FY2017 Annual Report

Highlighting activities and detailed financials for Fiscal Year 2017
(October 1, 2016 - September 30, 2017)


Educating you about free software licenses, advocating for copyleft and enforcing the GNU General Public License


Empowering you to understand, adopt, develop, and defend free software


Providing infrastructure to accelerate development and distribution of the free software you need


Running an efficient, effective nonprofit, using free software, supported by you

Toward a libre planet

Net neutrality protest in Boston in 2017. Credit: Ruben Rodriguez, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Free Software Foundation is a leader in the international movement for computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users and encourage the development and use of free "as in freedom" software.

This annual report highlights the Foundation's activities and achievements in fiscal year 2017 (October 1, 2016 — September 30, 2017) and includes a detailed financial statement.


Software filters the information we receive about the world and the messages we put out into the world, and that software must be free "as in freedom."

Letter from the Executive Director

Dear Supporters,

As I write this, reflecting on our previous financial year, discussions centered on our rights and our fears while using technology are all over the mainstream news. Facebook is being called before governments in the US and Europe to explain itself. Uber and Tesla are under fire for their software-driven cars killing people. Investigations continue into how criminals may have broken into voting machines and used online news platforms to influence elections in the US and elsewhere around the world. Pundits say people are more divided than ever on "the issues," and that we need to actualize the theoretical capability of electronic communication to bridge differences and bring people together.

The common but silent thread connecting these discussions is the power of software. Software filters the information we receive about the world, the messages we put out into the world, and even the way we physically move in the world. If the software is not free "as in freedom," so that anyone can inspect, modify, and share it, these filters will inevitably be keyed to the interests of the gatekeepers who control it. The consequences for the rest of us will be loss of democracy, privacy, security, freedom of speech, freedom of movement — and even loss of life. And yet, the ideals of the free software movement have been largely suppressed in the global conversation about avoiding technological dystopia.

The FSF is changing that. The audited FY2017 financial statement contained in this report continues the solid good news you've come to expect from us — the steady growth and transparent, mission-centric use of funds that have earned the FSF an exceptionally high Charity Navigator rating of 97.15 out of 100.

In these pages, you'll see how we've been expanding the free software movement and amplifying your principled voice on the international stage, accelerating development of the GNU operating system and other free software, inspecting and certifying freedom-respecting products to incentivize needed change in the commercial sector, and strengthening copyleft licensing — still the best tool we have to establish a culture where technology empowers rather than oppresses. I hope that these program updates from our campaigns, technical, licensing, and operations teams inspire you to step up your own efforts toward our shared goals.

We need everyone not only using free software in their daily lives but also seeing free software as their political, philosophical issue. We will eventually reach a tipping point, where awareness of the Four Freedoms will be sufficiently ingrained in policymakers, technologists, and the public, such that any new enterprise that does not respect them will meet quickly with failure. But we have a long way to go, and delays in getting there have real, human costs.

FSF associate members drive this work, through their ongoing financial contributions, their commitment to the movement, and their sustained, informed, effective personal advocacy. If you haven't joined us yet, we need your support. We may be up against billions of dollars, but since we are fighting for billions of regular users, we have a massive advantage in numbers — so long as we can reach everyone. Please join us and help build these freedom-protecting defenses, without delay.

Yours in freedom,

  • John Sullivan
  • Executive Director
  • September 2018

Why I joined the FSF

"Free software positively impacts my life every hour of every day."

Licensing and Compliance

The FSF's Licensing and Compliance Lab defends free software through license enforcement and enforcement support, a rigorous product certification, and educational resources.

In FY17, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the GNU General Public License version 3 (GPL). This is the free software copyleft license that ensures the user's right to run, study, share, and modify software. In addition to being the steward of the GPL, the FSF holds copyright on much of the GNU operating system. The licensing team spent the year accepting copyright assignments from software developers and corporations, investigating GPL violations, and answering licensing questions from the community.

We championed copylefted projects, publishing another seven installments in an ongoing series of conversations with free software developers who choose GNU licenses for their work. We also certified a record number of devices under our Respects Your Freedom certification program, which identifies devices that do as much as possible to respect user freedom.

Along with answering hundreds of licensing questions from the public, dedicated volunteers continued to expand and improve the Free Software Directory for nearly two million annual visitors, and we made inroads with government, helping the US Department of Defense to distribute free software. We also organized volunteers to create a workaround for Web site maintainers who want to register as an agent under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) while avoiding the nonfree JavaScript the process currently requires.

Photo of a man with light brown hair, glasses, and a brown, white, and red sweater, holding two small mobile phones in his hands.

