"Software Freedom in Europe" is the yearly report of the Free Software Foundation Europe e.V. (FSFE). In one document, it gives you a breakdown of important things the FSFE has done and achieved during the last 12 months. Among many other interesting stories, in the 2019 report you will read about our ongoing work for router freedom in Europe, about the first Parliament in Europe who joins our "Public Money? Public Code!" campaign, about our new version of REUSE tools to help Free Software developers with easy license compliance and about much more of our multi-faceted policy work - all together aiming at a world in which users are in control of technology!
Besides our policy work and projects, we also shine light on our community and its members; because it is only though working together with our community that the FSFE is able to form a movement across Europe to build a society based on users' and software freedom. We report about the events that we organised and participated in, from policy meetings to our web-a-thons. We finish with some numbers of our outreach-sections and an outlook into the next year.
But this short introduction can only give you some brief ideas, and so we invite you to discover your personal favourite of the FSFE's activities in 2019. Please enjoy your reading and if you are not a supporter yet, consider supporting software freedom in Europe.
"In a world where software influences virtually every single aspect of our lives, Free Software is a precondition for a free society."
Table of contents
Router Freedom is the right for customers of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) to choose and use their private modems and routers instead of those that their ISP forces them to use - for example by contract. Such an enforcement comes with a series of problems and it essentially denies freedom of choice, taking away control of technology from users.
Some years ago, the FSFE successfully fought for router freedom in Germany. In 2013 the legal situation in Germany was unclear, some ISPs were using this to already infringe on Router Freedom. The FSFE stepped in as early as possible into the public debate with a statement towards the Federal Network Agency and from then on started coordinating with other organisations to safeguard users' freedom of choice. Finally, a law comes into effect: From August 1st in 2016 onward, all Internet Service Providers in Germany have to enable new clients to use alternative modems and routers to connect to the internet if they so choose.
Now, the same debate reaches the European level, with Internet Service Providers (ISP) wanting to impose direct access to their modems and routers even after its selling to end customers. The problematic steppingstone for the implementation of Router Freedom in Europe relates to legal and technical aspects around the "Network Termination Point" (NTP) - a definition of where an ISP's infrastructure ends and the user's begins. If the NTP would be defined as behind the router, the user might not have the right to use their own equipment because it belongs to the ISP and would be covered by contract. This position subjugates users to contract restrictions that would effectively undermine their freedom to choose and use their own routers. To counteract this restriction of freedom and to protect users' control of technology, the FSFE has started monitoring the status of router freedom in several countries and has been preparing an "activity package" for people and organisations willing to advocate for router freedom. This package compiles information about how to raise awareness among people, ideas on how to build alliances with organisations, the (counter-)arguments to be used in the discussions, as well as how to demand controls and supervision from the National Regulatory Agencies (NRA).
At the FSFE, we want legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made publicly available under a Free Software licence. In 2017, we started a campaign to demand that software which is created using taxpayers’ money is published as public code as well. Code paid for by the people should be available to the people!
The Public Money? Public Code! campaign (PMPC) aims to make Free Software as the standard for publicly financed software. Public administrations following this principle can benefit from collaboration with other public bodies, independence from single vendors, potential tax savings, increased innovation, and a better foundation for IT security. Backed by more than 150 organisations, we have run and seen a mix of different awareness activities demanding public code this year.
In February, we were delighted to see the Parliament of Asturias become the first Parliament in Europe to vote in favour of signing our open letter demanding "Public Money? Public Code!". This was the result of nearly one year of intense advocating on a local level, mainly done by our friends at the Pica Pica Hacklab. We found Pica Pica's success story to be highly inspiring for local activists, and so we conducted an interview with Iyán Méndez Veiga from Pica Pica Hacklab who spoke about their actions and achievements during that time:
"The idea behind was that they are totally different parties but we want them all to vote the same thing. So we tried to emphasise different benefits of Free Software to the different parties. [... Now] the proposal of the Parliament has three main items and the very first one is that the Parliament of Asturias supports the international "Public Money? Public Code!" initiative. [...] I think for the first time, a lot of politicians understood what Free Software is."
