The Free Software Foundation

Free Software Foundation


Free Software Foundation
In a nutshell: a foundation begun in the mid 80’s with the purpose of allowing all computer software to be duplicated and distributed without restriction. Basically, that there be no copyright laws governing computer software reproduction.
Still with me?
The Free Software Foundation, or FSF, was begun in 1985 by Richard Stallman as part of the ‘copyleft’ movement. Copyleft is, obviously, a play on the term ‘copyright’, and means roughly the exact opposite. Any software/music/artwork/etc with a copyleft agreement is open to reproduction or adaptation by anyone who can get their hands on it. The copyleft movement wanted all computer software, produced at any time and anywhere, to be freely available for everyone. The best discription of what ‘free’ software is said: “Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. Think of "free" as in "free speech," not as in "free beer." Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.”
However, free software and the copyleft movement work only so long as the person using said software allows anyone they pass it along to the same freedom. Thus, just as there are copyright infringements, when people reproduce or use software without permission, there are copyleft infringements, where people do not allow those who receive the software to reproduce it. The GNU General Public Liscense, or GPL for short, is an example of a copyleft agreement, which the FSF holds and enforces.
Ironically, the FSF has sued several companies, including Cisco, for copyright infringement of the GPL copyleft agreement.

To return to the point of this article, what exactly is ‘free’ software, and why does the FSF believe protecting it to be important? According to FSF’s website,, free software is “software that gives you, the user, the freedom to share, study, and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free.” The first free software was courtesy of Richard Stallman, yes, the same one who began FSF, when he launched the project GNU as a replacement for the UNIX operating system in computers. GNU uses the ‘kernel’ Linux and is extremely programmer-friendly.
Not just does FSF lobby for free software and enforce the GPL rights, but it also catalogs various free software packages in its Free Software Directory. The goal of this particular project is to help others find free software packages, provide a cross-reference for various pieces, and create a search engine for the listed software. The FSF is also hoping to eventually translate the directory into different languages, since their free software campaign is worldwide. This is impressive, because though the Foundation has supporters around the globe, it only has twelve staff members and is run completely on donations.
All in all, the Free Software Foundation supports and manages an impressive number of projects, which range from protesting copyright legislation to encouraging free-lance programmers to create more free software.

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