Free software has become an unstoppable global movement for user freedom, and so much has happened during this time at the Free Software Foundation. Imagine how much more we can do with your support: please become an associate member today! Read more >

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Richard M. Stallman publishes the GNU Manifesto

The GNU Manifesto was written by Richard Stallman in 1985 to ask for support in developing the GNU operating system. It explains the importance of developing the GNU Project, and lays a philosophical basis for launching the project. Part of the text was taken from the original announcement, which was made on September 27, 1983. Through 1987, it was updated in minor ways to account for developments.

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is incorporated with Richard Stallman as president

This marks the birth of the FSF, which remains the organizational home for the GNU Project, and provides it and other free software projects with critical infrastructure. The FSF is also the steward of the GNU family of licenses, including the GNU General Public License (GPL), and does GPL compliance work for the individual programs that make up the GNU operating system. Its campaigns team works to educate the public about free software through a variety of resources, articles, and in-person advocacy.

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First publication of the Free Software Definition

Though published officially on the Web pages of gnu.org for the first time in 1996, an initial definition of free software was published in the first Bulletin in 1986. The reason the current and definitive four freedoms are numbered 0, 1, 2 and 3 is historical. Around 1990 there were three freedoms, numbered 1, 2, and 3. It was then decided that the freedom to run the program needed to be mentioned explicitly. Rather than renumber the others, freedom 0 was added.

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Official publication of the GNU General Public License (GPL)

The GNU GPL is at the core of the continued strength and existence of free software. The strength of the license, and the essence of software freedom, is in its decree that any derivative or combined work is to be published under the same license, thereby perpetuating its freedom. This allows users the freedom to run, copy, modify, and share the work freely. To this date, the GPL family of licenses is the most popular group of copyleft licenses. In 1991, a second version of the GNU GPL was published.

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UNESCO and the FSF launch the Free Software Directory

The Free Software Directory is a collaborative catalog of computer programs that are fully free (as in freedom). The Directory currently holds over tens of thousands of packages of software of many, many kinds. It is now maintained by FSF Staff and volunteers. Every Friday, an IRC meeting is held on Libera.Chat in the #fsf channel, in which submissions and changes to the Directory are discussed.

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The Licensing and Compliance Lab is established

The Licensing and Compliance Lab has been an informal activity of the FSF since 1992, and was formalized in December 2001. The team works with many generous volunteers. Their main activity is helping developers and distributors follow licensing best practices, including doing enforcement work to ensure the GPL is respected. The Lab runs the copyright assignment process for GNU packages, and educates legal professionals and students on the current state of copyleft through their blog, as well as through Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses. In addition to this, the Lab also handles various free software certification programs, like the Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification program, and the Free Software Directory.

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Launch of the associate membership program

The associate membership program was launched to support the core work of the free software movement, independent from major individual or corporate donors. Membership benefits have increased over time, and now include gratis attendance to the annual LibrePlanet conference, a 20% discount on FSF merchandise, and even access to the FSF's own videoconferencing server, which launched in 2020. Proceeds from the associate membership program are a large part of the FSF's annual funding, and this continued support from the community makes the FSF's work possible.

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FSF hosts the first annual membership meeting

One of the associate membership benefits is an invitation to an annual membership meeting in the Boston area. The first meeting was held on March 15, 2003, at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Speakers were Eben Moglen, Gerald Jay Sussman, and Richard Stallman, and attendees were given the opportunity to ask FSF leadership questions. This annual meeting later turned into the annual LibrePlanet conference, of which the annual membership meeting is still a part.

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Defective by Design campaign launched

Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) is the practice of imposing technological restrictions that control what users can do with digital media. When a program is designed to prevent you from copying or sharing a song, reading an ebook on another device, or playing a single-player game without an Internet connection, you are being restricted by DRM. Violations of user rights prompted the FSF to launch the Defective by Design (DBD) campaign to eliminate DRM. The annual International Day Against DRM (IDAD), where organizations around the globe protest the use of DRM, is organized through the DBD campaign.

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GPLv3 published

The GNU GPLv3 is the latest incarnation of the GPL. After a year and a half of public consultation, thousands of comments, and four drafts, version three of the GNU General Public License (GPLv3) was finally published on June 29, 2007. The first iteration was released for feedback in January 2006. A major difference this version took on was the concept of "tivoization," the unethical power dynamic created when device manufacturers prevent the free software on devices from being changed. Version 3 also made a number of improvements to make the license easier for everyone to use and understand.

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AGPLv3 published

The GNU Affero General Public License is a modified version of the GNU GPLv3, with one major difference, which affects running a free program over a network service. The AGPL ensures that users interacting with modified versions of free software over a network have an opportunity to receive the source code for that modified work. In that way, the user can understand what the modified version does, run an instance of it themselves, or further improve and share the modified work with others.

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First edition of the Free Software Supporter is published

In March 2008, the FSF started a monthly newsletter for subscribers called the Free Software Supporter. To this day, the digital Free Software Supporter newsletter highlights some of the important work being done by the FSF every month, and will keep you up to date on news from the free software movement. The Free Software Supporter is published in English, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and French.

