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FSFE at FOSDEM 2021

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FOSDEM, the biggest annual Free Software event in Europe, took place again this year on the first weekend in February. As we do every year, we organised a community event before FOSDEM and this year we also co-organised the Legal and Policy Devroom for the first time.

While FOSDEM normally occurs every year in the Free University of Brussels, this year it happened online for the first time - and completely with Free Software. FOSDEM had more than 25 simultaneous talks at times, with accompanying interactive text-based chat rooms, live Q&A with the speakers on video, and “hallway track” breakout rooms after each talk where speakers and attendees could join video chat together and discuss the talk. According to the main FOSDEM organisers, they had a peak of 33,600 attendees. This year, FSFE is also honoured to have co-organised the Legal and Policy Devroom at FOSDEM for the first time. And ad we do every year, we hosted a great community event before FOSDEM, this time with a keynote from Cory Doctorow.

Cory Doctorow at FSFE's Community Event
Cory Doctorow at FSFE's Community Event

FSFE PRE-FOSDEM Community Event

We started this year's FOSDEM with a social meeting on Friday evening. For our FSFE PRE-FOSDEM community event, Cory Doctorow gave a keynote on internet monopolies and software freedom - a lecture you should not miss.

FOSDEM's Legal and Policy Issues Devroom addresses important Free Software related policy or legal topics. Our community has substantial expertise in this area, yet there are few venues to discuss these matters in a forum open to all. Hackers, developers, contributors, lawyers, policy experts, and community leaders all possess expertise in these matters.

Together with our co-organisers Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn from Software Freedom Conservancy, and Richard Fontana from Red Hat, we discussed at the final panel the most important issues of the devroom and also tackled some topics that were missing from the agenda. This might be a good first video for you to get an overview of our devroom.

Free Software strategy of the Commission

On 21 October 2020, the European Commission approved their new "Open Source Software Strategy 2020-2023". We had an interview with Evangelos Tsavalopoulos from the European Commission on this. In the interview we asked important questions about this strategy and also addressed pressing questions from members of our community.

Router Freedom

FSFE’s Deputy Legal Coordinator, Lucas Lasota, presented an overview on the current state of router freedom in Europe. New rules in the EU have created challenges to router freedom, given that IAPs (Internet Access Providers) will be able to limit router freedom based on "objective technological necessity". The talk went through the historical aspects and future developments in Europe, why Free Software is a fundamental enabling element, and how people can get involved.

Health public policy

In a panel moderated by Karen Sandler on Software and Hardware Freedom in health public policy, Fabio Balli, Adriana Groh and Luis Falcon, discussed the extent to which Free Software and Open Hardware can be used in the public health sector. The Corona crisis has clearly shown us that we also need to work together in the area of software and hardware. For example Hackathons were held in various countries to find software solutions to counter this crisis. The development of tracing apps or solutions for hospitals and health authorities has also shown that Free Software can help many people and that isolated solutions are counterproductive. The panel discussed what lessons we can learn from the crisis and how Free Software and Open Hardware must be used in the future.

Funding for Free Software projects

In a talk by Sven Franck the question of funding for Free Software projects was addressed. He demanded that Free Software be given a tax break. He presented several initiatives from the Libre Endowment Fund ("Fonds de Dotation du Libre" in French) - from financing feature development of Free Software to releasing a 4G/5G base station as open hardware or supporting litigation against the French government's decision to host health data on Microsoft servers.

Licencing and Compliance

We also addressed questions on licensing and compliance. Bradley M. Kuhn moderated a panel with John Sullivan, Miriam Ballhausen, Davide Ricci, and Eilís Ní Fhlannagáin on the question whether present compliance practices assure software freedom for device users. Compliance with Free Software licenses remains a perennial topic of discussion among policy makers in our community. However, little attention is paid to the motivations why these licenses have specific requirements. Specifically, at least for copyleft licenses, the licenses seek to bestow specific rights and freedoms to the users who receive the software integrated into the devices they use. This panel discussed the challenges and importance of assuring that downstream users can actually utilize the compliance artifacts they receive with products as intended by the license.

A talk by Cornelius Schumacher from KDE addressed how a large community and a company worked together in terms of licensing: "Protecting against proprietary re-licensing with a community contract - How the KDE Free Qt Foundation ensures software freedom for twenty-five years and counting". This presentation explained the community contract, how it augments the dual-licensing model, and how it has evolved and served its purpose for 25 years and counting. It also discussed the lessons learned and how it can serve as a model for other organisations.

And Giovanni Battista Gallus, Fabio Pietrosanti, Carlo Piana and Alberto Pianon, discussed the first AGPL compliance case settled in an Italian court. Globaleaks is an AGPLv3+ SaaS application for anonymous whistleblowing, developed by the Hermes Center. After receiving a prototype, the Italian Anticorruption Authority (ANAC) re-published a version under the EUPL, modifying the attribution and the copyright statement, removing reasonable notice from the GUI, and failing to fully comply with source code obligations. After several attempts for an out-of-court solution, the question was finally settled by the parties, restoring the correct license and the other issues. There are several lessons to be learned from this controversy. License compatibility and the other Free Software obligations (including conveying the corresponding source code) are not to be taken lightly, and require a good degree of knowledge and expertise, especially when they are related to an application which has been implemented by several public administrations.

Digital Markets Act

Also actual legislative proposals have been addressed. Vittorio Bertola gave a talk "Free Software, Interoperability and the Digital Markets Act", proposing new European regulation to open up the dominant platforms. The European Commission recently proposed new regulations (DSA/DMA/DGA) to protect democracy and restore openness and competition. The talk introduced them and their economic and political background; it then focused on a specific point, the requirement for dominant platforms to interoperate with third parties, though only in limited cases, using messaging and social media as example.

Free Software Culture

Deb Nicholson and Hong Phuc Dang asked if Free Software culture is too US-centric and argued why it should not be so. Free Software is made up of a truly global community of tinkerers, collaborators, and innovators. In this conversation, Deb Nicholson and Hong Phuc Dang look at the global state of Free Software policy and talk about why no particular country – especially the US – should be centered.

REUSE - make licensing easy for humans and machines alike

Beside the talks at the Legal and Policy Devroom, our Programme Manager Max Mehl gave a talk on "REUSE - Best practices for declaring copyright and licenses" at the OpenChain Devroom. With three simple steps, REUSE makes adding and reading licensing and copyright information easy for both humans and machines. This presentation will guide you through the REUSE best practices and shows how to make clear licensing simple.

We hope you enjoyed this year's FOSDEM as much as we did. We are already looking forward to the next FOSDEM.

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