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Free Software Foundation submits comments to U.S. Department of Education encouraging free licensing for all grant-funded materials

by John Sullivan Contributions Published on Dec 18, 2015 05:26 PM
BOSTON, Massachusetts, USA -- Friday, December, 18, 2015 -- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) today submitted a comment to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), Open Licensing Requirement for Direct Grant Programs. In addition, the FSF collected and sent comments from the free software community. These comments were filed via postal mail, as currently it is impossible to submit comments in digital form for NPRMs without downloading and running proprietary JavaScript.

The Department was seeking comments on proposed rules that would ensure that works created with competitive grant funds from the Department would be licensed to give the public and educational institutions the right to freely modify and distribute the works. The FSF's comment lauded this goal, but suggested an important wording change in the regulation to ensure that "the license must grant public permission to 'distribute modifications' or equivalently 'distribute adaptations.'" Earlier this month, the FSF also called on free software supporters to submit comments of their own, or add their signature to the FSF's filing.

"What the Department of Education is proposing is a great step for education and for computer user freedom. We submitted our comment, along with comments from our community, to ensure that the updated regulations create the greatest benefit: that all public grant-funded educational works carry the essential four freedoms," said FSF's executive director, John Sullivan.

In addition to the comments, the FSF provided the Department with a letter calling for a mechanism to submit comments electronically without the use of proprietary software. Currently, comments submitted digitally to federal agencies that participate in the eRulemaking Program require submission via the interface. This interface requires the use of JavaScript that is not freely licensed.

When software is proprietary, that means that some company claims ownership of it, and through that ownership claim, imposes restrictions on users as to how they can or can't use the software. When the government requires citizens run such software, it is requiring that they accept the specific and arbitrary terms imposed by that company. The FSF's letter stresses that citizens should not be required to engage with any particular private company in order to participate in public proceedings, or use any governmental Web sites or network service.

"The public should be able to communicate with government agencies without being forced to use proprietary software. In this day and age, not providing a free software friendly mechanism of submitting comments in digital format creates a real barrier to communication and participation. In accordance with the same principles motivating this very NPRM, we encourage the Department of Education and other governmental agencies to offer methods of digital submission that do not require the use of proprietary JavaScript," said FSF's licensing and compliance manager, Joshua Gay.

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, and its Web sites, located at and, are 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.

More information about the FSF, as well as important information for journalists and publishers, is at

Media Contacts

Joshua Gay
Licensing and Compliance Manager
Free Software Foundation
+1 (617) 542 5942

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