Six years after its start in 2001, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) has now grown into an organisation of 9 employees equalling 6.7 full-time staff plus two interns. The European Core Team is fast approaching 30 people and there are active people in more than nine European countries. This report will try to summarise some of the key milestones of the past two years of activity.
After the European Union antitrust decision of March 2004, which issues both fines and an obligation to publish interoperability information for all competitors, the European Court decided December 2004 that Microsoft should not be granted interim measures to delay publication of that information. So Microsoft went ahead and granted itself such interim measures by publishing useless information under terms that would not allow the only remaining competitor to use it.
This situation has been ongoing throughout all of 2005, 2006 and until today in 2007, causing the European Commission to issue repeated fines against Microsoft, which apparently still are lower than the profits from lack of interoperability. [Press releases: 1 2 3 4]
FSFE's working group around its legal counsel Carlo Piana and the Samba Team have been working with the Commission to analyse and shed light on the repeated attempts to bypass the antitrust decision by bureaucracy and taken an active part in the big hearing in the European Court of First Instance in April 2006. [See our April 2006 PR]
While waiting for the decision, which will most likely be published on 17 September 2007, FSFE has now offered its support to the European Commission for the next investigation against Microsoft, this time about abusive behaviour in the office and internet. In this, FSFE represents the common working group formed with the Samba Team and OpenOffice.org, the main competitor of Microsoft Office.
More information is available on our MS vs. EU page.
After years of struggle, the European Parliament finally decided in 2005 to bury the software patents directive. Individual members of FSFE were working on the issue since 1999, the organsation itself was part of the software patent resistance since 2001 and in the late stages of the fight hired Ciaran O'Riordan to be present in Brussels.
But even though that directive is dead, software patents themselves are not off the agenda and there are plenty of initiatives on EU level that also required our attention. One of them is the IPRED2 directive that seeks to introduce criminal measures for copyright and trademark infringement, although they were initially also intended to cover patents. That patents were excluded is one important victory of the first hearing for a broad alliance of groups, including many from the software patent debate but also consumer rights and industry.
Besides these two, FSFE's Ciaran O'Riordan has been monitoring the EU legislation to not be surprised in the same way as we were with the first IPRED directive, where we failed to get together enough resistance.
A lot more work remains to be done in this area.
The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was a two-part summit with the first summit taking place in Geneva in December 2003.
In preparation for the second summit 2005 in Tunis, the Austrian government organised a WSIS contributory conference on "ICT and Creativity" with high level participants from various governments and intergovernmental organisations. The Free Software Foundation Europe was part of a workshop on "Digital Rights/Creative Commons." We agreed to a text that was supposed to be part of the final output at the WSIS, only to find out in Tunis that Microsoft had manipulated these "Vienna Conclusions."
At the same summit in Tunis it was also decided to establish the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as an open forum to discuss all issues of the internet -- except Free Software, which was too controversial for the United States and one particular company in Redmond. As the internet is largely built on Free Software and legislation on spam or cybercrime has the potential to be quite desastrous for Free Software developers around the world, FSFE participated in the first IGF in Athens in 2006 where it also helped launch the Dynamic Coalition on Access to Knowledge and Freedom of Expression and the Dynamic Coalition on Open Standards.
Meanwhile the debate about a reform of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) has seen several confrontational meetings in which FSFE took an active role until just recently it was decided that WIPO will get its "Development Agenda" to address the global injustice about limited monopolies on knowledge and information. FSFE has also started to push for a review of the software patent system on a global level at WIPO.
At the same time, the "Broadcasting Treaty", which initially threatened to introduce another monopoly on top of copyright for broadcasters of any kind, finally seems to be off the agenda. FSFE did not have much resources to invest into this fight, but we have given our support to all the organisations that were working on this issue and we are glad to see this threat to freedom off the table.
Over the past years, FSFE has established itself as a strong and stable force at the United Nations and its effectiveness is limited mainly by available resources, in particular staff time.
After years of consideration and planning and following a decision of FSFE's 2006 general assembly in Manchester, FSFE finally launched the Freedom Task Force (FTF) under coordination of Shane Coughlan from FSFE's newly established Zurich office. The FTF combines the best principles of Free Software and the legal field by having expert groups and volunteers from the legal and technical communities, tied together through a full-time coordinator.
From the start it has been closely coordinated and cooperating with gpl-violations.org established by Harald Welte in Germany who managed to first enforce the GNU General Public License (GPL) in court through Dr. Till Jaeger, who also is FSFE's legal counsel since 2001.
The Freedom Task Force provides three basic services: 1. Licence consultancy and education, to help Free Software developers and companies understand the field and make sure the knowledge about the legal aspects of Free Software does not remain in the hands of a few, 2. Fiduciary services, to help Free Software projects consolidate their legal status and make sure they can react to license violations while allowing them to focus on the technical and coordinative aspects of their projects, 3. Licence enforcement in cooperation with gpl-violations.org to ensure that the ground rules of Free Software equally apply to all.
