I’m Running for the Linux Foundation Board of Directors

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As we begin a new year, I’m super excited that Conservancy has almost reached our initial target of 750 Supporters (we’re just 4 Supporters away from this goal! If you haven’t signed up, you can push us past this first milestone!). We launched our Supporter program over a year ago and more recently, in November, we asked you all to become Supporters now so that Conservancy can survive. Conservancy is moving toward a funding model primarily from individuals rather than larger corporate sponsors. While we are about to reach our minimal target, we still have a long way to go to our final goal of 2,500 Supporters — which will allow us to continue all of Conservancy’s critical programs, including copyleft enforcement. Many individuals have come forward to donate, and we hope that many more of you do so too! I was really excited about the statement of support published last week by the GNOME Foundation, and in particular their point that enforcement is necessary and benefits GNOME and free software as a whole.

Of course, we’re still excited about our for-profit sponsors, and list them at the top of our sponsors page. We’d like to draw particular attention to Private Internet Access, which gave a generous match so that individuals who join this month will double their donations via the match. We have only two weeks left to take advantage of this, so if you are considering donating, please do it soon!

Conservancy is focusing on individual giving via our Supporter campaign because our organization has a very special and unique status, called 501(c)(3) charity status here in the US. That means that Conservancy’s constituency is the general public. We do the jobs in the software freedom community that maximize the rights of the general public in the use and development of their software.

We’re glad that so many support us in doing those jobs for public good. But Conservancy doesn’t imagine that we can do all the jobs in our community. In fact, there’s a definite need for companies to have an organization that specifically represents their interests in the software freedom community. In my view, the organization that does the job best is the Linux Foundation. Linux Foundation is a 501(c)(6) trade association, so they advocate ultimately for the common business interest of their members. I’ve been impressed at Linux Foundation’s growth and their increasing ability to market Linux and related free software technologies to new companies; no organization does more to encourage companies to adopt Linux than Linux Foundation.

While trade associations like Linux Foundation usually represent only companies, Linux Foundation seeks to do even more. I’ve talked a lot, including just a few days ago, with Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin. He often points out how, while there is no public-good mandate for trade associations, nothing stops trade associations from doing work in the public good, since that often does align with the needs of their corporate members. In particular, Linux Foundation did something great to deliver on that idea — unlike most other trade associations, Linux Foundation by laws allow for two Board Seats elected
by individuals
.1. This gives individuals a minority voice on their Board of Directors, so that companies that control Linux Foundation’s board has a direct path to hear for the community.

I signed up last year as an Individual Affiliate of Linux Foundation and nominated myself as a candidate for Linux Foundation’s Board of Directors. At my Linaro Connect keynote in late September, I publicly announced my candidacy for the 2016 Linux Foundation Board of Directors. If elected, I look forward to the opportunity to give feedback and help directly with Jim’s commitment to help Linux Foundation do good things not just for its corporate members, but for all individuals, too. While Linux Foundation has not yet announced when this years’ elections will occur, I hope all Individual LF Affiliates will watch for the election and vote for me. I’ll of course update the community here on when I know more about the
details.

While the focus of my work is at Conservancy, I really believe that all of us should give time to other organizations in the community to make all of them better. Conservancy announced in the last two years multiple collaborations (such as our GPL enforcement principles and copyleft.org) with the Free Software Foundation, and I have long provided pro-bono legal counsel to both the FSF, GNOME Foundation and Question Copyright, in addition to my job at Conservancy. I also try to contribute whenever I can to the GNOME engagement team. While I do believe prioritizing volunteer work for charities is ideal, I also see an opportunity here, as I said in my Linaro keynote, to help companies understand the needs and mindset of community and non-commercial developers who also collaborate on key software freedom projects. I hope that platform will find resonance with Linux Foundation’s Individual Affiliates, and I ask for their votes.


1 This link on Linux Foundation’s website broke a few days after I
posted this blog post. The link in the main post is to the Google
Cached version
for now.