Iyán Méndez Veiga
Why should governments develop Free Software? Where is Free Software already generating benefits in the public sector? What are Free Software business models? Answers to these questions and practical guidelines are given in the new expert policy brochure published in January by the FSFE. Produced with decision-makers in mind, the brochure is a helpful source of information for them. The brochure features leading experts from various ICT areas and is released in digital and print under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence.
This year, our campaign got an extra boost as German media WDR and t3n picked it up in April. Thanks to this, the FSFE's initiative received prominent support from various members of the German parliament, as well as digital politics activists and publicists embracing the the use of Free Software licenses for software development funded by the public sector.
On this occasion, t3n, published an interview (German) with the FSFE's EU Policy Manager, Alexander Sander, about how the public sector can go about deploying Free Software in its administration and city solutions - like in the city of Barcelona.
More than two years ago, Munich abandoned their strategy of developing an independent IT infrastructure built with Free Software and the free operating system GNU/Linux and went back to depending on proprietary software. We followed this process closely and gave an update about what has happened in Munich and in Europe in general since then.
In May, political satirist Christine Prayon was awarded the 10,000 Euro Dieter Hildebrandt Award of the City of Munich for demanding political or decidedly socio-critical political satire. Prayon donated the prize money to the Free Software Foundation Europe. Prayon used her thank-you speech to describe the former genius, progressive process of making Munich independent of the providers of proprietary software and letting the complete administration run on a Free Software system. Prayon then criticised the switch back to proprietary systems and pointed to our "Public Money? Public Code!" campaign.
FOSS4SMEs is an EU-funded project, focused on building an e-learning platform teaching small and medium-sized enterprises and their employees how to migrate from proprietary software to Free Software. The FSFE has been part of the consortium, and together with five other partners from across Europe helped to realise this project and spread the word among business communities, encouraging them to learn more about Free Software and its numerous benefits for corporate environments.
The resulting e-learning course consists of five units. Starting with an introduction into Free Software, it continues with an overview of business models and a selection of Free Software products for different purposes. In the last two units, the participants will learn about how Free Software can be adopted in businesses, and how the migration strategies for the first small steps may look like.
The FOSS4SMEs project was finalised in September 2019, and its lessons are available in an online course in four different languages and as downloadable PDF files, all under a free Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license.
In March 2019, the European digital landscape changed when the European Parliament adopted the controversial Copyright Directive. In preparation of the adoption, heated discussions about the introduction of upload filters ended up with protests of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets all across Europe.
Thanks to our efforts, in a last minute action back in September 2018, the European Parliament adopted an amendment to at least protect Free Software developing platforms from having to install upload filters. This can be seen as a success of our campaign to “Save Code Share” that we started in 2017. More than 14,000 people supported our open letter which requests EU legislators to preserve the ability to collaboratively build software online under the new EU Copyright Directive proposal.
We are glad we were able to raise awareness and understanding of what drives software development in Europe nowadays among many policy makers. The exclusion of Free Software code hosting and sharing providers from this directive is a sign showing that the EU wants to keep Free Software development in Europe healthy, solid and alive. Yet, we are dismayed that the EU missed the opportunity to reform copyright to a reasonable extent.
Since 2014, the FSFE has been working on the topic of Radio Lockdown, which was introduced by a European Directive and is in effect hindering users to load Free Software on their "radio capable devices", such as smartphones, laptops or routers.
This is because so far the responsibility for compliance with applicable regulations used to lie with the users but since then has been shifted to the manufacturer. While this may sound convenient for users on first sight, it actually incentivises manufacturers to make it extremely difficult or impossible for any user to load alternative software, including Free Software, on their devices. But not having the right to install alternative Free Software systems has not only negative implications on users' rights but also on the whole Free Software ecosystem, on fair competition and innovation.
For users, this assessment also has negative impacts on security and the life cycles of their hardware: Often, the life cycles of radio devices such as mobile phones and routers decrease because manufacturers no longer release software updates to support old devices. From the day on which such support drops, these devices become insecure and unusable. If devices now have to be constructed in a way to prevent users from uploading their alternative but up-to-date software, then the user is put in a position to either live with a potentially insecure device, or to wastefully discard their older device and purchase a new one.
