FSF Doubles Down on Stallman Reinstatement, WordPress Does Not Support His Return to the Board

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is hemorrhaging board members and management following the reinstatement of Richard Stallman. The GPL author and founder of the FSF announced last week that he had rejoined the board and is not planning to resign a second time. An open letter signed by more than 3,000 people called for the removal of Stallman from all leadership positions, including the GNU project, and removal of the entire Board of the FSF. So far it has gained support from Red hat, Mozilla, Outreachy, the Software Conservancy project, and many other high profile organizations.

“We are long past the point where we can pretend that the most important thing about software freedom is the software,” Mozilla Engineering Community Manager Michael Hoye said in signing support for the open letter. “We cannot demand better from the internet if we do not demand better from our leaders, our colleagues and ourselves.”

In addition to the resignation of former FSF board member Kat Walsh, the organization’s executive director, deputy director, and chief technology officer have also resigned. They published a joint statement, reaffirming their commitment to the mission of free software, despite their departure:

As members of FSF management, we have decided to resign, with specific end dates to be determined. We believe in the importance of the FSF’s mission and feel a new team will be better placed to implement recent changes in governance. Free software and copyleft are critical issues of our time, and the FSF is, and should continue to be, the organization leading this movement. FSF staff have our utmost respect, support, and appreciation, and it has been a privilege to work with you all. Our team’s mutual goal is to ensure a smooth transition while supporting the necessary renovation of the foundation’s governance.

An oddly-timed tweet announced a new published statement the FSF board voted on, which “condemns misogyny, racism, and other bigotry as well as defamation, intimidation, and unfair attacks on free thought and speech.” The statement was met with ridicule and outrage on Twitter, as it hints at the defense Stallman used when he resigned as the FSF board director, claiming he had been subject to “a series of misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.”

Recent statements published to the FSF website indicate that its leadership is doubling down on the decision to reinstate Stallman:

Some of our colleagues in the FSF have decided to resign. We are grateful for the good work they have done for so long, and we will miss them. We regret losing them; we regret the situation that has motivated them to leave.

We appreciate their strong commitment to free software and we want to find replacements with a similar competence and commitment. We are open to suggestions and applications for these positions.

Finally, we would like to thank the numerous friends across the free software movement who have recently joined as well as those who have left and provided suggestions for helping us through this difficult time.

The FSF seems to be counting the resignations as an acceptable loss, as funds from donors are evaporating. Several organizations have discontinued financial support for the organization. Most notably, Red Hat, a long-time donor with hundreds of contributors who have submitted millions of lines of code to projects stewarded by the FSF, publicly discontinued support for the organization and any of its events. In addition to $708,016 in membership dues, the FSF received $1,383,003 in contributions, gifts, and grants, which makes up the bulk of its annual revenue, according to a recent report on Charity Navigator.

Stallman is synonymous with the FSF and his reinstatement puts many free software advocates in a difficult position. Some cannot easily write off the entire organization, as it is engaged in important work. The FSF publishes the GPL, LGPL, and FDL licenses. It also holds copyrights to defend free software from those who would seek to make it proprietary and has the power to enforce the GPL. As part of its Free Software Licensing and Compliance Lab, the organization works to ensure that free software distributors respect their obligations to pass on the user freedoms that these licenses are meant to convey.

The Fedora Council cited the FSF’s important function when publishing a statement on why it is pulling funding from the organization:

Along with many in the free and open source software world, the Fedora Council was taken aback that the Free Software Foundation (FSF) has allowed Richard Stallman to rejoin their Board of Directors given his history of abuse and harassment. The Fedora Council does not normally involve itself with the governance of other projects. However, this is an exceptional case due to the FSF’s stewardship of the GPL family of licenses, which are critical for the work we do.

The council will not provide funding or attend any FSF-sponsored events where Stallman is a featured speaker or exhibitor, and stated that this also applies to any organization where he has a leadership role.

WordPress Responds to Stallman’s Reinstatement

Up until today, WordPress had not published an official statement on Stallman’s reinstatement to the FSF board. The WordPress Foundation website lists the Free Software Foundation as one of the project’s inspirations. WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg was also among the FSF’s list of patrons in previous years.

After asking WordPress’ executive director Josepha Haden Chomphosy for a comment regarding the matter, she published a statement:

In short, I do not support his return as a board member. 

It makes me proud that the WordPress project embodies the best traditions of open source and retires outdated traditions, or shibboleths, that do not have a place in our mission: to democratize publishing and grow the open web. For years, this community has been committed to championing underrepresented voices and maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for those we rarely see in open source. 

Although the statement is published on her personal blog, Haden Chomphosy confirmed that this is the WordPress project’s official stance on Stallman’s reinstatement. The statement quietly calls out Stallman’s lack of accountability and the fact that he has not publicly acknowledged how harmful his behavior has been to the free software community:

The high standards for welcoming behavior are held across the board. WordPress contributors lead with accountability, acknowledgment of error, and a genuine desire to grow based on feedback. Under the guidance of many thoughtful leaders, WordPress makes space for those who are committed to growth. 