From a lawyer who hates litigation

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Before I started working in free and open source software, before I found out I had a heart condition and became passionate about software freedom, I was a corporate lawyer at a law firm. I worked on various financial transactions. There were ups and downs to this kind of work but throughout I was always extremely vocal about how happy I was that I didn’t do any litigation.

Litigation is expensive and it is exhausting. As a lawyer you’re dealing with unhappy people who can’t resolve their problems in a professional manner, whose relationships, however rosy they may have been, have completely broken down. When I started working in free and open source software, I started out primarily as a nonprofits lawyer. As I did more in copyright and trademark, I continued to avoid GPL ligation. I wasn’t really convinced that it was needed and I was sure I wanted no part of the actual work. I also was pretty license agnostic. X.Org, Apache Foundation and other permissively licensed projects were my clients and their passion for free software was very inspiring. I did think that the legal mechanisms in copyleft were fascinating.

Like Keith Packard, my view has changed considerably over the years. I became frustrated seeing companies wrest control of permissively licensed projects, or more often, engineer that from the outset. I’ve seen developers convinced that the only way a new project will gain adoption is through a lax permissive license only to find down the road that so much of their code had been proprietarized. I think there are times that a permissive license may be the right choice, but I’m now thoroughly convinced about the benefits of copyleft. Seeing the exceptional collaboration in the Linux kernel, for example, has sold me.

But as Bradley put it in our oggcast, “The GPL is not magic pixie dust.” Just choosing a license is not enough. As you surely have too, I’ve seen companies abuse rights granted to them under the GPL over and over again. As the years pass, it seems that more and more of them want to walk as close to the edge of infringement as they can, and some flagrantly adopt a catch-me-if-you-can attitude.

As a controntation-adverse person who has always hated litigation, I was certain that I would be able to help with the situation and convince companies to do the right thing. I really thought that some plucky upbeat bridge building would make the difference and that I was just the woman to do it. But what I found is that these attempts are futile if there are no consequences to violating the license. You can talk about compliance until you are blue in the face, run webinars, publish educational materials, form working groups and discussion lists but you cannot take the first step of asking for compliance if at some point someone isn’t willing to take that last step of a lawsuit. We at Conservancy are committed to doing this in the ways that are best for long-term free software adoption. This is hard work. And because it’s adversarial, no matter how nicely we try to do it, no matter how much time we give to companies to come into compliance and no matter how much help we try to give, we can’t count on corporate donors to support it (though many of the individuals working at those companies privately tell me they support it and that it helps them be able to establish budgets around compliance internally).

Conservancy is a public charity, not a for profit company or trade association. We serve the public’s interest. I am deeply convinced that GPL enforcement is necessary and good for the free software ecosystem. Bradley is too. So are the members of our Copyleft Compliance Projects. But that’s simply not enough. It’s not enough from a financial perspective and it’s not enough from an ideological one either. What matters is what the public thinks. What matters is what you think. This fundraiser is not a ploy to raise more money with an empty threat. If we can’t establish support for enforcement then we just shouldn’t be doing it.

Despite the fact that I am an employee of the organization, I am myself signing up as a Conservancy Supporter (in addition to my FSF associate membership). I hope you will join me now too. GPL enforcement is too important to hibernate.

Linaro Connect, Volkswagen and Developer Ethics

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Last week I had the privilege of delivering Friday’s keynote address at Linaro Connect. I was so excited and pleased that I had been asked to speak about compliance there. As Linaro is a consortium for Linux kernel related initiatives on ARM, I was excited and curious as to what the conference was like and thrilled to be given the chance to talk about why copyleft and GPL compliance are so fundamental to the success of collaborative engineering initiatives like Linaro. The fact that the conference is so developer focused was a huge bonus.

One of the topics I touched on, given its newsworthiness was the situation with Volkswagen. Many people have talked about the implications of so-called dieselgate and its implications for free and open source software. In my talk I focused on another aspect of this – engineer and developer culture.