This year, the European Commission organised a feedback period in which citizens could share their thoughts on the Directive. The overwhelming majority of the 276 comments collected were critical of the impact of the directive on user rights, and largely reflected the stances adopted by the FSFE. Despite this massive criticism, a meeting of the Commission Expert Group on Reconfigurable Radio Systems last June tragically showed that the full scope of the problem is likely not understood by the European Commission.
Further trying to improve the situation, the FSFE is helping regulators to understand the negative influence of the current Directive. We continue our efforts to make decision makers understand that Free Software is crucial for network security, science, education, and technical innovation - and that the right to install Free Software is at the beginning of it all. Our activities include encouraging users to participate in public consultations, contact relevant political and business associations to demand that these worries be addressed, and getting more organisations to sign our joint statement.
The Next Generation Internet (NGI) is an initiative of the European Commission that aims to support developing technologies that can shape the internet into an interoperable platform ecosystem that embodies values such as openness, inclusivity, transparency, privacy, and protection of data. Operating under the NGI Initiative, the FSFE is part of a consortium of organisations collectively known as NGI Zero in two distinct grant giving programs. One is the NGI PET program for software projects that protect privacy and the other is the NGI Discovery program for software projects that enhance technologies involved in searching for and retrieving information on the internet.
The FSFE assists these software projects with any Free Software copyright and licensing issues that they may run into, checks their repositories for license compliance, as well as recommends their adoption of our REUSE specifications. With over 150 software projects expected to be involved in NGI Zero, the FSFE can ensure that a large number of developing software funded by the EC will be made available as Free Software, a goal also shared by the NGI Initiative. Compliance with REUSE standards will ensure that code from these projects can be easily reused and shared among the community.
2019 was an important year for the FSFE and the NGI Initiative. The NGI programs officially began accepting software projects in January, and the FSFE has developed for these projects educational documents on Free Software legal and licensing issues. Since August, we have also begun checking their repositories for compliance with licensing best practices, and giving them recommendations on how to do so. With more projects being accepted into these programs every 2 months, this endeavor is an ongoing one which the FSFE expects to be involved with until 2021.
Throughout May, there have been elections to the ninth European Parliament. Even before the vote, it was clear that most of the digital rights supporters and Free Software experts among the Members of the eight European Parliament will not be re-elected. Therefore, we decided to run an election campaign and motivate people to get in contact with their local candidates and raise the issue of Free Software by asking candidates on their position on Free Software and presenting them our "Public Money? Public Code!" campaign. Thanks to that, we were able to identify new Free Software advocates inside the new European Parliament. We have been establishing new contacts since then and will continue to reach out for alliances within the Parliament to foster Free Software advocacy work in Brussels.
However, to broaden our impact it is also important to find alliances within the civil society. To find and advocate for common goals on the EU level, we have organised two policy events in Brussels. We also took part in a hearing of the European Parliament on Free Software, and we had several meetings with decision makers from administrations and institutions all across Europe. In particular we took part in the Open Government Partnership process and the Internet Governance Forum and we started freedomvote.ch, an election campaign in Switzerland as well as numerous other local initiatives.
If you want to grant users the freedom to use, study, share, and improve your software, you have to grant those freedoms in the license of the software. To encourage people to develop Free Software we help developers to understand and apply Free Software licensing. Our REUSE initiative, started in 2017, contributes to this goal. Any project following the initiative's recommendations makes copyright and licensing information readable to both: humans and machines. This way, we want to ensure that individuals, organisations and companies who are re-using code are aware of the license terms chosen by the original author.
In August, we have released an updated set of best practices together with more assisting material and tools. Now, in only three steps a project can become REUSE compliant:
Choose and provide licenses
Add copyright and licensing information to each file
Confirm REUSE compliance
A new tutorial helps understanding the fundamentals, and an FAQ answers basic questions about licensing, copyright, and more advanced use cases.
To ensure that developers can concentrate on their actual work, we have further developed the REUSE helper tool that automates and assists with some of these steps. It can be included in existing continuous integration (CI) workflows which can test different parameters of a project automatically. On top of that, the REUSE API, a new web service, can test repositories and offer a corresponding badge based on their REUSE compliance. Check out the website for more information.