Denver Gingerich, a developer of packages under the AGPLv3 and other GNU licenses, speaking at LibrePlanet 2017 about free software for mobile phones. Credit: Kori Feener, CC-BY 4.0

FY2017 at a glance

  • 331 copyright assignments and disclaimers accepted
  • 670 licensing questions fielded from the public
  • 54 reports of GNU license violations investigated
  • 18 devices certified to Respect Your Freedom
  • 1.8 million visitors to the Free Software Directory

Respects Your Freedom certification

RYF logo

The FSF's Respects Your Freedom product certification program encourages the creation and sale of hardware that will do as much as possible to respect your freedom and privacy.

In FY17, fifteen devices from Technoethical became RYF certified: six laptops, two docking stations, a mainboard, three WiFi USB adapters, two internal WiFI devices, and a Bluetooth USB adapter. RYF certification was also awarded to three devices from Vikings: a USB stereo sound adapter, a mainboard, and a laptop, bringing the total number of RYF certified devices to twenty-seven (at the time).

Why I joined the FSF

"To fight the dystopia of a DRM-overgrown world."

A photo of a wall in Florida. Spraypainted on the wall is 'DRM' with a red circle and crossed out.

34th Street Wall, Gainesville, Florida Credit: Gavin Baker, CC-BY-SA 4.0


Fighting DRM wherever it's found

In the past year, we've fought back against Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) on multiple fronts.

International Day Against DRM

On July 9, 2017, International Day Against DRM (IDAD) focused on Web-based community involvement, with more than twenty organizations raising their voices in support of a world without DRM. From blog posts to special sales, to parties and movie showings around the world, people came out to celebrate DRM-free media, and raise awareness of the threats we face from DRM.

DMCA exemptions

The licensing team continued to raise the alarm about legislative issues like the US federal government's continued insistence on forcing supporters of user freedom to fight for exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) anti-circumvention restrictions.

The DMCA is a particularly egregious example of legislative endorsement of DRM. It destroys user freedom, and concentrates control over the production and distribution of digital media, giving DRM peddlers the power to carry out massive digital book burnings and conduct large scale surveillance over people's media viewing habits. Even the process for getting exceptions to the anti-circumvention rules for the purposes of research or use of assistive technologies is draconian, resetting every three years and requiring nonfree JavaScript in order to submit a comment on the process, unless you get special permission to comment in another way.

Along with our own comments, we rallied the free software community to submit their own comments in favor of anti-circumvention exemptions — and passionate critiques of the entire process.

EME in Web standards

Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) is just another way to dress up DRM. The FSF and the free software community organized to oppose a proposal by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make EME a Web standard. We called and wrote W3C president Tim Berners-Lee, asking him to keep the Web free. While we lost this battle, and EME became a Web standard, we're looking at our options for next steps. We are not giving up hope for a free Web, even if its inventor did.

Free people, free net

Internet freedom in the United States found itself on the national stage in 2017. Over the course of the year, Ajit Pai became chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and instigated a war against net neutrality. The FSF joined with dozens of other organizations to raise awareness and organize in support of net neutrality.

Free Software Supporter subscribers

  • 119,299 October, 2016
  • 159,068 September, 2017

Sumana Harihareswara gives the closing keynote at LibrePlanet 2017

Sumana Harihareswara gives the closing keynote at LibrePlanet 2017 Credit: Kori Feener, CC-BY 4.0

LibrePlanet 2017

  • 353 attendees
  • 56 sessions
  • 32 hours of streamed and recorded videos

Why I joined the FSF

"I discovered GNU, and then learned about all the amazing work the FSF does for the tech community."


Infrastructure for free software development and activism

This year, the FSF's tech team made some crucial infrastructure upgrades that improve both the Foundation's daily operations and the GNU Project. The changes included running more services on hardware that is Respects Your Freedom certified, including a Librebooted BIOS and running Trisquel GNU/Linux, proving that complex software projects and modern nonprofit organizations can succeed relying on free software.

The tech team and its volunteers also power LibrePlanet, the annual free software conference. Its livestream and recording infrastructure reduce barriers to access for those who are not able to attend the conference in person. Volunteer-monitored IRC channels for each talk and workshop room increase the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. Recordings are archived on the FSF's GNU MediaGoblin instance shortly after the event. And it's all done with free software!

