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Two year executive summary - Report for the 2003 general assembly


After the Free Software Foundation Europe was proclaimed with a "Declaration of Intent - Free Software Foundation Europe" [1] in which all interested Free Software advocates from all over Europe were invited to participate in the creation of this common vision, the FSFE officially began its work March 10th, 2001 and finished the founding process April 24th, 2001.

The 2003 general assembly in Milano, Italy on June 21st 2003 seems like a good opportunity to briefly recap some of the things going on in these two years.

Initially, a lot of the work was going into issues of bureaucracy, legal questions and informing people about the FSFE. This was done on the web, in mailing lists, at tradeshows and conferences.

OECD Conference in Tokyo

Soon after the FSFE took up its work, it was already accepted by major political players. An example for this was when the German representative of the FSFE, Bernhard Reiter, was asked by the German ministry of economics (BMWi) to speak about Free Software at an OECD conference in Tokyo in September 2001. At this occasion, Bernhard Reiter also had the support of LinuxTag, Linux Verband, German Unix User Group to speak for the German Free Software scene.

"We speak about Free Software" campaign

Soon after it started working, Free Software companies were approaching the FSFE to ask for a campaign to increase the visibility of Free Software and explain the advantages of the Free Software terminology in comparison with Open Source.

One of the main reasons for this was that they were experiencing an invasion into their market by proprietary software vendors exploiting the common "it's open source if you can see the source code" misunderstanding, claiming to offer something similar to what the Free Software companies were providing.

Therefore, in November 2001, the FSFE launched the "We speak about Free Software" campaign [2] with support of Free Software companies across Europe.

Originally only meant for companies, we made one exception by adding an individual to the list when Bruce Perens, author of the Open Source Definition, asked us to be added soon after the campaign was launched.

Bürgerturm ("Citizen Tower")

The FSFE also provided input and background about Free Software in projects that were not directly software-related, like the Bürgerturm ("Citizen Tower") project in Berlin, Germany.

The vision behind this project was to allow a free and cooperative design process to build a building by the citizens for the citizens in the heart of Berlin. According to the initial idea, the design process as well as the finished building should follow the Free Software philosophy, creating a visible and tangible implementation of the Free Software spirit.

In the end, the group hoped to create a multifunctional building that would be both real and virtual and that would be open to all citizens 24hrs a day.

Although the idea turned out to be too ambitious for the group that gathered around it, the ideas and documents remain available and we hope that one day someone will pick them up and bring them to life.

Free Software for German Parliament

Many people were following the discussion about a possible shift to GNU/Linux by the German parliament. The FSFE actively contributed to that discussion in December 2001 [4] and provided the philosophical stepping stone for the Bundestux [5] project, which is still working to further Free Software in public administration.

Commission on Intellectual Property Rights

On January 21st, 2002, the Commission on Intellectual Property Rights [6] took place in London, UK. Besides participants from Microsoft and the media industry, Georg Greve, president of the FSFE, was invited to the expert workshop on "Copyright, Software and the Internet."

When the final report came out in September 2002, it recommended that developing countries should consider use of Free Software. [7][8]

Investigation of the European Commission against Microsoft

Also in January 2001, the FSFE got asked for input on the ongoing investigation against Microsoft by the European Commission. Thanks to the quick and competent reaction of the SAMBA team, Dr. Peter Gerwinski, Head of Office of the FSFE, was able to provide concrete material on how Microsoft was trying to keep competitors out of the market.

Another issue also found its end that month. The German ministry of justice was planning a revision of Copyright law to protect artists from exploitation by the media industry through mandatory payment for transfer of rights. Unfortunately, this might have jeopardised the legal security of commercial Free Software, as Free Software is considered a gift under German law.

Thanks to the well-established cooperation with ifross [9] -- a German institute for legal questions of Free Software -- the FSFE was able to support the ifross in requesting a supplement to that specific law, which got accepted in January 2002. [10]

Now the law -- which was enacted April 2002 -- contains an exception for Free Software.

A GNU/Linux Audio Distribution (AGNULA)

After many months of preparation and paperwork, the AGNULA project [11] finally took off in April 2002 with the goal of creating an entirely Free Software GNU/Linux Audio distribution for professional users. Thanks to this, the FSFE became official partner of the European Commission within a year after being started.

Within the AGNULA project, the FSFE determines the Copyright and licensing policy, decides which licenses and software packages are acceptable and makes sure the long-term and community interests are taken into account. [12]

6th Framework Programme of the European Commission

As some people may know, the European Commission has programs to further pan-European research and development, called "framework programmes", which last for four years. Within these framework programmes, there are certain areas, one of which is "Information Society Technologies" (IST), the area concerned with information technology. AGNULA for instance was part of the 5th framework programme IST area.