When I was in engineering school at The Cooper Union we had a mandatory course during our first year where we read the book To Engineer Is Human (which incidentally, if you buy you can sign up for Conservancy with Amazon Smile first). The book discusses prominent engineering failures (including the dramatic Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse “Galloping Gertie”), why they failed and how such failure is ultimately a part of successful societal engineering. In the class we talked about the culture of engineering ethics and how engineers ultimately have a special responsibility in society on behalf of the people who are impacted by the work they do.

In the recent case of Volkswagen, the failure of the company to behave ethically not only caused a negative impact on the environment and alienated VW’s customer base, but also had a massively negative effect on the company’s bottom line and financial outlook. How many engineers at the company felt horribly about what was happening and felt powerless to do anything about it? And in that case, the failure of Volkswagen to do the right thing was bad for the company in a number of levels.

As we see that copyleft and best security are linked (I talked about the Honeymoon Effect during the talk, and you can read my old paper on medical device safety plus many great discussions by folks like Matthew Garrett and even Bruce Schneier) and we embark upon an Internet of Things network, the ethical implications of software freedom become all the more poignant. In addition to the ethical aspects inherent in sharing code and the ethical considerations of following a license under which you received software for your use, there’s an additional ethics layer in the safety implications of keeping GPL’d code closed. Because software so often interacts in complex ways (as shown in the car vulnerability demonstrations that go through the wheel maintenance system to exploit the critical ignition and brake systems), it’s impossible to predict which software the next failure will be based on.

We need companies to understand that complying with the GPL isn’t just good community participation or a safeguard from lawsuits – that it is fundamental to their long-term financial success in a myriad of ways. Developers play a key role in that process. It’s not always easy to stand up for the right thing in a corporate context. Doing so can cause reprisal in the form of some penalty. Obviously, if an engineer had been able to take action at Volkswagen, they would have saved the company a lot of embarrassment and lost revenue but without the hindsight of seeing how that situation actually payed out it’s likely that there was a real fear of penalty for speaking up. Fortunately, where copylefted software is involved there are external mechanisms to help with some of these issues. Because companies must make good on providing source when they distribute, an outsider could determine that a company is not meeting its obligations. This is the main reason why having the option of participating anonymously in our coalition of developers who want to enforce the GPL is so important. In software development, coming out in favor of enforcement may not cause you any negative repercussions with your current employer but many developers rightly worry that other future employers may negatively view their participation in the coalition.

In the same vein as my ethical education in engineering school, developers should include the long term ethical considerations in their core technical analysis of what free and open source software licenses their companies should use and how they comply with it on a long term basis. While failures are terrible to have, they’re essential to learn from and work towards better technical and ethical infrastructure.

Video of the full talk is available here. You can sign up to our GPL Compliance Project for Linux Developers by emailing linux-services@sfconservancy.org.

FISL16

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I’m back from Brazil where I attended FISL. I had the honor of presenting three talks! And they were three of my favorite topics: the importance of compliance and the suit against VMware, bringing more women to free and open source software and why I care so much about software freedom in the first place. It was a very fun conference. Besides doing the talks I was able to do a few press interviews too. And of course I loved meeting Brazilian hackers and software freedom activists.

Attendees seemed very interested in enforcement and the VMware suit. I was happy to see support for this work, and there was discussion about local copyright holders signing up to the coalition. It really seems that folks are starting to see the downsides of noncopylefted projects and are frustrated by the pervasiveness of GPL violations.

One of my favorite moments of the conference was the response to my talk about gender diversity. I admit that it’s disappointing that this talk is always attended disporportionately by women. As I sometimes say in the talk itself, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for the burden of this work to fall only on women. There are so few women right now in free software (1-11% at most) that it would be impossible for us to do it on any meaningful scale alone. Plus it’s not fair to expect women to undertake this work on top of their other contributions to free software (many women understandably don’t want to think about gender issues at all). Men can make a tremendous impact on this area. Most of our Outreachy mentors are men, and as the dominant group in free and open surce software, it’s men who can fundamentally change the culture to be more welcoming to women and other underrepresented groups. Nonetheless, it was amazing that the “mob” after my talk was mostly women. It was great to meet so many women who are leaders in Latin America and to hear about their extraordinary work. I was interviewed after the talk and was askd to give some tips for women getting started in free software.