Since 2010, our community has been celebrating 14th of February as the "I love Free Software" Day. This is the time when we invite all of you to share and express your appreciation and love for Free Software and its various contributors: developers, documentation writers, translators, designers, or testers of smaller as well as larger Free Software projects.
In 2019 more people than ever joined us from all around the globe. Overall, 667 distinct #ilovefs posts on Twitter and Fediverse were counted, made by 530 individual accounts, mentioning at least 231 projects and developers. Posts were coming in from at least 230 different locations from all over the world in 16 different languages. We look forward to even more people showing their love and appreciation to the Free Software in the coming February 14th in 2020. If you are inspired to join the celebration offline, you can get our #ilovefs package free of charge and spread the love amongst your friends, family and colleagues.
We have been participating with talks and a booth in the biggest conference so far that aimed at bringing together environmental communities and digital rights communities, called "Bits & Bäume". On several other occasions and conferences we have been given presentations about the sustainability of software and as one of the main organisers of the about:freedom cluster at the Chaos Communication Camp, we merged for the first time digital rights and sustainability groups.
We also work together with the German ministry for environment to help fine-graining a new ecolabel for software that is designed to highlight low energy-consumption software. The label will be introduced in spring 2020. So long, stay tuned.
It is no secret that even in the daily operations of the FSFE we rely on all the beloved people who help us continuously on different levels with their respective skills. It is only through working together with our community that the FSFE is able to form a movement across Europe to build a society based on users' and software freedom. A society in where users are empowered to control their technology.
Every day, we are happy to see that our community becomes stronger. In the last few years, we exceeded some ten thousand people from Europe and beyond who are supporting our cause by spreading our word, signing our open letters, subscribing to our newsletter or joining our public discussions. But as impressive as numbers are, they cannot speak for the creative and engaged individual people behind them. And so we had the idea to let our community members speak for themselves and created a dedicated testimonials page.
"I believe that Free Software can help us change our society fundamentally for the better and I believe the best way to do so is together with other volunteers from all over Europe!"
"The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) brings together dedicated and engaged activists from all over Europe to seize the opportunities to secure our rights to use, share, study, and improve software because without Free Software, technology subjugates us instead of enhancing our freedom."
On this testimonials-page you will not only find quotes by our diverse community members from all over Europe, but also interviews with them. One example of many is Erik Grun, our local coordinator Berlin.
During our last community meeting in Strasbourg, we even had the pleasure to make some short video interviews with some of our community members like the one from Vincent Lequertier:
Have a look at our testimonials page and find your personal favorite statement. Share it with your friends and beloved ones to show them why Free Software is important to you or why you support the FSFE. Or even let yourself be inspired to share your own testimonial with us.
In the recent months we have seen prominent people apologising, taking a break, resigning or being removed for their behaviour. Without talking about individual cases, in sum, there is probably one thing that can we can take out of this: That there is an ever growing importance, for many members inside larger Free Software communities, towards ensuring proper behaviour safeguarded by a proper code of conduct.
It has always been our goal at the FSFE to offer a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. For more than two years we have an official Code of Conduct in place "to offer a friendly and peaceful environment for every participant at the FSFE's events, online and offline".
Meanwhile, hundreds of Free Software communities have their own codes of conduct, or they have signed the Contributor Covenant Code of Conduct. We appreciate that more people pay attention what effect certain behaviour might have and we continue to support the well-being of diverse Free Software communities to achieve our mission to empower people from all backgrounds to control technology without discrimination and thereby to create a better society for everyone.
The FSFE would be nothing without our contributors. And it would be so much more with you! If you feel inspired after reading our report, there are many ways to engage in our movement and you will surely find a way that fits your interests and skills. Some suggestions:
Spread the word about Free Software in public or among your friends with our promotion material or directly show your love for Free Software wearing one of our inspiring clothes. Follow our event announcements, find an event that fits your interests and then go there to meet likeminded people. Don't be shy, most of us have been in your position once. Or see if you can even join regular meetings in different cities of Europe.
