FSFE's year 2010 - a letter from the President
We have had an eventful year, and a good one. In the following text you will find background links to our various activities. Please take this opportunity to get a much more complete picture of our present and future work for Free Software.
Awards and recognition for FSFE's work
We celebrated not one, but two awards this year. In May, FSFE received the Theodor Heuss Medal. During a grand ceremony with numerous German political luminaries in Stuttgart in May, Ludwig Heuss, Director of the Theodor Heuss Foundation, praised FSFE's work for freedom in the information society:
"Free Software Foundation Europe receives the Theodor Heuss Medal 2010 because it competently contributes to creating new rules for social, political and legal conditions for digital freedom through Free Software."
A week earlier, on the 28th of April, FSFE's founding President Georg Greve was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit (Bundesverdienstkreuz) in recognition of his great achievements in promoting Free Software with FSFE. To our knowledge, this is the first time that any country in the world bestows such an honour on any Free Software activist. This is a well-deserved reward for many years of hard work. Congratulations, Georg!
Divide and re-conquer
Such recognition is of course a huge motivation. But there is no time to rest on our laurels. Technology evolves, and Free Software advocates everywhere need to face up to new challenges. Many people are coming to rely more and more on web services, software as a service and "cloud computing" for different purposes, such as email, online data storage, or social networking. The freedoms that define Free Software -- to use, study, share and improve a program -- are tailored towards programs running on computers we control. Can we find a way to defend those freedoms in a world where much of our computing happens on machines controlled by others? How can we win those freedoms back where they've already been lost?
The best bet for an answer to these questions are decentralised systems; systems which provide the services that users are looking for, but which have no central controlling node. What exactly would such systems need to look like to preserve our freedoms, and how can they be built? To inspire users and developers to think about these questions, we gave talks at different events across Europe and even as far afield as the FISL event in Porto Alegre, Brazil. At the Free Society Conference (FSCONS) in Gothenburg in November we organised a whole track on the topic, under the title "Divide and re-conquer". Here we brought together people who are working on projects that break up the central point of control and replace it with decentralised systems, such as Appleseed's Michael Chisari, Benjamin Bayart of the user-owned ISP French Data Network, and FSFE's Torsten Grote, who explained why the concentration of power and data in the hands of a few companies is a problem, and how decentralised systems can help us to re-conquer our freedoms.
Campaigning for Free Software and Open Standards
Open Standards are essential for Free Software. Free Software relies on Open Standards to interoperate with other programs. If public sector organisations and businesses use Open Standards, citizens are not forced to use proprietary software to communicate with them, while the organisations themselves can throw off the shackles of dependence on a single software vendor.
For these reasons, we continued to invest a lot of time and effort into Open Standards this year. The Document Freedom Day campaign saw groups around the world celebrating Open Standards and open document formats on March 31, with events taking place from Argentina to Vietnam and in many European countries.
The European Commission is currently finishing its long-awaited revision of the European Interoperability Framework, a recommendation to public bodies across Europe on how to make their IT systems talk to each other. The original version from 2004 strongly backed Open Standards and was very influential. The revised version, which we expect to be published shortly, is likely to be heavily watered down in this regard.
As we fought tooth and nail to retain at least a mention of Open Standards in the document, we raised a lot of attention for the topic within the European Commission and the European public sector. We also participated in the reform of the European standardisation system that is currently underway, with FSFE's President Karsten Gerloff setting out the key issues for Free Software in standardisation at a conference organised by the European Commission and the European Patent Office in November.
If the public sector asks for software based on Open Standards, Free Software companies can bid for contracts, and will have more money to invest in development. We have been monitoring public procurement around Europe. When the Italian region of South Tyrol extended a contract for proprietary software licenses without a tender, we raised a very public alarm. But rather than just criticising the province, we offered the administration help to do better next time. This resulted in a Round Table with local Free Software experts which is now making real, long-term progress in developing fairer procurement practices. We hope to create an example here for other public administrations to follow.
Our pdfreaders campaign has convinced dozens of public bodies across Europe to advertise Free Software PDF readers. Supported by hundreds of volunteers across Europe, we contacted public bodies in 33 countries, told them about Free Software and Open Standards, and asked them to replace or complement their advertisements for proprietary PDF readers with links to free ones.