The conference had a very different feel to it than a lot of the other conferences I attend. It was a community run conference (along with that awesome community feeling, a lot of students, etc.) but it’s such a big conference that it has some things that community conferences often don’t have. Like GNU and Tux mascots (thanks to Deb Nicholson for the photo)!

karengnutux

I loved seeing schoolkids excited to be there and quite a number of really little kids with GNU and Freedo shirts and toys.

There was also a lot of love for GNOME, and it was great to meet up with people I don’t get to see very often, especially since I’m missing GUADEC this year. Plus we got to settle some outstanding Linux kernel/systemd issues.

FISL is an excellect conference – a wonderful alternative to the corporate trade association conference ciruit. I hope to be able to return some time in the future. Now to get ready for OSCON next week…

Thinking About the Importance of a Membership Base

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Recently I’ve been working with the rest of Conservancy’s staff on launching and promoting a Supporter Program, a way for individuals to support Conservancy though membership fees (we’re avoiding the term “member” because Conservancy’s members are our member projects).

We launched this program for a number of reasons. Part of this, of course, is financial. While we do receive a portion of the revenue donated to our projects, we keep that number low enough that it doesn’t even pay for a single staff member. We need to raise money in order to be able to keep the full support of our projects that we have in place now. I sometimes refer to our model as “fiscal sponsorship plus” because we do a lot more for our projects than many of the other organizations in free and open source software (by design – it’s useful to have different orgs doing different things!). But that level of support requires significant resources and we don’t want to pass that burden onto our member projects if we can possibly help it.

We do fundraise from companies (and if you think your company can sponsor Conservancy please get in touch!) but there can be trade offs with this as an overall model. Bradley wrote an excellent blogpost about this already. Because we are focused on what’s good for the community and not necessarily what’s good for companies (though our interests are often aligned), we need a strong membership base to help balance things out. Trade associations have a much easier time fundraising from companies for these reasons but we as a community get so much more out of a public facing org.

We also realized that we’ve really been focused on promoting our projects and not necessarily Conservancy as a whole. While everyone has heard of Git, Samba, Wine, and Inkscape (the list goes on, it’s very hard to chose projects to single out when they’re all so great) I think a lot of people don’t even know that we exist or what we do. By launching this program, we have a lot more excuses to tell people about our activities and why we matter. I had a great time writing our fundraising page, and distilling this into a short explanation.

That said a lot of people *do* already know about Conservancy and why it’s an important organization. I’ve been so excited at the sign ups we’ve had for Conservancy’s Supporter program so far and I realized something today that floored me – the list of Supporters to date is in large part comprised of experts in the field. I was looking at the list of Supporter names and it read like something of a “who’s who”. We could make a killer conference if we gathered those people to speak! It gave me confidence in our program and in our organization generally. If these people who I deeply respect think that Conservancy is worth contributing to, then we must be on to something good. I expect it will take us years to build up the membership base we want but it’s fitting to have so many leaders signing up and publicly acknowledging us. I’m hoping we will be able to grow the program a lot in the near future and we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff we’re working on that I can’t wait to talk about.

I hope you have a great holiday season! Please consider joining the ranks of Conservancy Supporters and generally supporting the charitable organizations in free software (specific props to GNOME and the FSF)!

Thinking Fondly of GUADEC

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged and Oliver Propst is here in New York and since I’ve been telling him about GUADEC I realized that instead I should write it all down!

Getting to GUADEC was very exciting for me as I finished my talk at OSCON and then ran straight to the airport in order to make my flight. Unfortunately this meant that I missed the first day of GUADEC in addition to the all day board meeting the day before. All of the travel was worth it when the bus pulled into the station in Strasbourg to find Rosanna and Sri waiting for me! We walked over to the bar gathering and it was fantastic to see everyone and catch up and I was immersed in GUADEC all over again.

