It’s no question that the removal of Richard Stallman (RMS), for long-known-and-debated social issues, from chairperson of the Free Software foundation (FSF), has caused problems.
First Stallman said he was also resigning as head of GNU (which has been a de-facto subsidiary of FSF)… then hours later he took it back.
I’ll say my standard RMS boilerplate about Mr. Stallman; he is a brilliant man with well documented social issues. He has not publicly shared any form of diagnosis, but there’s no question he is not socially well adjusted. His early contributions to FOSS (Free Open Source Software) are without question, and deserve great respect.
But, his behavior to others is just as harmful, and damaging to the community. And, it finally, led to his downfall.
It is no secret either that while I love FOSS, my feelings toward the FSF have been integrally tied to their steadfast implementation of RMS’s feelings and attitudes. Starting with their insistence that anyone who defines the word “free” in front of software, any way other than they do, is somehow wrong. I’m not going to dive deeply into those today – in large part because the FSF is under new management – and I sincerely hope that’s a positive thing.
The FSF is in a pickle.
GNU Project, as the de-facto software development subsidiary of the FSF, relies on FSF to exist today. FSF has washed its hands of RMS. Except, it hasn’t. GNU was created, and is still led by Stallman. It’s fairly self-evident in how this is playing out that the FSF legally cannot fire RMS from GNU. I suspect he only stepped down from FSF due to some threat in a loss of funding – funding that probably kept it operational for many years. Just a guess, possibly from some firm in Mountain View…
The FSF has put out a public call to the open source community on what to do about this. RMS staying at GNU is problematic, but separating GNU from FSF could be problematic – if not impossible. We know the GNU and GPL are owned by FSF – but only the very rough bylaws to FSF are public (and difficult to read, I might add – literally – the PDF is presented horizontally).
We have some known unknowns about this process. We don’t know if FSF can fire Stallman from GNU Project or not. It’s possible when Stallman set up FSF he contractually obligated GNU work to stay under his oversight. That would make Stallman, as the press sometimes say “not easily removable” from FSF fully.
It’s also not clear if FSF can simply jettison GNU Project from the organization, and throw it at Stallman on his way out the door. It seems that FSF would at least get to maintain control of the GNU GPL – but again – that is not even perfectly clear. It would also be difficult for FSF to assert the license with it legally called GNU Public License – and yet remove GNU Project from it. However, any name change to the GPL also could/would have serious legal implications. The GPL can compel old software to accept new versions of the GPL. A worst-worst-case scenario would be if Stallman asserted GNU Project ownership (and dredged up some document to that effect), while FSF also asserted ownership to the GPL.
Accepting these unknowns, without further ado, is my submission:
I would strongly encourage FSF to first do a ground-up review of its policies and standpoints. Far too much weighed heavily on the views of one individual.
Before FSF decides what is next in its relationship with GNU, it should perform a top-down review of its policies and viewpoints.
The worst case scenario would be to decide to firm up relations with the GNU, only to find GNU (RMS) throwing animus back on the FSF for changes in opinion shortly thereafter.