Report for the 2009 General Assembly
Miraflores de la Sierra, Spain, 20. June 2009
The 2009 general assembly marks the end of FSFEs third major transformation process, which began at the 2007 assembly in Brussels. This transformation included changes to FSFE's constitution, which were discussed during the general assembly in 2007, prepared by the Extended Executive Committee for the 2008 assembly in Zürich and ultimately adopted during an extraordinary assembly in October that year. The two most important changes made were the introduction of an executive director position, and the addition of Fellowship representation to FSFE's general assembly.
With the hiring of Christian Holz as executive director and the election of Torsten Grote as the first Fellowship representative into FSFE's general assembly the mandate given to the Executive Council by FSFE's 2007 assembly has been fulfilled and the organisation has now reached maturity.
Meanwhile FSFE's work intensified in a variety of areas, and the organisation's budget reached 380K EUR in 2008, continuing the upward trend of the past eight years. This report will summarise some of the important milestones that were achieved over the past two years.
The work that began for FSFE in 2001 with the initial application to provide Free Software perspective and expertise to the antitrust investigation of the European Commission against Microsoft, that continued through the joint submission with the Samba team in 2004 and joint work during the European Court of First Instance (CFI) case in 2005, 2006 and 2007 finally came to a conclusion with a triumphant victory for interoperability in September 2007.
As the resulting discussion highlighted, FSFE had broken new ground as the first Free Software organisation to actively get involved in antitrust activity, and this case demonstrated that it was possible to protect Free Software interests against monopoly abuse. The current increase in antitrust action against abusive practices brought forward by various groups, e.g. in Switzerland, is an encouraging sign.
Meanwhile FSFE continued its activity in this area through support of the antitrust complaints brought forward by the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS), and Opera. ECIS published a noteworthy summary paper on Microsoft's history of anticompetitive behaviour and consumer harm that demonstrates why this work is so highly necessary. Only by being present can FSFE ensure that the solutions found will not exclude Free Software, e.g. by accepting RAND practices that are also common in standardisation and a major obstacle for Free Software, as explained in FSFE's Analysis on Balance: Standardisation and Patents.
Helping develop a common understanding of Open Standards and promoting their adoption has in fact permeated the work of FSFE in various ways. This includes the EU-funded SELF project which terminated in 2008 and for which FSFE developed the SELF Legal Policy and provides fiduciary services. It spans FSFE's work at the United Nations, such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), and the work with the European Commission, most importantly discussions around the European Interoperability Framework (EIF) and the European Software Strategy. But three issues stood out during the past two years.
The most visible issue was most likely the debate around the Microsoft OfficeOpenXML (OOXML) format, for which Microsoft had contracted ECMA's services to push it through ISO before anyone would catch on to the issues. FSFE took the lead in alerting the Free Software community to the dangers that MS-OOXML presented. FSFE's staff and volunteers actively participated directly in the process through national standardisation bodies, e.g. Switzerland, Serbia and Italy, as well as indirectly through various publications on MS-OOXML to support the work of the diverse global community that stood together in defence of the Open Document Format (ODF). The debate culminated February 2008 around the MS-OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM), where FSFE's Freedom Task Force Coordinator Shane Coughlan coordinated the activities to highlight the many critical flaws in the MS-OOXML format.
But FSFE did not focus its attention on defensive work alone. Thanks to the work done by FSFE's Serbian team, most notably Ivan Jelic, but also Marko Milenovic and others, 26 March 2008 saw the first global day for document liberation, the Document Freedom Day (DFD). Similar in design and complementary to the Software Freedom Day (SFD), the DFD is a day to bring together groups with a common interest in Open Standards, to help create awareness for the importance of Open Standards. While FSFE has provided initiative, logistical and coordinative support to DFD, it does not seek to control it. The DFD is owned by the many entities and people around the world that made it their own and declared their support, including, but not limited to, ANSOL, Ars Aperta, COSS, Esoma, Estándares Abiertos, FFII, Free Knowledge Foundation, Free Software Foundation, Free Software Foundation Latin America, Google, IBM, NLnet, ODF Alliance, Open Forum Europe, Open Source Initiative (OSI), Opentia, OSL, iMatix, Red Hat, Sun, The Open Learning Centre, BrOffice.org and Funambol.