It was really fun to be at GUADEC and definitely a different experience than as Executive Director. There were so many great talks that it was often hard to choose between the two tracks. I loved volunteering to help with sessions and felt pretty privileged to introduce two of the keynotes: Nate Willis and Matthew Garrett. Nate spoke about automotive software with the cool narrative of hacking his own car. I loved that he tied it all back to GNOME with practical recommendations for the community. Matthew gave an incredibly inspirational talk about GNOME and its future. I highly recommend watching the video when it comes out if you didn’t get a chance to see it in person. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about over the next year and a lot of work ahead of us too.

I spoke about what I learned as Executive Director of GNOME. It was nice to reflect over the years I spent in the role and also to provide some recommendations going forward. The GNOME community is exceptional and if we can prioritize attracting newcomers and communicating better about why we do what we do we’ll be unstoppable. I proposed that we have technical evangelists for GNOME so that we have the ability to appoint our most articulate and charismatic community members as representatives. I think the GNOME community needs to go to companies and talk to them about GNOME and help them with their GNOME usage (or potential GNOME usage). Happily two extraordinary people volunteered after my talk so we’ll see!

All of the board meetings were a bit grueling but I think good discussions were had. And the marketing hackfest was fun and productive as usual.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the hard work of Alexandre and Natalie who made GUADEC run so smoothly, even in a venue that they had to scramble to arrange when the original venue fell though at the last minute. Happily, Alexandre was the winner of the coveted Pants Award this year, so we had multiple opportunities for our community to express our gratitude.

I also had a blast shining the bright light of truth on the Swedish Conspiracy. And I’m looking forward to GUADEC in Goethenburg too!

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel!

New challenge

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Working as the GNOME Foundation Executive Director has been one of the highlights of my career. It has been a pleasure to work with many wonderful people, and we have made fantastic progress over the past
three years. GNOME is such an important, vibrant project, and I feel lucky to have been able to play a part in it.

I think I have made some important contributions to the project while I have been Executive Director. I’ve helped to recruit two new advisory board members, and we recently received a one time donation of considerable size (the donor did not want to be identified). Financially the Foundation is in good shape, and we have run the last three years in the black. We’ve held some successful funding campaigns, particularly around privacy and accessibility. We have a mind-blowingly fantastic Board of Directors, and the Engagement team is doing amazing work. The GNOME.Asia team is strong, and we’ve got an influx of people, more so than I’ve seen in some time.

I hope that I have helped us to get in touch with our values during my time as ED, and I think that GNOME is more aware of its guiding mission than ever before. The ongoing success of the Outreach Program for Women and positive relations with other organizations fighting for software freedom have all helped us to tell a powerful story about who we are and why we matter.

With all these achievements, I think it’s time for me to hand the reins over to someone new, who can bring their own personal strengths to the role. It is time for a new challenge for me also, so today I am announcing my new position as the Software Freedom Conservancy Executive Director. As many of you know, I have been volunteering with Conservancy for some time, since I helped found it when I was a lawyer at SFLC. I also can’t wait to work closer with Bradley, who has done a bang up job in the role of ED thus far (he’ll be taking on the title of Distinguished Technologist while remaining President and on the board). It is an important organization where I think I can make a difference, and GNOME is in good hands.

Don’t worry though: I’m not leaving GNOME. I will be announcing my candidacy for the board when the call comes out (this is a real exception for me as I’ve generally declined serving on boards). I will stay on as pro bono counsel, and of course I’ll continue volunteering in other ways. The Conservancy has also agreed to partner with GNOME, so that I can help to run the Outreach Program for Women with Marina.

I’m excited for the future. GNOME is already in great hands and I look forward to what the next Foundation Executive can bring to the table. If you know of someone who would be fantastic in this position please let the GNOME board know! I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the past three years, and can’t wait to see where we go next.

