In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the Judean People’s Front hated the People’s Front of Judea. Unfortunately, it’s not at all funny when two similarly-named organizations in the Linux world battle with each other.
The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) holds the copyright interest for a long list of highly-respected Free Software / Open Source projects, serves as an IRS-certified 501(c)3 non-profit so that those projects don’t have to, provides the projects with legal and organizational advice, and when necessary enforces against those who infringe on their copyrights and the Free Software / Open Source licenses, including the GPL. You may know SFC’s officers Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn.
A similarly-named organization funded by the Linux Foundation, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC), has asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to void the trademark on SFC’s name.
The bizarre thing about this is that SFLC started SFC, acted as their attorney in filing the very same trademark on their behalf, and was their law firm for several years. And Linux Foundation originally funded both organizations, but now appears to be behind this action of one against the other.
This follows a decade-long trend during which I believe the Linux Foundation, and SFLC on their behalf, have turned against the Free Software / Open Source community. I believe this action is part of a greater war being carried out by the Linux Foundation against enforcement of the GPL license by the Free Software / Open Source developers.
There has always been a tension between independent Free Software / Open Source developers on one side, and the largest corporations that use the software (and sometimes participate in its development) on the other.
Independent Free Software / Open Source developers don’t produce their software as corporate welfare to the world’s richest corporations, or to facilitate the development of proprietary software by those companies. They make it so that Free Software and Open Source will be larger. Their preferred license is the GPL, which enforces share-and-share-alike terms that mean corporations must participate under the developers rules, or not at all.
The corporations would prefer to see the developers give up their GPL license and its “inconvenient” sharing rules, and make the software an outright gift. That way, the independent developers would act more like unpaid employees of the corporations.
On actual Free Software / Open Source projects, the corporations and independent developers get along, because the corporations are represented by their programmers, whose main interest is in making good software, just as the independent developers wish. It’s in the industry organizations, where the representatives are not the programmers, that the problems come up.
Linux Foundation started with a promise to represent the interest of the independent Linux developers as well as the corporations, but over the past decade, all developer representation was eliminated.
SFC also changed during this time, from a volunteer-only corner of SFLC with most of its volunteers coming from the Free Software Foundation, to its own organization with a full-time staff, supporting a long list of Free Software / Open Source organizations, and still with a strong bond to FSF. SFLC endorsed this change.
The disconnect started when SFC began enforcement of the GPL license against VMware on behalf of Free Software / Open Source developers. It had been suspected for years that VMware had incorporated portions of Linux in their ESX software, in an infringing manner. But VMware was at the time a “silver sponsor” of Linux Foundation, and Linux Foundation halted financial support of SFC in retaliation for the GPL enforcement. SFC responded with a fund drive and gained new private sponsors.