The message is more focused on the positive aspects of the WordPress community and its values but is clear in the first paragraph: WordPress does not support Stallman’s return as an FSF board member.

18 responses to “FSF Doubles Down on Stallman Reinstatement, WordPress Does Not Support His Return to the Board”

  1. This article is way too biased. There’s also an opposition to cancel culture within the free & open software community, which have to date collected more signatures from individuals. Several GNU maintainers, the Libreboot maintainer (who is trans btw and explains on her website why rms isn’t transphobic), one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative and many more have signed it. The FSF may have lost big tech / corporate support over this, but they sure have gained the trust of the community back.

  2. “The high standards for welcoming behavior are held across the board. WordPress contributors lead with accountability, acknowledgment of error, and a genuine desire to grow based on feedback. Under the guidance of many thoughtful leaders, WordPress makes space for those who are committed to growth.” Politics, posturing and not entirely true.

  3. Here is a link to what Stallman said that caused people to accuse him of abusive speech. This ganging up on someone and taking them out of context is getting old.

  4. I’m glad to see a member of senior leadership in the project taking a stand. RMS has done awful things, and should not hold a position of authority at the FSF.

    I hope in the coming days the WP Foundation can make a more direct statement

  5. Big corporations trying to destroy the free software movement. What’s new?

    The community is behind Dr. Stallman on this issue!

    Open Source/Free Software is about freedom, not protecting people’s feelings. Dr. Stallman is best suited to take on that role.

  6. I have to agree with a few others here, this reporting is biased as many other media outlets. they fail to even report there is a letter supporting Stallman alsmost doubles the signatories of the hate letter.
    its absolutely atrocious.

    https://free-software-fight.gitlab.io/

    Leaders joining the campaign to end Stallman are only causing division in their own communities and clearly are hypocrites when talking about leadership.

  7. Stallman is not the subject of hate, merely of the consequences of his behavior. He no longer represents a suitable vision for the future of the free software, and as such is not fit for a leadership position. It’s bigger than him, simple as that.

  8. Even if all accusations were false, I would still find it odd that they would choose him as their leader. I wouldn’t normally expect such a polarising person to be chosen for a position like that. It doesn’t seem very productive to me.

    • We “chose” him because he, more than anyone else, built copyleft. He also wrote the FSD, the Manifesto, and the GPL.

      He hasn’t done “horrible things”. He’s only done some awkward things and many awesome things.

      Folks need to get the facts and read RMS in context. This mob is a bull in a china shop, destroying what was beautiful.

    • So even if he’s not guilty, he’s still guilty? That makes no sense. And this is about removing him (or keeping him removed), not “choosing” him. He was already the giant figure in the free software movement; this is about some people just complaining that he didn’t stay canceled.

      rms has always been “polarizing” because he is so strident about free software and copyleft. That has earned him many enemies, like people (cough, Redhat, cough) who really wish they could just slip a little un-freeness in there, after they have used the free software as a staring point, of course.

      Of course we could have all sort of fun exploring the psychology of the lynch mob who just goes along for the ride, but I’ll leave that for others.

  9. Seems to me an abuse of power. RMS using his credentials as a renowned academic and etc. to foist his entirely personal opinions on a community that is not designed to deal with these issues. If he is so obsessed with the likes of Epstein, child sex and other abnormal human behaviours he should address them on a proper forum. IMO FSB is not that forum. Of course in the real world, he would have been tared and feathered long ago.

    Ryan Hellyer says it very well.

  10. As a non-american and non-western libre software enthusiast and supporter, I see things from a rather different point of view. First and foremost, I can not empathise with the cancel culture. Not only it sounds too american and political, but it reminds me more of divisions and mob attacks. Moreover, I value less and less corporate supported moves. Not that this letter is corporate supported, but all those corpo signatures, if anything, reduce the credibility of the letter. On the other hand, the letter in support of Stallman, doesn’t carry much or any corpo signatories, which is IMHO its strength.
    Now we have a huge division, RMS critics would blame it on FSF, and RMS supportes would blame it on the other side. This is toxic and distructive, no matter which side wins.

  11. It really all boils down to one thing. Based on his own comments regarding pedophilia, children, J. Epstein etc,. …

    Would you hire this person to babysit your children?
    Would you send your children to a summer-camp where this man was employed?

    That’s it. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

    • Why does it boil down to that one thing? How is that even relevant? Does the FSF offer babysitting or summer camp? Is someone suggesting that they should or might?

      Having read them in full context, RMS’ opinions are often weird but always reasonable. Also, he has shown that he’s willing to take correction. At one time, as you probably know, he didn’t know what was wrong with consensual pedophilia. That’s weird, but it kinda makes sense, considering his disability. A friend gave him feedback and he publicly corrected himself. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did that?

      These irrelevant issues are the “smoke and mirrors”. All RMS wants to do is define, defend, and promote software freedom. He has done great work on that, for which we should be grateful. His lack of social grace is irrelevant.

    • I wasn’t aware he did babysitting or is employed at any summer-camp. Who could enlighten as to when and where these things have been reported?

      Throwing anything and everything in the air to stir people up is worse than the topic. Pure imagination on the part of the person supposing such scenarios. What else is lurking in that grey matter?

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