From its founding until the mid-1990s, FSF's funds were mostly used to employ software developers to write
free software for the
GNU Project and its employees and volunteers have mostly worked on legal and structural issues for the free software movement and the free software community[which?].
Consistent with its goals, the FSF aims to use only free software on its own computers.
The Free Software Foundation was founded in 1985 as a
non-profit corporation supporting free software development. It continued existing
GNU projects such as the sale of manuals and
tapes, and employed developers of the free software system. Since then, it has continued these activities, as well as advocating for the free software movement. The FSF is also the steward of several free software licenses, meaning it publishes them and has the ability to make revisions as needed.
From 1991 until 2001, GPL enforcement was done informally, usually by Stallman himself, often with assistance from FSF's lawyer,
Eben Moglen. Typically, GPL violations during this time were cleared up by short email exchanges between Stallman and the violator. In the interest of promoting copyleft assertiveness by software companies to the level that the FSF was already doing, in 2004
Harald Welte launched
In late 2001,
Bradley M. Kuhn (then executive director), with the assistance of Moglen, David Turner, and
Peter T. Brown, formalized these efforts into FSF's GPL Compliance Labs. From 2002–2004, high-profile GPL enforcement cases, such as those against
Linksys and OpenTV, became frequent.
GPL enforcement and educational campaigns on GPL compliance was a major focus of the FSF's efforts during this period.
In March 2003,
SCO filed suit against IBM alleging that IBM's contributions to various free software, including FSF's GNU, violated SCO's rights. While FSF was never a party to the lawsuit, FSF was
subpoenaed on November 5, 2003. During 2003 and 2004, FSF put substantial advocacy effort into responding to the lawsuit and quelling its negative impact on the adoption and promotion of free software.
From 2003 to 2005, FSF held legal seminars to explain the GPL and the surrounding law. Usually taught by Bradley M. Kuhn and
Daniel Ravicher, these seminars offered
CLE credit and were the first effort to give formal legal education on the GPL.
In 2007, the FSF published the third version of the GNU General Public License after significant outside input.
In December 2008, FSF filed a lawsuit against
Cisco for using GPL-licensed components shipped with
Linksys products. Cisco was notified of the licensing issue in 2003 but Cisco repeatedly disregarded its obligations under the GPL. In May 2009, Cisco and FSF reached
settlement under which Cisco agreed to make a monetary donation to the FSF and appoint a Free Software Director to conduct continuous reviews of the company's license compliance practices.
In September 2019,
Richard Stallman resigned as president of the FSF after pressure from journalists and members of the
open source community in response to him making controversial comments in defense of
Marvin Minsky on
Jeffrey Epstein's sex trafficking scandal. Nevertheless, Stallman remained head of the GNU Project and in 2021, he returned to the FSF board of directors.
This is a list of software packages that have been verified as free software. Each package entry contains up to 47 pieces of information such as the project's homepage, developers, programming language, etc. The goals are to provide a search engine for free software, and to provide a cross-reference for users to check if a package has been verified as being free software. The FSF has received a small amount of funding[quantify] from
UNESCO for this project.
FSF maintains many of the documents that define the free software movement.
FSF hosts software development projects on its
An abbreviation for "Hardware-Node", the h-node website lists
device drivers that have been verified as compatible with free software. It is user-edited and volunteer supported with hardware entries tested by users before publication.
FSF sponsors a number of campaigns against what it perceives as dangers to software freedom, including
digital rights management (which the FSF and others have re-termed "digital restrictions management", as part of its effort to highlight technologies that are "designed to take away and limit your rights",) and user interface copyright. Since 2012,
Defective by Design is an FSF-initiated campaign against DRM. It also has a campaign to promote
Vorbis, a free alternative to
proprietary formats like
MQA. FSF also sponsors free software projects it deems "high-priority".
The FSF maintains a list of "high priority projects" to which the Foundation claims that "there is a vital need to draw the
free software community's attention". The FSF considers these projects "important because computer users are continually being seduced into using
non-free software, because there is no adequate free replacement."
