Free Software Foundation

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The Free Software Foundation logo
The Free Software Foundation logo

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a non-profit organization founded in October 1985 by Richard Stallman to support the free software movement (free as in freedom), and in particular the GNU project.

From its founding until the mid-1990s FSF's funds were mostly used to employ software developers to write free software. Since the mid- to late 1990s there are now many companies and individuals writing free software, so FSF's employees and volunteers mostly work on legal and structural issues for the free software community.


Current work of FSF

The GNU Project 
The original purpose of the FSF was to promote the ideals of free software but the organization was also charged with developing the GNU operating system.
GPL Enforcement 
FSF has the resources and the will to enforce the GPL and other GNU licenses, but only for software for which it owns the copyrights; GPL'd software owned by others must be defended by its owners, since the FSF has no legal standing to enforce the GPL for them. FSF handles around 50 GPL violations per year and tries to bring the other party into compliance without involving the courts.
GNU Licenses 
The GNU GPL is the most widely used license for Free Software projects. The current version (version 2) was released in 1991 but FSF are working on a version 3. FSF have also published the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
Guardian of copyrights 
FSF holds the copyrights to most GNU software and some non-GNU Free Software. They require copyright assignment papers from each contributor to GNU packages so that they can defend the software in court if a dispute arises, and so that if there is a need to change the license of a work, it can be done without having to contact all contributors that have ever worked on the software.
The Free Software Directory 
This is a listing of software packages which have been verified as free software. Each package entry contains 47 pieces of information such as the project's homepage, developers, programming language, etc. The goals are to provide a search engine for free software, and to provide a cross-reference for users to check if a package has been verified as being free software. FSF has received a small amount of funding from UNESCO for this project. It is hoped that the directory can be translated in to many languages in the future.
Maintaining the Free Software Definition 
FSF maintain many of the documents that define the Free Software movement
Legal Education 
FSF hold seminars about legal aspects of using the GPL, and offers a consultancy service for lawyers.
Project Hosting 
FSF provide project hosting via their Savannah website.
Annual awards

"Award for the Advancement of Free Software" and "Free Software Award for Projects of Social Benefit"

Eben Moglen, General Counsel
Eben Moglen, General Counsel



On November 25, 2002 the FSF launched the FSF Associate Membership program for individuals. In March 2005 they had over 3400 associate members. On March 5, 2003 they launched a Corporate Patron program for commercial entities. As of April 2004, they have 45 corporate patrons.


Board of Directors

  • Geoffery Knauth, Senior Software Engineer at SFA, Inc.
  • Lawrence Lessig, Professor of Law at Stanford University
  • Eben Moglen, Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University
  • Henri Poole, Founder of CivicActions, a grassroots campaign technology consulting firm.
  • Richard Stallman, Founder of FSF and the GNU Project, former maintainer of various GNU software, and coauthor of the GNU GPL, Versions 1 and 2
  • Gerald Sussman, Professor of Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Other positions

Former employees

There are usually around 10 employees in the headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. The office is managed by Peter Brown.

Sister organisations

In 2001, Free Software Foundation Europe was founded in Germany to act as a "hub" for the Free Software organisations of Europe. In 2003, Free Software Foundation India was founded in Kerala. In 2005, it was announced that work is in progress to set up a Free Software Foundation Latin America.


External links

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