Sat, 11 Jun 2005

Supporting the Free Software Foundation Latin America

At FISL in early June, I attended a talk by Fernanda Varden of the Free Software Foundation Latin America (the domain name is currently parked at the FSF Europe's site). She was talking about the difficulties of starting an organization. Since I went through all of that with The Public Software Fund, I sympathized with her. When, as part of the list of difficulties, she said "And we have no money", I immediately jumped up and gave her 50 reals (about $20). The audience laughed.

I did this with no thought to the political implications. I simply and honestly desired to help them. Two misconceptions apparently arose from that action. First, Fernanda said later in her talk "and we know that OSI has money." And later, I heard from someone that I was perceived as having thrown money in their face. I can understand the first (because I was at the conference as an OSI representative), but not the second. When it was time for questions, I jumped up and said (basically) "Hey, every organization needs money. There's nobody in Brazil more likely to support the FSFLA than the people in this room. You should make a donation to the FSFLA, because if you don't, nobody will." And then I added that my donation was personal, and not OSI's money.

Why support?

First, the OSI and FSF (USA) are perceived by a lot of people as being enemies. We aren't. We want the same thing: for people who write and receive software to be able to modify it and give it away. Freedom for programmers and freedom for users.

The trouble is that we think that the way they advocate freedom is actively harmful, and they think the way we advocate it is actively harmful. We're not fighting about the ends; we're fighting about the means. In a large part, this is due to Richard Stallman's insistance that the free software movement tell people who write non-free software that they are being unethical. However, not everybody in the free software movement agrees with him.

It is my judgement that Fernanda, and others in the FSFLA, do not buy into RMS's method of advocacy. They are happy to use OSI's quality argument when that's appropriate, and RMS's ethics argument when that's appropriate. I think that those arguments must be used carefully because the ethics argument works really well, but it only works for about 5% of the population. I explain more in an earlier blog posting entitled Quality vs. Ethics.

So, to the extent that the FSFLA can free itself from RMS's harmful advocacy, I think we should support them. ... and I have.

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