Archive:Free Software Foundation

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The Free Software Foundation (FSF), along with the GNU project, was begun in 1983 by Richard Stallman. Stallman wanted to use software that he could (0) use without restrictions, (1) understand how it works, (2) redistribute, and (3) modify (the four software freedoms [1]). Because most software was distributed under licenses that restricted these rights, Stallman decided to write his own operating system. He would call this system the "GNU system".

One of the most important artifacts that the FSF and the GNU project have produced is the license under which they release software. The FSF could have released the source of GNU programs into the public domain, which would have granted all users the four freedoms. But that would have allowed anyone to make changes to it and restrict its further redistribution. This was not what Stallman had in mind, as he writes in the GNU Manifesto [2]:

Everyone will be permitted to modify and redistribute GNU, but no distributor will be allowed to restrict its further redistribution.

The GNU General Public License (GPL) [3] essentially grants all users the four freedoms with the caveat that if they redistribute the software, they must use the GNU General Public License. This is a concept commonly known as copyleft.

The FSF has released a great deal of successful software under the GNU GPL: The GNU Compiler (gcc), Emacs, Gnome, Bash, &c. Other individuals and organizations have also released software under the GNU GPL: the Linux kernel, KDE, &c.

The GNU GPL has also inspired other licenses.

In addition to suporting the GNU project, the FSF owns the copyright on all GNU software. The FSF mission is to "preserve, protect and promote the freedom to use, study, copy, modify, and redistribute computer software, and to defend the rights of Free Software users" [4]. To this end, they support the fight against software patents and against other laws (such as the DMCA) that take away software freedoms.

See also