Richard Stallman’s sudden return to Free Software Foundation (FSF) gained all the attention it could (both negative and positive).
Organizations opposed to the decision while many Individuals supported the comeback in the form of signatures on different open letters to make the stand clear.
With the buzz taking over the social media, Debian decided to issue no statement regarding the matter as per their internal votes on the situation.
No matter what you believe and whether you support RMS (or against the decision of his re-election), it has been a rollercoaster ride in the open-source community.
An official statement by the FSF on the election of Richard Stallman did not seem to make a difference for folks who were against the decision in the first place. The statement instead focused on affirming that RMS is not going anywhere, and that they needed him, which probably made things worse.
However, now with an updated FAQ page, it looks like the FSF is finally clearing up the air behind their decision to re-elect Richard Stallman and how recent internal changes will affect the future of the FSF.
Board of Directors & Voting Members
It was probably a perplexing question when we thought about who re-elected Richard Stallman.
It was certainly not the members, but the board of directors alone:
The FSF voting members, as of April 28, 2021, are the current directors (Odile Bénassy, Ian Kelling, Geoffrey Knauth, Henry Poole, Richard Stallman, and Gerald Sussman) and one former board member, Alexandre Oliva
They further clarify that the board of directors is responsible to make long-term decisions and choices for financial stability. And, no single member of the board has an individual authority when making a statement.
Furthermore, the recent governance structure has made it possible to have a staff on the board of directors who will also be a voting member. Ian Kelling, a senior systems administrator was recently selected for that role as per the union staff.
That’s definitely a good improvement to ensure transparent governance and looks like the voting members were the ones who re-elected Richard Stallman.
Also, it has been made clear that the board of directors is in no way compensated for their work and work as volunteers without a formal term limit:
Board members are not compensated for their work as board members. They serve as volunteers. They may occasionally be reimbursed for expenses incurred while doing their work for the FSF.
Of course, this goes to show how vital board of directors are and puts a point for them being voluntarily supporting the Free Software Foundation. It is worth appreciating what they do, to be honest.
Concerns for GNU General Public Licenses (GPL)
Amidst the controversy, many individuals questioned the existence of GPL and its future – just because RMS was re-associated with the FSF.
FSF makes the goal clear that the objective of supporting the free software movement is the key reason for any recent changes that includes a new Staff seat in the board of directors or rewriting bylaws:
Mission integrity is the key reason. Board members agree that the bylaws need to be written in a way that ensures that user freedom cannot be compromised by changes in the board, members, or hostile courts. Of particular concern is the future of the various GNU General Public Licenses (GPL).
Considering that the presence of GPL has helped the majority of open-source projects, improvements for its future is definitely a good clarification by the FSF.
Financial Status of FSF
Even though many organizations decided to cut funding/donations to FSF after Richard Stallman made a comeback, the FAQ page mentions the current financial status of FSF as healthy and not dependent on direct corporate support, which is always a good thing.
Richard Stallman’s Current Role in FSF
In addition to these important points, the FSF also addressed the current role of Richard Stallman to simply promote free software, raise donations for FSF, and help sell merchandises while also recruiting volunteers for FSF and GNU.
Considering what he has been doing for decades, I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply wants to continue promoting free software without any responsibilities for the future of FSF.
The FSF seems to be focusing more on new board members and activists to join them to strengthen the movement and improve the future that lies ahead.
They have addressed plenty of other questions like the relationship between FSF and the GNU Project in their FAQ page. So, if you are curious to learn more about it, feel free to head to their FAQ page.
As for the concerns addressed above, I believe the FSF seems to have made promising improvements and honest efforts to evolve the free software movement. Personally, I would want to keep an eye on the improvements for GPL, which should be exciting.
Of course, only time will tell what the future holds for the latest efforts by FSF. The new FAQ page definitely addresses a lot of valid concerns and also shuts doors to some wild claims for the future of free software movement, in my opinion.
What do you think about the clarity put forward by Free Software Foundation here? Please don’t hesitate to let me know your thoughts in the comments below!