If you find no event near you, do not worry, you can also join us online. If you prefer to contribute with your IT skills or your language skills, you are more than welcome to join our respective online teams. Not yet sure where to start? Then look into our discourse-instance and start to get to know our community and get inspired about what you can do.
Finally, advocating for freedom also costs money and we depend on people like you to support us financially. All support is used to improve our software freedom a bit more each day, step by step, bit by bit.
One of the FSFE's goals is to help individuals and organisations to understand how Free Software contributes to freedom, transparency, and self-determination. To this end, we reach out to the public by participating in events. Since our last annual report we participated in over 60 events in 11 European countries (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands), at many of which we gave public presentations and talks, most prominently about "Public Money? Public Code!", Sustainability of (Free) Software, Security with Free Software and Free Your Android. With the help of our local volunteers, we have even been able to also set up an information-booth in more than 20 of these events.
We also organize a lot of events ourselves, and we would like to highlight on some of them:
In January, we invited key Free Software groups of Europe to share public policy-related actions with each other - at both the EU and the national levels. And by the end of September we organised another policy meeting in order to discuss the goals of the Free Software movement during the next European Parliament term. This event was also attended by the Vice President of the European Parliament, Marcel Kolaja, and many European Commission officials. As an important milestone, we commonly agreed on an open letter with “Free and Open Source EU Policy Recommendations”.
The FSFE continued organising its Free Software Legal and Licensing Workshop (LLW), over the course of three days in Barcelona. In its 12th iteration of the event, the LLW served again as a meeting point for eligible legal experts in the field of Free Software licensing to discuss current issues and best practices. For this year, the loose theme of the LLW was "The Long Term View: Looking Back and Planning Ahead", to allow participants to reflect on the histories that have forged the current legal landscape, and provide opportunities to discuss the way forward to tackle the issues facing Free Software licensing.
As with the years before, the LLW 2019 took place under the Chatham House Rule, allowing the 135 attendees to voice their viewpoints unencumbered. Some speakers waived their rights under the Chatham House Rule, which allowed journalist Jake Edge from LWN.net to write about a number of discussions that took place during the event. You can read more in Jake Edge’s articles.
This year we organized both our first and second web-a-thons. These web-a-thons are happenings in which we bring together technologically interested volunteers from all around Europe with the intent to spend a weekend together, have a great time with each other and to collectively work on our homepage. You can see our achievements in the respective milestones in our git (milestone 1, milestone 2) but what you cannot see in there is the good mood and spirit that we experience on these occasions. That is why herewith we bring another big thank you to everyone who participated. If you feel motivated now, don't miss out on joining the next one!
Just as grateful as we are to all participants in our web-a-thons, we are also grateful towards the participants in the two system hackers meetings we had in the last year. Besides bringing together technical Free Software experts within our community, during these meetings we have achieved many improvements on our infrastructure. These improvements may be invisible to most of our users, but they keep our services working smoothly, and in a more stable and reliable manner. As a reminder: As an FSFE supporter you have access to a lot of nice features run by our sys-admins, namely XMPP, Git, Email forwarding, Kanboard, our wiki, Blogs and many more.
Another major event has been our participation at the Chaos Communication Camp where we aligned ourselves with other digital rights and sustainability groups to form together a cluster "about:freedom", our participation at FOSDEM and of course all the others : )
Our staffers make sure to keep running the FSFE's administration and daily operations. From sending promotion material to donation receipts, from selling merchandise to organising our larger community events. But they also represent the FSFE officially in talks and presentations or in different kind of meetings.
At the FSFE we currently employ six full-time staffers and two part-time employees. This permanent team has appreciated the help of our interns George Brooke-Smith, Lucas Lasota and Bonnie Mehring. With Minh Nguyen we also contracted our first Federal Voluntary Service.
"Legal and policy interns at the FSFE have an important role helping the team accomplishing a wide variety of tasks, campaigns and events. They are responsible for creating legal and policy documents, conducting researches, organizing events, collaborating with volunteers and backing up the team in daily organizational life. It is a great way to start a professional career in the Free Software world!"
