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FSF to Host Summit on Freedom for Network Services

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Feb 21, 2008 10:55 AM
The Free Software Foundation will host a mini-summit on Freedom for Network Services to discuss how the free software community can ensure that software, and its users, stay free in this new technological environment.

On March 16, 2008, FSF board members Mako Hill and Henri Poole will gather a small group of free software activists, thinkers, and scholars to identify the important questions that network services raise for free software and to start probing answers.

The last decade has witnessed a rise in the role of computing as a service, a massive increase in the use of web applications, the migration of personal computing tasks to data-centers, and the creation of new classes of service-based applications. These shifts have raised a host of important questions for the advocates of free software. For example, by separating use and distribution of software, these models have in some cases reduced the effectiveness of GNU GPL-style copyleft which treat modified web applications as if they were private software. Much more importantly, the movement of software off of personal computers has reconfigured power relationships between users and their software and complicated questions of ownership and control in ways that free software advocates do not yet know how to address.

What does freedom mean for the users and developers of web services? What is at risk? What should the free software community, and the Free Software Foundation, do to ensure that software, and its users, stay free in this new technological environment? These questions and more will be discussed at the summit.

The FSF is committed to protecting computer users' freedom, and always has been. Last year saw the release of the GNU AGPL, a license that requires service providers to provide the source for applications that users interact with over a network. While this is a helpful option for developers concerned about this use case, it doesn't guarantee users' freedom, and so the FSF plans to begin talking very directly about how web services affect us all. This summit will help us establish goals for a campaign to address the issue more comprehensively, and begin taking action.

About Mako Hill

Benjamin Mako Hill is a fellow at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. He is an author, technology and copyright researcher, activist, and consultant. He has been a leader, developer, and contributor to the free software community for more than a decade as part of the Debian and Ubuntu projects, and co-authored The Debian GNU/Linux Bible and of The Official Ubuntu Book. He is currently helping build software for the One Laptop per Child project while pursuing research in free software processes at the MIT's Sloan School. Recently, Mako's work on a Definition of Free Cultural Works has been adopted by Creative Commons.

About Henri Poole

Henri Poole is the founder of CivicActions, a grassroots campaign technology consulting firm. He is an internet strategist with three decades' experience in information technology and more than a decade's with online communities and commerce. He was the first technologist to set up a blog for a member of the US House of Representatives. He has presented at conferences in Europe and in the US, and was the technical editor of Demystifying Multimedia. Henri also instigated the Affero Public License -- the precursor to the GNU AGPL.

About the Free Software Foundation

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985, is dedicated to promoting computer users' right to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer programs. The FSF promotes the development and use of free (as in freedom) software -- particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants -- and free documentation for free software. The FSF also helps to spread awareness of the ethical and political issues of freedom in the use of software. Its Web site, located at, is an important source of information about GNU/Linux. Donations to support the FSF's work can be made at Its headquarters are in Boston, MA, USA.

Media contact

Brett Smith
Licensing Compliance Engineer
Free Software Foundation
617-542-5942 x18

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