Conferences conferences conferences

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I’ve been really behind on blogging but with good excuse! I’ve been running from one conference to another, talking about GNOME and free software and having as many meetings as I can to forward our causes. It’s been really intense – I’ve basically given six talks in six days.

First up was South by Southwest (and the most out of date report). As I mentioned here before, I was especially excited for this one in part because I was looking forward to the technically savvy crowd that may not be as familiar with free and open source software and also because my session was featured on the sxsw blog. This was a new experiment for the GNOME Foundation, and we were figuring things out. Happily Sri came to help and we were able to team up. We mostly hit the streets talking to people, which is surprisingly effective at sxsw since so many of the attendees are people we’d want to partner with in some way. We made some great contacts and have already been following up.

My talk was pretty well received, and there were a couple of articles that came out of it too. One here and one in Le Monde”, for example. I was interviewed a few other times too, especially after the session with Snowden remotely dialing in. I was encouraged to hear him talk about how important UI is to free software which also gave me a good opportunity to talk about GNOME. I also got a few good leads on fundraising and partnership for Outreach Program for Women.

Next year I’d love for us to partner with other free and open source software orgs and sponsors and have a Free and Open Pavilion in the expo floor. I think sxsw is an excellent audience for us to try to reach, if we can figure out a way for our presence to have the maximum impact.

More recently, in the last week I was at the FSF’s LibrePlanet and the Linux Foundation’s Collaboration Summit. Both are great conferences. I always love LibrePlanet as it’s one of the few conferences that is entirely ideologically motivated, and I find it really restorative on a personal level. I had the honor of keynoting the conference again, entitled “We can’t all be cyborg lawyers: How messaging may be our most important obstacle,” where I talked about my experienced advocating for software freedom, marketing exercises done by GNOME and the FSF and how we can approach this going forward. I also led a session with Marina on diversity, and one with Deb on messaging.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about LibrePlanet was that the GNOME Foundation won the Free Software Award for the Outreach Program for Women:

We're so excited to accept the award!

Marina and I right after Richard Stallman presented us with our award!

You can read the whole press release on the FSF’s site.

I also taught a course on legal ethics on the day after the conference, which also happily earned me some continuing legal education credits to boot. Later in the afternoon Marina and I got coffee with a few other advisors of the Ada Initiative which was really fun.

I then flew to California for the Collab Summit, where I spoke on the Outreach Program and then again on issues about representation in Free Software. I’ll try to make an independent blog about some of my thoughts soon. This conference, while being almost opposite to LibrePlanet, was also really productive, and I was able to have a lot of great meetings. Now I’m off to finally have a bit of a weekend, there’s more news coming soon so stay tuned.

Getting ready for SXSW!

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I’m excited to leave for Austin in the morning. I have a few goals for the trip:

  • Give my talk about medical devices and free software. If you’re coming to sxsw, please come to my session, which is on 5pm on Friday! And if you’re not, tell other people about it. I was so happy that the conference featured my session and ran a little interview with me.
  • Get some new people thinking about ethical technology and free software. Sri and I are organizing a GNOME and free software meet up on Saturday, more details to come!
  • Spread the word about the Outreach Program for Women. The application period has begun so it’s the perfect time.

Got any other suggestions for things I shouldn’t miss? Please say hi if you’re at the conference. And thanks to everyone who voted for my session!

Support MediaGoblin!

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The Goblin Force strikes again!

MediaGoblin launched their fundraising campaign yesterday with the FSF. Check out their fantastic video (it’s definitely worth watching and was obviously the product of quite a bit of work) and donate generously.

One of the awesomest things about free software fundraising campaigns is that we all want each other to succeed, even when we are in competition. One of the best examples of this is the launching of the Pitivi and MediaGoblin campaigns. Instead of getting frustrated and bitter at finding out they were launching around the same time, they teamed up to adjust their timing so as not to hit on the same day. Even though this meant that MediaGoblin delayed by a few days more than they had meant to. And the Pitivi fundraising page even links to the MediaGoblin campaign.

Love is all around.

I just made my donation to MediaGoblin and can’t wait to see them make their goal!

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