Donate to Conservancy Before End of 2019!

Tuesday 31 December 2019 by Bradley M. Kuhn

Yesterday, I sent out a version of this blog post to Conservancy's donors as a fundraising email. As most people reading this already know, I work (remotely from the west coast) for a 501(c)(3) charity based in NY called Software Freedom Conservancy, which is funded primarily from individuals like you who donate $120/year (or more :). My primary job and career since 1997 has been working for various charities, mostly related to the general cause of software freedom.

More generally, I have dedicated myself since the late 1990s to software freedom activism. Looking back across these two decades, I believe our movement, focused on software users' rights, faces the most difficult challenges yet. In particular, I believe 2019 was the most challenging year in our community's history.

Our movement had early success. Most of our primary software development tools remain (for the moment) mostly Free Software. Rarely do new developers face the kinds of challenges that proprietary software originally brought us. In the world today that seemingly embraces Open Source, the problems are more subtle and complex than they once were. Conservancy dedicates its work to addressing those enigmatic problems. That’s why I work here, why I’m glad to support the organization myself, and why I ask you to support it as well.

Early success was easy for software freedom because the technology industry ignored us at first. Copyleft was initially a successful antidote to the very first Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) — separating the binaries from source code and using copyright restrictions to forbid sharing. When companies attacked software freedom and copyleft in the early 2000s, we were lucky that those attacks backfired. However, today, we must solve the enigma that the technology industry seems to embrace software freedom, but only to a point. Most for-profit companies today ask a key question constantly: “what Open Source technologies can we leverage while keeping an unfair proprietary edge?”. FOSS is accepted in the enterprise but only if it allows companies to proprietarize, particularly in areas that specifically threaten user privacy and autonomy.

However, I and my colleagues at Conservancy are realists. We know that a charity like us won't ever have the resources to face well-funded companies on their own playing field, and we’d be fools to try. So, we do what Free Software has always done best: we pick work with the greatest potential to maximize software freedom for as many users as we can.

At Conservancy's founding, Conservancy focused exclusively on providing a charitable home to FOSS projects, so they could focus on software freedom for their users. Through Conservancy, projects make software freedom the project’s top priority rather than an afterthought. In this new environment where (seemingly) every company and trade association has set up a system for organizational homes for projects, Conservancy focuses on projects that make a big impact for the software freedom of individual users.

Today, Conservancy does much more beyond those basics. Given my early introduction to licensing, I learned early and often that copyleft — our community's primary tool and strategy to assure companies and individuals would always remain equals — was and would always be constantly under attack. I've thus been glad to help Conservancy publish and speak regularly about essential copyleft and FOSS policy. (And, I'm personally working right now on even more writing on the subject of copyleft policy.) I'm particularly proud of Conservancy's work with members of the Linux community to assure the software freedoms guaranteed by copyleft for Linux-based devices. It's a big task, and we’re the only organization with that mission. But, Conservancy is resilient, unrelenting, and dedicated to it.

If someone had predicted 28 years ago (when I first installed Linux) that, by 2020, Linux would be the most popular operating system on the most popular small devices in the world, but that almost no one would have the basic freedoms assured by copyleft, the thought would have horrified me. Manufacturers have treated Linux device users like the proverbial frogs in slowly boiling water, so we saw once a trickle and now an onslaught of non-upgradable, non-modifiable, Linux-based IoT and mobile devices as a norm; we’re even sometimes tricked into believing such infringing usage counts as success for software freedom. I'm glad to help Conservancy support and organize the primary group who continues to demand that the GPL matters and should be upheld for Linux. We shouldn't ignore users; their personal rights, privacy, and control of their own technology are at stake — and copyleft should assure their path to software freedom. That path is now deeply buried in complicated legal and political debris, but I believe that Conservancy will clear that path, and I and my colleagues at Conservancy have a plan for it.

As we close out 2018, I must admit how tough this year has been for all of us with regard to leadership in the broader software freedom movement. I spent a large part of 2019 deeply involved with the political and social work of moving forward together in the face of the leadership crises and assuring the software freedom movement spans generations diversely. Having lived through this troubled year, I've come to a simple conclusion: we must be loyal to the principles of software freedom, not to individual people. We must build a welcoming community that is friendly to those who are different from us; those folks are most likely to bring us desperately needed new ideas and perspectives. I’m thus proud that Conservancy continues to host the Outreachy initiative, which is the premier internship program that seeks to bring those who have faced specific hardships related to diversity and inclusion into the wonders of FOSS development and leadership.

We've all had a tough 2019 for many reasons, and I certainly believe it’s the most challenging year I've seen in my many years of software freedom activism. But, I don't shy away from a challenge: I am looking forward to helping Conservancy work tirelessly to lead the way out of difficulty, with new approaches.

Obviously I'm going to help with my staff time at Conservancy , for which I am (obviously) paid a salary. (As I always joke, my salary has been a matter of public record since 2001, you just have to read the 501(c)(3) Form 990s of the organizations I've worked for.) I am very lucky that I was born into the middle class in a wealthy country. I believe it's important to acknowledge the privilege that comes with advantages we receive due to sheer luck. In recent years, I've focused on how I can use that privilege to help the social justice causes that I care about. In addition to devoting my career to a charity, I also think giving back financially to charity is important. Each year, I usually give my largest charitable donation to the charity where I work, Software Freedom Conservancy.

It does feel strange to me to give money back to an organization that also pays me a salary. However, I do it because: (a) it's entirely voluntary (thus showing clearly that it isn't merely a run-of-the-mill paycut :), (b) it help Conservancy meet our meet our annual match challenge, and (c) I spend some of my time each winter asking everyone I know to also voluntarily give. I hope you'll join me today in becoming (or renewing!) as a Conservancy Supporter. I hope you'll set your Supporter contribution at a level higher than the minimum. Usually, computer geeks love to give amounts that are even powers of 2. This year, I suggested that was perhaps a bit hackneyed, so we set our donor challenge around prime numbers (the original match amount was $113,093). So, I planned ahead a frugal year so that I could give $1,021 today to Conservancy. I generally planned all year to give “about a thousand” at year's end for the match, but I picked $1,021 specifically because it's the closest prime number to 210. I think it makes sense to give to charity amounts of about about $60-100/month, as that's typically the amount that any middle class person in a wealthy country can afford if they just cut out a few luxuries (e.g., DRM-laden streaming services, cooking at home rather than eating at restaurants, etc.).

So, please join me today in contributing to Conservancy. Most importantly, perhaps, today is the last day to donate for a USA tax deduction in 2019! If you pay taxes in the USA, do take a look at the deduction, because I've found in my fiscal planning that it does make a budgeting difference and means I can give a bit more, knowing that I'll get some of it back from both the USA and state government.

Posted on Tuesday 31 December 2019 at 09:29 by Bradley M. Kuhn.

Submit comments on this post to <bkuhn@ebb.org>.



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#include <std/disclaimer.h>
use Standard::Disclaimer;
from standard import disclaimer
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Both previously and presently, I have been employed by and/or done work for various organizations that also have views on Free, Libre, and Open Source Software. As should be blatantly obvious, this is my website, not theirs, so please do not assume views and opinions here belong to any such organization. Since I do co-own ebb.org with my wife, it may not be so obvious that these aren't her views and opinions, either.

— bkuhn


ebb is a service mark of Bradley M. Kuhn.

Bradley M. Kuhn <bkuhn@ebb.org>