What's GNU in FY17

  • ~400 GNU packages
  • 234 new GNU releases
  • 432K emails per day on lists.gnu.org and lists.nongnu.org
  • average of 1.2M monthly unique visitors to gnu.org

Additionally, this three-person team runs the GNU shell server, oversees the security of GNU software distribution and infrastructure, and works with volunteers to maintain savannah.gnu.org. They also maintain many services used by staff, volunteers, and the free software community, including the FSF's CiviCRM server, fsf.org, libreplanet.org, defectivebydesign.org, the Free Software Directory, XMPP servers for staff and members, mailing lists, apt mirrors, git repositories, internal wikis, a GNU social server, a Single Sign-On server, email servers, DNS servers, internal site monitoring systems, a Request Tracker instance, and the FSF shop.

And the team collaborates with the free software community, maintaining gnu.org with the help of volunteers, and working with interns who are advancing their skills and knowledge in working with and creating free software.

The team introduced some new infrastructure using distributed Ceph storage and multiple KVM hosts for our new virtual machines. They started the next round of upgrades, including the implementation of a new mail server stack supporting over three thousand free software project mailing lists, and improving the LibrePlanet conference streaming setup by using Ansible to manage the laptops used for streaming, introducing new hardware, and using HUBAngl (streaming software created by an FSF intern).

A tiered classroom, filled with people. A person stands at the front of the room, beneath a large projection screen, giving a talk.

The tech team maintains the free software infrastructure for all FSF operations, including the annual LibrePlanet conference. Credit: Kori Feener, CC-BY 4.0

Defending user freedom with free software

FSF and GNU infrastructure includes:

  • over 100 virtual machines
  • 11 physical machines
  • 3 data centers & some in-house hosting
  • 396 volunteer maintainers
  • 0 Amazon EC2 instances

Financials icon FY2017 Financial Statement

The following is a visualization of the Free Software Foundation's FY 2017 financial statement. The original documents can be found here.

Financials chart

Program Services $1,076,394 Fundraising $65,639 Management and General $95,105

Statement of Financial Position

Cash and Cash Equivalents $1,191,910
Accounts Receivable and Inventory $28,425
Prepaid Expenses and Other Current Assets $4,038
Investments $239,645
Property, Equipment $19,169
Non-Current Assets $13,228
Total Assets $1,496,415

Liabilities and Net Assets

Accounts Payable $16,335
Accrued Expenses $106,435
Total Current Liabilities $122,770
Net Assets
Unrestricted $1,186,690
Temporarily Restricted $186,955
Total Net Assets $1,373,645
Total Liabilities and Net Assets $1,496,415

Statement of Activities

Support and Revenue
Contributions $1,294,697
In-Kind Contributions $3,600
Earned Revenue $70,406
Interest and Other Income $8,471
Gain/(Loss) on Investments ($14,899)
Total Support and Revenue $1,362,275
Functional Expenses
Program Services $1,076,394
Management and General $95,105
Fundraising $65,639
Total Functional Expenses $1,236,994
Change in Net Assets $125,281

Why I joined the FSF

"I simply use GNU tools every day."


Institutional Support

  • Private Internet Access
  • Alibaba Group
  • Craigslist Charitable Fund
  • 2A Foundation
  • Bloomberg
  • Google
  • Skowronski Family Foundation
  • Bibliotek-Systemer As
  • IUT Béziers (Université Montpellier 2)
  • Purism
  • Audeo
  • GitHub
  • Open Invention Network

In-Kind Support

  • Bytemark
  • Markley Group
  • TowardEX
  • Technoethical
  • Aleph Objects
  • No Starch Press
  • ThinkPenguin


  • Cristian Frâncu
  • Julian Graham
  • Gregory Maxwell
  • James Wilson


  • Aleph Objects, Inc
  • Jean-Francois Blavier
  • Alain Brenzikofer
  • Shawn C [a.k.a “citypw”]
  • Colin Carr
  • Antonio Carzaniga
  • Jeffrey Cliff
  • Steven Dick
  • Robert Dionne
  • Alexey Eromenko
  • Cătălin Frâncu
  • Matteo Frigo
  • René Genz
  • Richard Harlow
  • Douglas Hauge
  • Matthias Herrmann
  • Jonathan Howell
  • Stephen Ippolito
  • Brewster Kahle
  • Donald and Jill Knuth
  • Nikolay Ksenev
  • Russell McManus
  • Trevor Menagh
  • Nebion AG
  • Seungwon Park
  • Sreeram Ramachandran
  • Daniel Riek
  • Peter Rock
  • Luis Rodriguez
  • Inouye Satoru
  • Steve Sprang
  • John Sullivan
  • Puduvankunnil Udayakumar
  • C&CZ IT Department, Faculty of Science, Radboud University
  • Kat Walsh
  • Philipp Weis
  • Marinos Yannikos