All staffers are officially contracted with the FSFE as an association with charity status, registered in Germany. The charity is governed by its formal members ("General Assembly") who are responsible for planning, budgeting, setting the agenda, as well as electing and recalling the Executive Council and the Financial Officer. At this year's GA, the FSFE's President Matthias Kirschner, Vice-President Heiki Löhmus and Financal Officer Patrick Ohnewein have been approved to run the FSFE for another 2-years term.
The FSFE empowers users to promote digital freedom in the real world by offering a large set of promotion material. You can find inspiration about the 100 freedoms of Free Software and why There is no Cloud, just other people's computers, or leaflets to help you explain Free Software, Email encryption, the dangers of DRM and how to Free Your Android. You can also find postcards, posters and stickers of our Public Money? Public Code! and I love Free Software campaign. Order your own material now and help us to spread the word!
In the last 12 months, we sent out 819 information material orders around the world. This means literally thousands of stickers, leaflets, and posters have been given out to people, who are interested or are even hearing about Free Software for the first time. If you would like to support us in this direct action, consider supporting us financially or consider a donation along with your personal order of information material. The right leaflet at the right time to the right person can be the start of long-lasting change.
In addition to our promotion material, we also offer you the chance to show your love for Free Software by using and wearing some of our merchandise items. Free Software clothing is a great way of raising awareness within your local community, and each sale helps to fund critical FSFE projects.
In the last 12 months we sold over 1100 shirts and hoodies among which our "There is NO CLOUD", our “Public Money? Public Code!” and our zipped Hoodies have been the most popular items.
New European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to solidify her European digital agenda after her first 100 days in office, in particular "legislation on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence". Also we expect an Open Source Strategy by the European Commission. The FSFE will keep a close eye on these proposals to guarantee a safe environment for Free Software in Europe. We will further focus on advocating for router freedom in Europe to help people stay in control of their technology and explain to European decision makers the dangers of the European Radio Lockdown Directive in how it locks down devices.
To help decision-makers better understand the impact Free Software has on security and digital sustainability, we are preparing analyses of these topics and their connection with Free Software. To help with our research you can already take part in a limesurvey regarding Free Software and IT security. For our research on digital sustainability we will keep working together with the German Ministry for the Environment and other organisations that will help us addressing this issue on the European level.
On November 15 to 17 there will be this year's FSFE community meeting. If you missed it so far, we still welcome your participation. Also preparations are already running for our annual legal conference, the "Legal Licensing Workshop" (LLW), as well as for our web-a-thons and hack-a-thons. And, besides our own events, we will of course be present again at various Free Software related events, from FOSDEM to FrOSCon, from SFSCon to BalCCon to the Chaos Communication Congress as well as many more all over Europe.
Last but not least, in 2020 the FSFE will continue with our public awareness campaigns and our political advocacy; with providing our expertise, and provide resources to enable everyone to further promote Free Software in Europe. We have also recently introduced our new Software Freedom Podcast that we will continue working on, to deliver interesting insights into Free Software, with a diverse selection of guests, once a month.
All this work during the last 12 months would not have been possible without our contributors and our financial supporters; thank you to all of you.
To achieve our goals for the upcoming months we need you: Please contribute as a volunteer or support us financially to ensure that our message is heard in as many diverse parts of our society as possible.
Thank you so much,
Your Free Software Foundation Europe
The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a charity that empowers people to control technology by enabling access to software and its source code. The rights to use, study, share, and improve this software are essential to guarantee equal participation in democracies of the 21st century.
We work for a world in which everyone has access to the source code of the software that runs in the products we own, or that is essential to the public infrastructure and services of the society we live in. Access to this code should be embedded in a legal environment where people are able to change technologies in a way that fulfills their needs - individually or collectively. Therefore, any software that is used to run public infrastructure or is publicly financed has to be made publicly available.
Our mission is:
To help people understand our message, we use public campaigns and political lobbying, we provide expertise in talks and personal meetings, we set up informational booths and organise events, we produce promotion material and explanatory videos. To achieve our goals, we base our work and form our movement with the help of our community and friends, who ensure that our message gets out and is heard in as many diverse parts of our society as possible. We work in a transparent and cooperative way.
If you like to join our cause, contribute or support us financially.