2nd International GPLv3 Conference concludes
by John Sullivan
The 7th International Free Software Forum (FISL) in Porto Alegre, Brazil has concluded, and thousands of free software users, developers and activists are now probably headed back to their homes, or enjoying a vacation elsewhere in Brazil's beautiful fall weather. Among those attending the four-day conference were representatives of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), and the new Free Software Foundation Latin America (FSFLA).
Together we operated a single booth, which was one of the busiest booths on the floor — even though we were not giving away flashing electronic pins or outrageously sweet cups of "java". Many supporters came by to purchase t-shirts and stickers, or to chat with the representatives in the booth, including Richard Stallman (President of FSF), Georg Greve (President of FSFE), and Federico Heinz (President of FSFLA). The booth, decorated with logos from all three organizations, was a colorful reminder of the global nature of the free software movement and the Free Software Foundations.
The Forum was also the site of the two-day 2nd International GPLv3 Conference. This conference began with a speech by Stallman to a standing-room-only audience of around four-hundred people. Stallman spoke in English, but was simultaneously translated into both Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish.
Before his discussion of the new license draft, he took time to call attention to the present danger of software patents in Brazil. Although to-date they have been explicitly disallowed by Brazilian law, there is an effort gaining steam to permit them, and the Brazilian patent office has been giving them out. Stallman called urgently upon Brazilian free software supporters to oppose this subversion of their laws.
He spent the rest of his time covering the changes that have been made for the new version of the license, going into depth on the sections dealing with Digital Restrictions Management (DRM), software patents, and compatibility with other free software licenses. He stressed the fact that, "[t]here is no one big change because there is no big change" — the license remains true to its goal of protecting the four freedoms, and incorporates only changes that are necessary to that end to keep up with changes in law and software.
There were many questions from the audience, on topics ranging from the specific application of the license in Brazil to the relationship between the FSF and open source organizations like the Open Source Initiative (OSI). Stallman stressed the FSF's willingness to cooperate with groups like the OSI in spreading the use of software that respects the four key freedoms, as long as that cooperation does not require the FSF to "be quiet" about its principles and ethical motivations.
The GPLv3 conference continued after Stallman's opening speech, with presentations and panels focused on the areas that have emerged during the comment process begun in January as the most intensely discussed topics. Richard Fontana of the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) spoke to an audience of primarily lawyers about the legal issues addressed by the proposed draft text. Panels featuring representatives of all three attending FSFs along with community and industry experts gave presentations and fielded questions.
The event proved an excellent opportunity for people from around the world conversing in several different languages and representing dozens of different organizations to hear about the rationale and discussion behind GPLv3. It was also an invaluable chance for the drafters of the license to receive direct feedback about how the license as currently written will function internationally, particularly in Brazil and the rest of Latin America. It demonstrated that the plan to hold multiple conferences around the world was a good one, enabling people who understandably will not or cannot travel to the United States to participate face-to-face in the drafting process.
It was my first time at FISL, and I certainly hope to return in the future — when I will have (I hope) learned how to say at least a few things in Brazilian Portuguese. The organization was amazing considering the size of the event, and all of our Brazilian hosts were very gracious and helpful.
Federico Heinz did voice one criticism of FISL that should be acted on — an important social event at the conference was funded by a proprietary software company hostile to the interests of our community. During a GPLv3 panel, he urged people not to attend this event, and it seemed that a large group (including all representatives of the FSFs) followed his lead. In the future, this kind of sponsorship should be declined.
It was incredibly inspiring to see so many people (thousands) at an event geared more toward activism and technical aspects of free software development than toward suits and the sale of servers that could occupy my entire apartment. It was definitely the right environment in which to hold the second in our series of GPLv3 conferences.