  • Jean-Louis Abraham
  • Ben Abrams
  • Bashar Al-Abdulhadi
  • Xavier ALT
  • Iñaki Arenaza in memory of Mr. Mauricio Saint-Supery
  • Matthew Armstrong
  • AskApache
  • Salim Badakhchani
  • Alexandre BLANC
  • Blue Systems
  • Mark Boenke
  • Wade Brainerd
  • Nicolae Carabut
  • Alison Chaiken
  • Conan Chiles
  • Yidong Chong
  • Judicaël Courant
  • Donald Craig
  • Allen Curtis
  • Dangerous Thing
  • Henrique Dante de Almeida
  • Paul Eggert
  • Markus Fischer
  • Edward Flick
  • Andrew Fox
  • Arthur Gleckler
  • Elyse Grasso
  • Aaron Grothe
  • Sam Halliday
  • Steven Hay
  • Michael Henderson
  • Håkon A. Hjortland
  • Brett Holleman
  • Daniel Hoodin
  • Clifford Ireland
  • Martin Jansche
  • Christian Johansen
  • Uday Kale
  • Chase Kelley
  • David Klann
  • Colin Klingman
  • Adam Klotblixt
  • Warren Knight
  • Øyvind Gard Knudtzen
  • Martin Krafft
  • Peter Kunze
  • Adam Lewis
  • Morten Lind
  • Denis López
  • Shyama Mandal
  • Christopher Marusich
  • Miromico AG
  • David Moews
  • Kyohei Moriyama
  • Bill Newcomb
  • Pablo Adrian Nieto
  • Freddie O'Connell
  • jeffrey oconnell
  • Stephanie Ogden
  • Marcus Pemer
  • Donnie Pennington
  • Roland Pesch
  • Valerio Poggi
  • David Potter
  • Nicolas Pottier
  • Ed Price
  • Vivek Ramachandran
  • Norman Richards
  • francisco rodriguez
  • Tyler Romeo
  • Leah Rowe
  • Sean Russell
  • Minoru Sekine
  • Ben Simmonds
  • Bijan Soleymani
  • Trevor Spiteri
  • Gary Stimson
  • 悟高田
  • Micah Tombli
  • David Turner
  • Rob Vens
  • Spencer Visick
  • Paul Wang
  • ivo Welch
  • Eric West
  • Jim Wright
  • hiroo yamagata
  • Adam Ymeren

This list includes our patrons, in-kind supporters, and those who receive ThankGNUs for donations totaling over $500 in a year. The FSF appreciates and thanks the thousands of individual donors, members, and corporate patrons worldwide who make our work possible.

Associate Membership

Join the Free Software Foundation

Our mission is to promote computer user freedom and defend the rights of all software users, worldwide. Though free software is used more widely than ever, it is under threat from a wide range of interests that profit from controlling and surveilling computer users. You can help put control over computers back in the hands of the people who use them! Try a free software program, or switch to a free operating system. Make a donation, or make a long term commitment to free software by becoming a Free Software Foundation Associate Member. Learn more at fsf.org.

Why I joined the FSF

"Free software — the GNU/Linux platform in particular — is what made it possible twenty years ago for me to learn the skills to become a professional system administrator. It has been a rewarding career!"

Leadership and Staff

Board of Directors

  • Richard M. Stallman Richard M. Stallman Founder and President
  • Gerald J. Sussman Professor of Electrical Engineering, MIT
  • Geoffrey Knauth Senior Software Developer at AccuWeather
  • Henry Poole Founder, CivicActions
  • Benjamin Mako Hill Assistant Professor of Communications at the University of Washington
  • Bradley M. Kuhn President and Distinguished Technologist, Software Freedom Conservancy
  • Kat Walsh Attorney


  • John Sullivan John Sullivan Executive Director
  • John Hsieh John Hsieh Deputy Director


  • Donald Robertson Donald Robertson Licensing and Compliance Manager
  • Craig Topham Craig Topham Copyright and Licensing Associate


  • Molly de Blanc Molly de Blanc Campaigns Manager
  • Dana Morgenstein Dana Morgenstein Outreach and Communications Coordinator


  • Andrew Engelbrecht Andrew Engelbrecht Senior Systems Administrator
  • Ian Kelling Ian Kelling Senior Systems Administrator
  • Ruben Rodriguez Ruben Rodriguez Chief Technology Officer


  • Matt Lavallee Matt Lavallee Operations Assistant
  • Jeanne Rasata Assistant to the President

Leadership and staff lists are up to date as of publication, January 2019.