And last but not least there is the PDF readers campaign. Unlike the other activities, this initiative did not begin with FSFE's staff or coordinative team, it originates with the personal initiative of some of FSFE's Fellows, which came up with the initial idea and coordinated the project from the first idea to the public launch and maintenance. The role of FSFE's staff was limited to providing some input, resources, support and encouragement. So pdfreaders.org provides an excellent example of how FSFE's structure and culture facilitates grass-roots activity up to a global scale as well as the targeted and centrally coordinated activities in other areas, such as the United Nations.
Besides participation in the 2007 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Brazil, FSFE's work at the United Nations has increasingly focussed on the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), which is currently undergoing reform based on the Development Agenda (DA) that WIPO's Member States adopted during its 2007 General Assemblies. In combination with a new Director General, Mr Francis Gurry, and the WIPO Strategic Realignment Program, WIPO is increasingly openly discussing issues such as standardisation, the limits of the patent system. Having been part of the group that was pushing for the Development Agenda over several years, FSFE now focussed on the issue of patents in standards, e.g. during SCP/13, and is pushing for WIPO to become more focussed on Innovation Policy evaluation under consideration of all possible options.
From its good start in November 2006, the Freedom Task Force continued to be a major success story throughout the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. Under the able guidance of Shane Coughlan, the European Legal Network of the Freedom Task Force grew to more than 190 participants across 27 countries and four continents, including a broad spectrum of interests engaging in Free Software. The FTF's European Legal Network appears to be the largest legal support structure for Free Software in the world with a wide variety of activities, such as special interest group and well attended legal workshops with global attendance in 2008 and 2009. There is also an increasing amount of publications coming out of the FTF network.
In addition to the increased networking of the Free Software legal field, the FTF has continued to provide Free Software training to executives and developers in several countries, and helped companies such as Bacula Systems define their value proposition on top of the FSFE fiduciary programme.
Through its cooperation with gpl-violations.org, the FTF has also continued to help resolve licence violations, but its primary focus is on the prevention of licence violations through education and constructive dialogue with companies to help them define internal processes to make use of Free Software while keeping the legal and community reputation record clean.
As part of the EU-funded Science, Technology, and Civil Society (STACS) project, FSFE coordinated two workshops to introduce Civil Society organisations to the concepts of Free Software and to provide them with a practical view on how Free Software can enable their daily work. The workshops were held in London and Belgrade in late 2007 under the guidance of FSFE vice president Jonas Öberg.
From its inception in February 2005 the Fellowship has continuously grown in importance and activity into one of the most important activities for FSFE. The Fellowship contributions are seminal to guarantee the financial independence of FSFE and provide an important part of FSFE's budget with the advantage that the distribution over many Fellows makes this source of income very predictable and secure the independence to the organisation.
The Fellows actively participate in FSFE's activities in several ways, primarily focussed on local activities during a wide variety of initiatives, such as Document Freedom Day and the Software Freedom Day in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Vienna, Cologne, and other places. The highly successful pdfreaders.org campaign to provide information about Free Software PDF readers, which grew out of the Fellowship into an official FSFE project. The web site has meanwhile been translated into 17 languages. Fellowship groups were also able to participate in various events and exhibitions, like the Linuxweeks in Austria or the Linuxtag in Berlin. Most FSFE booths are run to a high degree by Fellows.
Along with the aforementioned Fellowship election and representative in the General Assembly, the Fellowship also continues to provide one of the regular paths into FSFE's executive teams on national and international level. Past examples for this were provided by FTF Coordinator Shane Coughlan, more recent examples are FSFE Executive Coordinator Christian Holz or FSFE's very active Austrian team, which grew out of the Fellowship entirely.
FSFE continued to participate actively through booths, volunteers, support and speaking in a large number of events and engagements across Europe and beyond. It has hosted several events, supported others, such as the Trophees du Libre in France or eLiberatica in Romania, and has established a constant presence in the various regular and irregular Free Software events in most European countries.
Outreach activities also include translations into 27 languages, which are only possible due to a very motivated and energetic translation team, which typically provides fast and high quality translation in very short time. The monthly FSFE newsletter, which has meanwhile switched into the capable hands of Giacomo Poderi of the Italian team, provides a good and regular opportunity for people to stay up to date on the ongoing activities.
Alongside the many daily activities for which FSFE enjoys the privilege of support by a large number of dedicated, capable volunteers, FSFE has been active in a wide variety of fields.
For all these fields, FSFE's contribution is typically characterised by high efficiency and an above average return on investment towards achievement of the goals of the association. The future challenge will be to further professionalise the organisation while maintaining that volunteer involvement that has allowed FSFE to be so successful in the past years.