Since 2012, the FSF maintains a "Respects Your Freedom" (RYF) hardware certification program. To be granted certification, a product must use 100% Free Software, allow user installation of modified software, be free of
backdoors and conform with several other requirements.
board of directors includes professors at leading universities, senior engineers, and founders. Current board members are:
Geoffrey Knauth, senior software engineer at SFA, Inc. (served since October 23, 1997)
Henry Poole, founder of CivicActions, a government digital services firm (served since December 12, 2002)
Kat Walsh, copyright and technology attorney, free culture and free software advocate, and former chair of the Wikimedia Foundation. She joined the board in 2015. She voted against the readmittance of Richard Stallman to the board and, on March 25, 2021, resigned saying "It's a decision that has been a long time coming for me".
On November 25, 2002, the FSF launched the FSF Associate Membership program for individuals. Bradley M. Kuhn (FSF executive director, 2001–2005) launched the program and also signed up as the first Associate Member
Associate members are primarily an honorary and funding support role. In 2023, associate members gained the ability to make board nominations, along with FSF staff and FSF voting members. There is also an annual meeting of FSF members, usually during lunch at LibrePlanet, in which feedback for FSF is solicited.
Most of the FSF funding comes from patrons and members. Revenue streams also come from free-software-related compliance labs, job postings, published works, and a
web store. FSF offers speakers and seminars for pay, and all FSF projects accept donations.
Revenues fund free-software programs and campaigns, while cash is invested conservatively in
socially responsible investing. The financial strategy is designed to maintain the Foundation's long-term future through economic stability.
The FSF is a tax-exempt organization and posts annual IRS Form 990 filings online.
Position on DRM
Linus Torvalds has criticized FSF for using
GPLv3 as a weapon in the fight against
DRM. Torvalds argues that the issue of DRM and that of a software license should be treated as two separate issues.
Defective by Design campaign
On June 16, 2010, Joe Brockmeier, a journalist at Linux Magazine, criticized the
Defective by Design campaign by the FSF as "negative" and "juvenile" and not being adequate for providing users with "credible alternatives" to proprietary software. FSF responded to this criticism by saying "that there is a fundamental difference between speaking out against policies or actions and smear campaigns", and "that if one is taking an ethical position, it is justified, and often necessary, to not only speak about the benefits of freedom but against acts of dispossession and disenfranchisement."
The libDWG has stalled since 2011 for various reasons, including license issues.
Accusations against Richard Stallman
Stallman resigned from the board in 2019 after making controversial comments about one of the victims of
Jeffrey Epstein, but rejoined the board 18 months later. Several prominent organizations and individuals who develop free software objected to the decision, citing past writings on Stallman's blog which they considered antithetical to promoting a diverse community. As a result of Stallman's reinstatement, prominent members of the Free Software Foundation quit in protest and
Red Hat announced that it would stop funding and supporting the Free Software Foundation.
This section needs expansion. You can help by
adding to it. (May 2014)
Key players and industries that have made honorific mention and awards include:
GNU Project received the
USENIX Lifetime Achievement Award for "the ubiquity, breadth, and quality of its freely available redistributable and modifiable software, which has enabled a generation of research and commercial development".
^The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 1998 and
1999 show that De Icaza was not on the board on 1998-11-01 and was as of 1999-11-01, so he clearly joined sometime between those dates. Those documents further indicate that the 1999 annual meeting occurred in August; usually, new directors are elected at annual meetings.
^The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 1999 and 2000 show that Moglen was not on the board on November 1, 1999, and was as of November 1, 2000, so he clearly joined sometime between those dates. Those documents further indicate that the 2000 annual meeting occurred on July 28, 2000; usually, new directors are elected at annual meetings.
^Kuhn, Bradley M. (June 2003).
"FSF Bulletin Issue 2, June 2003". Free Software Foundation.
Archived from the original on 2008-05-17. Retrieved 2008-07-04. On Friday 8 August 2003, we will hold a seminar on the GNU GPL. The seminar, titled "Free Software Licensing and the GNU GPL", will be co-led by Daniel Ravicher, Outside Counsel to FSF from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, and Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director of FSF.
^Larabel, Michael (2012-04-22).
"Many FSF Priority Projects Still Not Progressing".
Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2014-12-29. Most of the projects are basically not going anywhere. Many of them at the time were not really advancing in their goals, haven't had releases in a while, or coding hasn't even started. It's been more than a half-year and still there's no significant work towards clearing many of projects from the FSF list.
abcThe first GNU's Bulletin (
"GNU's Bulletin, Volume 1, No.1". Free Software Foundation. February 1986.
Archived from the original on 2015-06-23. Retrieved 2007-08-11.), indicates this list of people as round[ing] out FSF's board of directors.