The overall resonance to the FTF has been quite positive. The first project to make use of the Fiduciary service was Bacula.org, the most advanced Free Software backup solution available to date, and the FTF has already handled more than 180 requests since November 2006 when it was officially launched and built a solid legal network.
So the external review by Stichting NLnet, who helped establish the FTF through a grant of 30k EUR, has been that the FTF has met and even exceeded expectations. FSFE expects this area of activites to solidify in the next years and is prepared to stock them up of the request for services keeps growing.
Following the discussions at the 2006 Manchester general assembly and on request of FSFE's sister organisation in the United States that had started the "Defective by Design" campaign, FSFE initiated and launched DRM.info in October 2006. DRM.info was started as a collaborative platform with strong design and solid information and including various renowned groups and individuals. The launch was accompanied by demonstrations against DRM in various European cities, including Zurich, Gothenburg, London.
Takeup of the initiative did not meet expectations, though, due to a variety of reasons, so the platform is undergoing reconsideration.
The revision of the GNU General Public License (GPL) to version 3 was one of the most challenging activities throughout the past two years. Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) was one of the main contributors to the effort of bringing transparency into the process and details of the revision of the GNU General Public License (GPL) through participation in the international conferences on GPLv3 in Boston, Porto Alegre and Tokyo, as well as organisation of the international conference on GPLv3 in Barcelona.
FSFE's Ciaran O'Riordan also contributed much to the transparency of the debate through his transcripts of important speeches which have helped many thousand people understand GPLv3 better.
Additionally, FSFE's regional teams organised various local events and meetings on GPLv3 and FSFE representatives spoke about GPLv3 at a large number of events.
FSFE was centrally involved in the planning of the EU project SELF with partners from around the world, including people involved FSF India and FSF Latin America. Henrik Sandklef, Jonas Oberg, Mathias Klang, Georg Greve and others from FSFE are involved in this project to build a Free Software repository with Free educational material about Free Software and Open Standards that is going to export its material in Open Standards for other e-Learning platforms.
FSFE's role in the project is coordinative, substantive, and legal, where it will provide the fiduciary for the resulting software through its Freedom Task Force (FTF) to ensure long-term sustainability of the project.
More information is available on the SELF web site.
Launched in February 2005, the Fellowship of FSFE has grown into a considerable community of people who share a strong commitment to freedom in the digital age. As foreseen, every Fellow helps to sustain FSFE's activities: the self-determined Fellowship contributions amount for a significant amount of FSFE's budget, so helps FSFE to keep the lights on.
These contributions also show that the Fellows are willing to put their money where their mouth is -- something that has proven effective to increase the weight of the Free Software message in the political work FSFE is doing.
But the idea of the Fellowship has also proven to go far beyond that.
Fellows have raised their flag in various places around the world and have come together to organise concrete activities to bring Free Software into schools (Austria) or simply to meet at "freedom parties" in Berlin or Milano to get together and discuss the issues that move us.
In several places the Fellows have started local initiatives with regular meetings, either on a regional or national level, and in November 2006, the Fellowship had its first international meeting in Bolzano, Southern Tyrol, Italy.
Ultimately activity through the Fellowship is one of the best ways to get involved in FSFE. A living demonstration of this is FSFE Fellow Shane Coughlan, now Freedom Task Force Coordinator for the FSFE. Two years ago, he was not on our radar. But when he became active as a Fellow, gave presentations on FSFE and the Fellowship out of his own initiative, and actively sought to become involved in the work, it took him very little time to be integrated into FSFE.
With any organisation such as FSFE there are always a million things to keep running that stay unnoticed when they are done well, and only show up when they don't. Three activities for which this is particularly true are the Office, the Web page and the translation efforts, which generally get very little recognition, but are seminal to keep FSFE running.
In the past two years, FSFE's main logistic and administrative office moved from Essen to Dusseldorf. Thanks to the good work of former Head of Office Werner Koch, the office in Dusseldorf was built up solidly with a small footprint and we found three very energetic and competent people who have been running a very smooth office: Angelina Bartlett, Anja Vorspel and Rainer Kersten. FSFE also opened small offices in Zurich and Brussels for the legal and EU policy work, which are staffed by Shane Coughlan and Ciaran O'Riordan, respectively.
The web page is often the main point of contact for people with FSFE and required lots of work over the past two years, from putting the new order interface online, improving the underlying technology and adding more information.
Last year FSFE also managed to find and implement a new visual identity along which the web page has been redesigned. All of these steps are important to make sure the message goes out to those who need to hear it.
And finally the translation team has slowly grown into a group of volunteers that make translations fast and effectively into various languages, a work that is not only time consuming and difficult, but also important to lower the communication barrier with many people around the world.
The Free Software Foundation network grew significantly in various ways. One was the founding of FSFE's sister organisation in Latin America, the Free Software Foundation Latin America (FSFLA), which FSFE supported both spiritually as well as practically by hosting their services on one of its virtual servers.
FSFE's network of associate organisations now spans 14 organisations in 12 countries, namely
As in the past years, FSFE has been present at many events to talk about various aspects of Free Software, to meet the community and to help others join our community. Events that FSFE has participated to over the past years include, but are not limited to: