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You are here: Home Blogs Community The Licensing & Compliance Team, running at full steam for your freedom

The Licensing & Compliance Team, running at full steam for your freedom

by Craig Topham Contributions Published on Jul 02, 2024 02:04 PM

Last year, in our year-end writing, you met Krzysztof Siewicz (Kris), the Free Software Foundation's (FSF) licensing and compliance manager. Following his introduction, Kris went on to describe the issue of projects adding contradictory terms to GNU licenses, a subject matter with an importance that warrants revisiting. Since its publication, the licensing team has been doing important GPL stewardship work to uphold and defend the GNU licenses.

Now that Kris is settled in, the licensing team is picking up steam. Your support empowers the FSF to protect the GNU General Public License (GPL). We resolve problems with confusing derivatives of a GNU license in much the same way we approach enforcement for GPL violations, through our Principles of Community GPL Enforcement. That said, I am happy and proud to share that we've successfully closed two GPL stewardship cases this year so far, and with your support, we will continue to carry out this important work.

Following the enforcement principles, initially we don't view a potential infringement as intentional or malicious. Of course, we ultimately hope that a project using a confusing license will join us in embracing the spirit of computer user freedom in which the GPL and AGPL were written. What would normally be a violation can instead become a teaching moment for the authors of the confusing license and any downstream users using that program. Through our efforts, we hope to bring both camps to the free software movement.

To further spread awareness, Kris co-hosted a fireside chat at FOSDEM 2024 to discuss protecting users against confusing licensing. The chat elaborated on the GPLv3's Section 7, and how it allows the removal of further restrictions. It reiterated the message that the FSF may also enforce its copyrights and trademarks to stop unauthorized modifications to our licenses.

We also made a very important edit to our FAQ, updating the answer to a question captioned who has the power to enforce the GPL. It is our response to an attempt to leverage the FAQ by a company that wants to avoid being held accountable under the GNU GPL. It is also an example of our efforts to curate our educational and advocacy resources to ensure they are as accurate and as helpful as possible in advancing the cause of the free software movement. We believe it is very important that users understand that they should be free to obtain source code through any available legal mechanism. We have more updates to make and with your support, we can dedicate more resources to keeping our materials accurate and aligned with our mission.

In addition to the work users can do to obtain source code, copyright holders are in a powerful position to enforce the GNU GPL. We are thus working hard every day to maintain proper procedure is followed for copyright assignments to the FSF. This allows us to address GPL violations in GNU software in a straightforward and powerful way, as well as ensure swift license updates or granting additional permissions. As a part of this work, the licensing team wanted to get a better idea of the free software legal community's opinion on the relevance of employer disclaimers to protect an employee's copyright. To this end, the licensing team researched the community's legal opinion through presenting our process and discussing it with several experts. The general consensus was that copyright assignments are important and necessary, and they should be protected against the threat of employer claims. We will also continue to encourage GNU contributors who are employed to write code to approach their employers for disclaimers that make it clear that their contributions are safely and perpetually licensed under the GNU GPL and without the threat of proprietary claim on a contributor's work.

As with almost every appeal, we would like to remind you of two of the educational staples the licensing and compliance team keeps active to serve the community: answering licensing questions and hosting the Free Software Directory meeting.

Importantly, we continue to help free software developers with their licensing questions at licensing@fsf.org. Besides this ongoing service being supported by the awesome licensing volunteers, this year we took the opportunity at LibrePlanet 2024 to host a licensing table where people could stop by and chat about free software licensing, a great addition to a fantastic conference. For a couple of hours we chatted and helped folks with their licensing questions, and we will do it again at a next event.

The Free Software Directory (FSD) is still a great place to learn about licensing free software. Not only is it educational for the volunteers participating, but it makes the free software community stronger at a very grassroots level. Every so often, when reviewing a program for entry in the FSD, issues are discovered with the project's licensing. Issues can range from a GPL licensed project which would benefit from following our recommendations, to actually finding proprietary software in the code base! When an issue is discovered, the volunteers (with help from the licensing team) reach out to such projects, and we continue to see projects in the community respond positively and fix their issues. A win for everyone!

We know not everyone is in a position to, but if you can, will you support our efforts by joining the FSF as an associate member? An associate membership is a great show of support we can rely on. With your help, we can maintain, update, and enhance resources like the FAQ and the FSD, provide community-based licensing support, and protect the GPL. As an FSF associate member, you'll be part of a vibrant international community and able to enjoy all the awesome member benefits, which include a 16GB bootable membership card, access to the FSF's Jitsi Meet server, 20% discount on FSF merchandise, and email forwarding. Every membership this spring will help us towards our goal of 200 new members by July 19, and you will receive an FSF thermal mug as a welcome gift. Need more reasons to join? Have a look at our appeal page or email us at info@fsf.org to receive more information.

The licensing team firmly believes every computer user deserves the freedoms guaranteed by the GPL, the world's most popular free software license, and the only license written with the express purpose of promoting and preserving software freedom. Thank you for your support!

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