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Red Hat withdraws from the Free Software Foundation after Stallman’s return

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Enlarge / The Free Software Foundation may be happy to have RMS back on the board, but much of the Free Software world feels different.

Last week, Richard M. Stallman – the father of the GNU Public License that supports Linux and a significant portion of the user-facing software that originally followed the Linux kernel ̵

1; returned to the Free Software Foundation board after a two-year hiatus due to his own very controversial remarks about his perception of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims as “completely willing.”

As a result of the reintroduction of RMS, Red Hat – the Raleigh, North Carolina-based open source software giant producing Red Hat Enterprise Linux, has publicly withdrawn funding and support from the Free Software Foundation:

Red Hat was horrified to learn it [Stallman] had joined the FSF’s board. As a result, we immediately suspend all Red Hat funding from the FSF and any FSF events.

Red Hat’s relatively brief statement goes on to acknowledge an FSF statement on governance that emerged the same day:

  • We will adopt a transparent, formal process for identifying candidates and appointing new board members who are wise, skilled and committed to the FSF’s mission. We will establish ways for our supporters to contribute to the discussion.
  • We will demand that all existing board members review this process as quickly as possible, step by step, to decide which of them will be on the board.
  • We will add a representative to the board. FSF employees will choose that person.
  • The board members will consult a legal advisor on changes to the organization’s articles of association to implement these changes. We have set a deadline of thirty days to make these changes.

But Red Hat says the statement gives it “no reason to believe it [the statement] signals any meaningful commitment to positive change. “

This sentiment seems to be widely shared by many, including at least one FSF board member – Kat Walsh – who opposed the reinstatement of RMS and resigned on the same day as the board’s statement and Red Hat’s resignation.

Immediately after Walsh’s resignation, the FSF announced that a new board seat would be created to be filled with some of the FSF’s union staff; Sunday, it filled this new seat with senior system administrator Ian Kelling.

FSF President Geoffrey Knauth describes the new seat:

The board and voting members look forward to the participation of the staff via this designated seat in our future discussions. This is an important step in the FSF’s efforts to recognize and support new leadership, to connect leadership to society, to improve transparency and accountability and to build trust. There is still considerable work to be done, and that work will continue.

Knauth, who began serving in his current role as FSF president in August 2020, declared that it is only a temporary concert:

I undertake to resign as FSF officer, director and voting member as soon as there is a clear path for new management that ensures continuity in the FSF’s mission and compliance with fiduciary requirements.

The elephant in the room that the FSF’s remaining board members seem determined to ignore is the continued presence of Stallman himself – who, along with the rest of the FSF board, will soon have to go through his new “transparent, formal process to identify [members] who are wise, skilled and committed to the FSF’s mission. “

Why Stallman?

It is probably worth reconsidering the FSF’s stated mission to understand the choice to reintroduce Stallman, which has been widely panned as too controversial to make an effective software evangelist.

The Free Software Foundation works to ensure freedom for computer users by promoting the development and use of free (as in freedom) software and documentation – especially the GNU operating system – and by fighting threats to computer user freedom such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and software patents. .

Although this statement leads to “promoting the development and use of [free software], “it immediately goes out into the Stallman weeds with an implicit statement that the GNU Toolkit is a complete” operating system. “From there, it goes into the ‘campaign against’ perceived enemies of software freedom rather than fighting for freedom itself.

The next section, “Our core work”, is based entirely on the campaign, which we summarize here with one sentence per section:

  • The FSF maintains historical articles
  • FSF sponsors the GNU software project
  • The FSF has copyright on large amounts of code
  • The FSF publishes the GNU General Public License
  • FSF campaigns for free adoption of software, and against proprietary software

We suspect that examining FSF’s own mission statements – as opposed to just assuming the mission – answers many of the questions about RMS ‘return. The FSF describes itself as an organization that is much more concerned with maintaining part of the history it cares about – and attacking its perceived enemies, whether they are real or not – than with discovering, seeking out and mentoring new faces in free software.

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