^The FSF annual filings with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for 2002 (
"2002 Annual Report for Free Software Foundation, Inc"(PDF). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 2002-12-17.
Archived(PDF) from the original on 2007-09-25. Retrieved 2007-08-11.) show that De Icaza has left the board. Changes to board composition are usually made at the annual meeting; which occurred on February 25, 2002.
^Moglen announced his intention to resign in his blog (
Moglen, Eben (2007-04-23).
"And Now ... Life After GPLv3".
Archived from the original on 2007-07-02. Retrieved 2007-08-11.). The resignation likely occurred at the 2007 annual meeting of the directors; the exact date of that meeting is unknown.
Article II, Sec. 1 - Number, Election and Qualification: The present members of the corporation shall constitute the voting members. Thereafter the voting members annually at its annual meeting shall fix the number of voting members and shall elect the number of voting members so fixed. At any special or regular meeting, the voting members then in office may increase the number of voting members and elect new voting members to complete the number so fixed; or they may decrease the number of voting members, but only to eliminate vacancies caused by the death, resignation, removal or disqualification of one or more voting members.
— Amended By-laws, Nov. 25, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc.
In addition to the right to elect Directors as provided in the bylaws and such other powers and rights as may be vested in them by law, these Articles of Organization or the bylaws, the Voting Members shall have such other powers and rights as the Directors may designate.
— Amended By-laws, Nov. 25, 2002, Free Software Foundation, Inc.
^The site member.fsf.org first appears in the Internet Archive in December 2002, and that site lists the date of the launch as 25 November 2002.
"FSF Membership Page". The Internet Archive. Archived from
the original on 2002-12-20.
^Kuhn has an FSF-generated member link that identifies him as the first member on his web page.
"Homepage of Bradley M. Kuhn". Bradley M. Kuhn. 2008-01-05.
Archived from the original on 2007-12-26. Retrieved 2008-01-05.
^Larabel, Michael (2013-01-24).
"FSF Wastes Away Another "High Priority" Project".
Phoronix. Archived from
the original on 2016-11-09. Retrieved 2013-08-22. Both LibreCAD and FreeCAD both want to use LibreDWG and have patches available for supporting the DWG file format library, but can't integrate them. The programs have dependencies on the popular GPLv2 license while the Free Software Foundation will only let LibreDWG be licensed for GPLv3 use, not GPLv2.
abProkoudine, Alexandre (26 January 2012).
"What's up with DWG adoption in free software?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from
the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2013. [Assimp's Alexander Gessler:] "Personally, I'm extremely unhappy with their [LibreDWG's — LGW] GPL licensing. It prohibits its use in Assimp and for many other applications as well. I don't like dogmatic ideologies, and freeing software by force (as GPL/GNU does) is something I dislike in particular. It's fine for applications, because it doesn't hurt at this point, but, in my opinion, not for libraries that are designed to be used as freely as possible." [Blender's Toni Roosendaal:] "Blender is also still "GPLv2 or later". For the time being we stick to that, moving to GPL 3 has no evident benefits I know of. My advice for LibreDWG: if you make a library, choosing a widely compatible license (MIT, BSD, or LGPL) is a very positive choice."
^Prokoudine, Alexandre (2012-12-27).
"LibreDWG drama: the end or the new beginning?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from
the original on 2016-11-09. Retrieved 2013-08-23. [...]the unfortunate situation with support for DWG files in free CAD software via LibreDWG. We feel, by now it ought to be closed. We have the final answer from FSF. [...] "We are not going to change the license."
^Prokoudine, Alexandre (26 January 2012).
"What's up with DWG adoption in free software?". libregraphicsworld.org. Archived from
the original on 9 November 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2013. GPLv3 license. It doesn't work for end-user software, because they tend to use 3rd party components under different licenses that impose restrictions. FSF who are sole copyright holders of LibreDWG objected to relicensing. With regards to FreeCAD project and Yorik van Havre, its contributor, Richard Stallman stated:" You should not change the license of your library. Rather, it is best to make it clear to him what the conditions are." [...] Personally, I'm extremely unhappy with their [LibreDWG's — LGW] GPL licensing. It prohibits its use in Assimp and for many other applications as well. I don't like dogmatic ideologies, and freeing software by force (as GPL/GNU does) is something I dislike in particular. It's fine for applications, because it doesn't hurt at this point, but, in my opinion, not for libraries that are designed to be used as freely as possible.