The 6th framework programme (FP6) was prepared for launch towards the end of 2002 and originally, there was no mentioning of Free Software.

So the FSFE wrote a recommendation [13] for the 6th framework programme in which the advantages of Free Software for Europe as a region and the European countries were explained and in which suggestions were made as to how to capitalise on them. This suggestion was backed by over 50 parties throughout Europe and filed in April 2002.

In June 2002, the FSFE also backed this up by filing two expressions of interest, FOCAL ("FOcusing Competence for Advantages of Liberty") [14] and LAFIS ("LAying the Foundations for Information Society") [15] with some of the parties who signed the recommendation in order to show that there was real interest in doing something about Free software in the FP6.

As of December 2002, the suggestion of the FSFE -- namely to give projects with Free Software an evaluation bonus in the rating process, increasing the chances of Free Software projects in comparison with proprietary software -- became part of the IST work programme. [16]

As a result, the whole budget of the IST work programme, containing 1725 million Euro, is available with a preference for Free Software.

The FSFE is now working to help consortia for Free Software find and organise themselves to make sure that as many projects as possible will make use of this opportunity. [17]

Web page

In January 2003, after a process of over one year, Jonas Öberg, vice-president of the FSFE, was finally able to put the new FSFE web page on-line with a rather unique structural layout. [18]

In order to appreciate the thought that has gone into the design, one should know that the FSFE follows a federal approach with parallel local and European/global level. Also everything is translated into as many languages as possible, while missing or outdated translations must not pose problems.

This makes for a very complex situation -- but trying to achieve the maximum transparency possible, that complexity should not be the concern of the web site visitor. Also the visitor should always get the best match in terms of selected language regardless of which translations exist or whether they might be outdated.

The solution for this problem is the "focus" approach. If no focus is selected, people will see all news and projects that are of European and global interest. But if they select certain regions of special interest -- like Italy, France or Germany -- they will also see the information of specific interest to these countries.

Unlike the situation for other web pages, that local information does not hide any European or global information, however -- it is provided additionally. So regardless of the focus, the global information always remains visible and accessible.

Of course we are still in need of more translators and translations, as always.

Fiduciary Licence Agreement (FLA)

With increasing interest in Free Software by companies and governments, the question of legal safety and maintainability are also becoming more important. At the same time, authors have a harder time taking care of the legal needs of their projects and also sometimes find themselves in the situation of being attacked legally.

In order to provide protection against this and increase the legal security of Free Software, the FSFE has worked on the Fiduciary Licence Agreement (FLA) [19] with experts in Free Software legal issues, which was published in February 2003.

This agreement allows authors to make the FSFE their fiduciary for all legal issues and provides a possible solution for the needs of several software projects that need to establish some form of rights management.

bridge foundation

June 2003, the bridge foundation [20] was founded in Berlin, Germany with the goal of furthering questions of digital citizenship rights in the information society.

The FSFE supports this foundation ideally and personally through its president, Georg Greve, who is member of the jury for the bridge ideas contest, in which 15000 EUR will be available to the project that seems most promising in spreading awareness for these issues.

[1]  https://fsfe.org/about/history/doi.html
[2]  https://fsfe.org/activities/whyfs/whyfs.html
[4]  https://fsfe.org/news/2001/article-13.12.2001.de.html
[5]  http://www.bundestux.de
[6]  http://www.iprcommission.org/
[7]  http://www.heise.de/newsticker/data/anw-13.09.02-007/
[8]  http://www.iprcommission.org/papers/text/final_report/chapter5htmfinal.htm
[9]  http://www.ifross.de
[10] http://www.ifross.de/ifross_html/home1_2002.html#ARTIKEL01
[11] (link no longer available)
[12] https://fsfe.org/activities/agnula/
[13] https://fsfe.org/activities/fp6/recommendation.html
[14] https://fsfe.org/activities/fp6/focal.html
[15] https://fsfe.org/activities/fp6/focal.html
[16] http://www.cordis.lu/fp6/ist.htm
[17] /activities/fp6/
[18] https://fsfe.org
[19] https://fsfe.org/activities/ftf/
[20] (link no longer available)

Ongoing activities

Of course, besides these concrete projects there were other ongoing activities in which the FSFE was active or provided assistance or a platform to the activits in these areas.

Examples include work against the European equivalent of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the European Copyright Directive (EUCD) [21]. This law -- which is currently transcribed into national law -- provides legal measures for monopolies on file formats and vendor lock-in, silent removal of fair use rights, massive reduction of the freedom of speech and censorship.

Another area are software patents [22], in which lobby groups are trying to seal up the market and divide up the shares for the information society among themselves to make sure noone else will be in a position to contribute. Consequently, this not only reduces innovation and competition, they also provide means of enforcing monopolies on file formats and vendor lock-in.