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FSF and Stephen Fry celebrate the GNU Projects's 25th anniversary

The GNU Project turned twenty-five in 2008, and to celebrate, the FSF collaborated with Stephen Fry, the the British actor, comedian, and writer, to create a video in which Fry explains the issues he sees with proprietary software in his own words. Then FSF campaigns manager Matt Lee wrote and produced the short film, which is a clear introduction video of how the GNU Project came to exist, the underlying philosophy of participation, equity, and freedom, and explains how you can support the movement of free software.

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The first annual LibrePlanet conference is held

The associate member meeting of the FSF slowly morphed into LibrePlanet, an annual conference on technology and social justice. The first edition was held at the Harvard Science Center, and later, it moved to MIT's Stata Center. The conference is a weekend-long global celebration of everything related to free software. The event has a full schedule of speakers, a range of social events, a hack night, and it has been recorded and livestreamed for many years. In 2020, the conference had to move online last minute to accommodate stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus. Keynote speakers for the event have included Sumana Harihareswara, Brewster Kahle, and Edward Snowden.

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Patent Absurdity movie launched

Patent Absurdity: How software patents broke the system is a half-hour film about software patents. It explores the case of software patents and the history of judicial activism that led to their rise, as well as the harm being done to software developers and the wider economy. The film is based on a series of interviews conducted during the US Supreme Court's review of in Re Bilski — a case that could have had profound implications for the patenting of software.

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The Lulzbot is the first hardware device to receive Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification

The Aleph Objects LulzBot AO-100 3D printer became the first hardware product to be awarded use of the FSF's Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification mark. The certification program encourages the creation and sale of hardware that will do as much as possible to respect your freedom and your privacy, and will ensure that you have control over your device.

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The Gluglug X60 is the first laptop to receive Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification

The Gluglug X60 became the first computer to receive the FSF's Respects Your Freedom (RYF) certification. The FSF had a call out for a laptop sold with a free OS and free boot system since 2005, and in 2013 that call was met. The certification was made possible because of the development of the Libreboot project, which allowed the proprietary BIOS on the machine to be replaced with free software.

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FSF releases Email Self-Defense Guide

Email Self-Defense is a how-to guide for setting up and using email encryption. The guide teaches users how to set up a basic system of defense against bulk surveillance through a comprehensive step-by-step explanation. It is important to understand that email encryption not only defends the individual user, but it also helps protect the anonymity of other users worldwide who depend on their anonymity to do their jobs (journalists), and live their lives (free software activists and whistleblowers). The original guide was translated into fifteen languages, with the help of volunteers.

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Thirtieth anniversary of the FSF

The 30th birthday was marked on October 3rd, 2015 with "The User Freedom Summit," a mini-conference which included two tracks of two sessions each, with a closing talk by Eben Moglen. Messages were collected from prominent free software supporters like Cory Doctorow and Vernor Vinge, followed by a celebration at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Cambridge, MA.

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Edward Snowden keynotes LibrePlanet 2016

On Saturday, March 19th, 2016, Edward Snowden called in to the MIT Stata Center to speak with Daniel Kahn Gillmor and an auditorium filled with people. The feelings of energy, emotion, and celebration were vibrant in the room as Snowden thanked the community for creating free software, before launching into his planned talk titled "The last lighthouse: Free software in dark times." Daniel Kahn Gillmor and Snowden discussed free software, surveillance, power, and control of the future.

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FSF receives a $1 million Bitcoin donation from the Pineapple fund

Large technology corporations have billion-dollar budgets that they can apply to squelch user freedom. Sometimes the work we do at the FSF can seem minor in comparison. The large donation from the Pineapple Fund was a powerful statement of the value of our work, as well as a powerful financial boost to our mission. In his statement upon receipt of this donation, executive director John Sullivan wrote, "Now is a critical time for computer user freedom, and this gift will make a tremendous difference in our ability, as a movement, to meet the challenges."

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FSF receives $1 million donation from Handshake

Handshake wrote, "The FSF is a worldwide leader in the fight to protect the rights of all computer users through its support for the production of free software, including the GNU operating system, and its campaigns to raise awareness, such as Defective by Design. Handshake is proud to be able to support the FSF in its important work to secure our freedom." John Sullivan said in his response, "It is clear that software freedom is more important than ever to the world."

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Thirty-fifth anniversary of the FSF

October 2020 marked the thirty-fifth year of the Free Software Foundation. The FSF organized activities for a full week, in which we introduced a new look to the fsf.org homepage, launched a video, released new artwork and merchandise for the occasion, and then topped off the week with a gala event, which was held online rather than in person due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Guests from around the world joined the FSF to celebrate and talk about free software.

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FSF receives perfect score from Charity Navigator

Charity Navigator is the largest independent evaluator of US-based nonprofit charities. The FSF was also selected for Charity Navigator's "Top Ten List" as one of "10 Charities Worth Watching." These designations exemplify the FSF's strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency. This year, the FSF was also awarded its 8th consecutive four-star rating.

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What happens next is up to you

Thank you for being part of the free software community and helping us achieve these milestones. If you have suggestions for additions (or corrections!) of historical moments, you can let us know at campaigns@fsf.org. You can also follow @fsf and @endDRM on social media, and join the free software conversation on IRC at #fsf (on Libera.Chat). Become a member of the Free Software Foundation today and help defend software freedom.

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