone who is more interested in the debate or would like to participate in the discussion can read Kuhn’s statement on the SFC website in a detailed blog entry (“It Matters Who Owns Your Copyleft Copyrights“, Blog post from June 30, 2021), a discussion takes place among other things in the forum of and at via the relevant mailing lists instead of.


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