During the first general assembly of the FSFE, education was identified as one of the most important areas for activity so young people and students would have the chance of getting in touch with knowledge instead of mere product schooling. Therefore the FSFE started a Free Software in Education [23] working group.

Also, the FSFE was very happy to provide a home for the Tux&GNU@School [24] column by Mario Fux, a column about educational Free Software, under the roof of this working group.

On a less serious note, the the FSFE also wanted to uphold the t-shirt tradition and not only provided the first European FSF shirts, it also created the first girlie shirts with GPL preamble on the back as well as the first GNU pins ever. [25]

[21] https://fsfe.org/activities/eucd/
[22] https://fsfe.org/activities/swpat/
[23] https://fsfe.org/freesoftware/education/
[24] https://fsfe.org/activities/tgs/
[25] https://fsfe.org/order/


One of the fundamentals of Free Software is that we do not stand alone. And just like this is true for individuals, the FSFE also believes in this with respect to organisations, which builds the basis of the associate organisation [26] status.

Current associates are

The members of these organisations can get directly involved in all FSFE activities and without them, a lot of the work would not have been possible.

If you wish to become involved in the FSFE, joining one of the existing associate organisations, making your organisation an associate or creating an associate organisation is definitely the most efficient way.

[26] https://fsfe.org/about/associates/
[27] http://www.affs.org.uk
[28] http://www.ansol.org
[29] http://www.april.org
[30] http://www.softwarelibero.it
[31] http://www.ffii.org
[32] http://www.ffs.or.at
[33] http://www.fsij.org
[34] http://www.ofset.org


One of the most tedious, but very necessary tasks is to be present at tradeshows, create and spread distribution material, talk to the people and inform them about Free Software and the value of freedom in speeches and podium discussions.

Some events and places where the FSFE has done this in the past are

 Asia OSS Symposium 2003, Phuket, Thailand
 Associazione Industriali Brescia, Brescia, Italy
 CECAM (European Center for Atomic and Molecular Computations), Lyon, France
 CeBIT, Hanover, Germany
 DANTE (German TeX Users Association) 2003 Conference, Bremen, Germany
 FOSDEM, Brussels, Belgium
 Free Software Symposium 2002, Tokyo, Japan
 GNU/Linux Seminar at the Sheffield Wednesday football stadium, Sheffield, UK
 IFA, Berlin, Germany
 IST Infoday "Open Platforms", Brussels, Belgium
 Information Society Technologies (IST) Conference & Expo, Copenhagen, Denmark
 Libre Software Meeting, Bordeaux, France
 Linux Infotage, Berlin, Germany
 Linux@work, Frankfurt, Germany
 LinuxDay, Bolzano and Milano, Italy
 LinuxExpo, Paris, France
 LinuxTag, Stuttgart & Karlsruhe, Germany
 LinuxWorldExpo, Milano, Italy
 Parliamentary Evening, Berlin, Germany
 Systems, Munich, Germany
 ThinkAbout-IT, Rostock, Germany
 Transmediale, Berlin, Germany
 Universita` di Bari, Politecnico, Bari, Italy
 Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (UPC), Barcelona, Spain
 Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF), Barcelona, Spain
 University of Bremen, Bremen, Germany
 Webbit, Padova, Italy
 Wizards of OS, Berlin, Germany
 Workshop "Free Software and Multimedia," Centro Tempo Reale, Florence, Italy
 egovos.org, Washington, U.S.A.
 hiroshima mon amour cultural center, Torino, Italy


For the next years, there is still a lot of work ahead of us.

We are currently awaiting the outcome of the evaluation for the "GNU Coordination Action Network" (GNUCAN) which was filed for the first call of the FP6 IST program. Also there are plans to start working on a "Free Software for a Mobile World" (GNUBILE) proposal.

In order to firmly root Free Software in society and make sure that it is here to stay, we also need to further it in the business field. Our hope is that we will soon find the time and resources to work on the GNU Business Network, which will set out to do that.

As the proprietary software companies have increased their spendings on lobbying against Free Software to preserve their monopolies, we also need to intensify our political work.

One of the events where this will be necessary is the "World Summit on the Information Society" (WSIS) [35] at the end of 2003. The preparation is already in full progress and the FSFE has for instance major support by other German civil societies to represent the German civil society movement in this process, but we will need to intensify our efforts.

And of course we hope to get more countries officially and inofficially involved in the FSFE. This does require significant work by the local activitists, but we are optimistic that more countries will participate soon.

Finally, we would like to thank all of you who have supported us in the past -- without you to stand at tradeshow booths, talk to the people, translate documents, make contacts, ask companies to donate or donate yourself, we could not have done as much as we did!

And if you haven't supported us yet but would like to do so, information about this can be found online. [36] [37]

[35] http://www.itu.int/wsis/
[36] https://fsfe.org/help/
[37] https://fsfe.org/help/donate.html