At the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), our persistent work is bearing fruit. Though change in this international organisation is slow, it is visible. We analysed the risks of software patents and the benefits of Open Standards for delegates from patent offices around the world. We also had productive discussion with member states and WIPO staff on how Free Software can become a permanent element in the organisation's activities. The organisation is still far from becoming the World Intellectual Wealth Organisation that we called for six years ago, but it is slowly opening up to the ideas of Free Software and knowledge sharing. WIPO has commissioned a number of studies on these subjects, which it used to ignore. Once the results are in, we will push for the organisation to make these topics a regular part of its work.
After the departure of FTF coordinator Adriaan de Groot in April, we focused the work of our legal department on core tasks. The European Legal Network has grown to become the world's largest network of Free Software specialists from the legal profession. The invite-only environment provides a protected space for sensitive discussions and an open, honest exchange of views. The network's yearly workshop in Amsterdam was a resounding success. The network also produced a document on interactions between different software components, delivering a structured set of views on a complex and obscure domain. We maintain our copyright assignment tool for projects that wish to use it, and answer a steady stream of legal and licensing questions from the community.
Behind the scenes
Internally, there was housekeeping to do. Our infrastructure, both software and hardware, is getting a makeover. The volunteer web team is progressively making the website more informative, while our system administrators make sure that our servers are stable and secure. We are making our internal processes more efficient, so that we can focus on working for Free Software.
As always, a lot of our work is being done by volunteers. They make it possible for FSFE to connect to Free Software activists across Europe, and to be present at dozens of events in many countries every year. Besides the usual Free Software conferences, we also branched out into events for a broader audience such as the German Kirchentag, attended by 130,000 people, where we had a successful booth. Volunteers also maintain our website and make it available in up to 30 different languages. Volunteers have launched a new country team in France and a very active Fellowship group in Slovenia. Most importantly, they carry the Free Software message into their workplaces, their universities, and their circle of friends. This is the time to send all of them a big "thank you!".
All of our activities were supported by FSFE's interns. This year, four talented young people worked with us, diving headlong into the Free Software world and doing much of the legwork required to make campaigns, events and policy work happen.
Looking into 2011
In 2011, FSFE will turn ten years old. We have come far, as your support and the hard work of many committed people have turned us into Europe's most respected Free Software advocacy organisation. But we have so much further yet to go.
We want to help the community build systems that respect our freedom, as computing moves increasingly into the network. Building on the awareness we have raised for distributed systems, we will bring together people working in this field and look for ways to let them join forces and make them stronger.
It's a safe bet that Open Standards and standardisation reform will keep us busy in 2011. Preparations are already well underway for Document Freedom Day on March 30. We will continue to push for a market that is open to Free Software, and for a standardisation system that respects the needs of Free Software users, developers and companies.
Software patents are creeping back onto the agenda, in different guises. We will push for patents to be licensed without restrictions when they are included in standards. The European Commission has lately started to once more drive the idea of a single European patent. For software, much will depend on how such a system is implemented. FSFE will be monitoring the details, giving input and applying pressure as needed.
Our legal department has been extremely successful in bringing together experts on legal aspects of Free Software, and in helping developers with information on licensing issues. In 2011, we will reposition the department to be even more useful to the community.
Thank you for your support!
All this work costs money. Almost all of FSFE's funding comes from your donations and your Fellowship contributions. Your support not only lets us do all this work, and more. Most importantly, it lets us stay independent of any particular interests. This independence is not a luxury. It is the basic prerequisite for the work that we do. Thank you for making it possible!
We are working to make it easier for you to donate and pay Fellowship contributions on a monthly basis. Receiving monthly payments lets us calculate our budget more reliably, and keeps the cash flow smooth throughout the year. We are also currently working to make tax-free donations possible from a number of European countries.
We hope for your continued support as we are confronting these challenges head-on. On behalf of all FSFE staff and volunteers, I wish you happy holidays. Celebrate them in freedom, rest a bit, and gather strength for the challenges and battles coming in 2011. It will be an exciting year. I invite you to keep working for software freedom along with us.
With the best wishes for a free 2011,
President, Free Software Foundation Europe