Dries Buytaert

The Free Software Foundation: it's time for a new beginning

Thousands of Open Source and Free Software advocates are outraged at the Free Software Foundation (FSF), myself included.

In 2019, Richard Stallman was forced out of the FSF, the organization he started. This after he called Jeffrey Epstein's victims of sex trafficking as "entirely willing". This week, Stallman announced that he is reappointed.

The news that Stallman is back came as a shock to me. I feel very strongly that he needs to be removed from leadership roles. There is no room for his misogynistic and other problematic behavior.

And I'm not alone. Almost two thousand Free Software advocates have signed an open letter seeking the removal of Richard Stallman and the entire FSF's Board of Directors.

While I want Stallman removed, I'm holding my judgement regarding the FSF's Board of Directors a bit longer. A few reasons:

  • I don't understand how Stallman was able to return. It doesn't make any sense to me.
  • The FSF's Board of Directors has remained silent throughout this outrage. To the best of my knowledge, no official statement has been made. I want to know what they have to say.
  • Last but not least, Stallman announced his own return, and it seems like there was an element of surprise.

I don't have private information about what is going on at the FSF, but I do have a lot of experience working as a Board Member.

A Board of Directors can't always move fast or communicate openly in the moment. Depending on what is going on, they may have to take legal steps, or carefully sequence their actions to protect the organization or any people involved. Open communication has to wait sometimes.

This news is so wild that I have to believe they are working through a very difficult situation. If so, the Board of Directors' silence does not necessarily mean that they support Stallman. It might mean that they are not able to communicate yet.

My ask to the FSF:

  1. Remove Stallman as soon as you can.
  2. Explain how and why Stallman was reappointed.
  3. Commit to bringing in new leadership.

If the FSF can work through this quickly and do the right thing, there might be a turning point to rebuild the FSF into something new and better. The Free Software movement deserves quality leadership. Given that the FSF governs the license of many software projects, that is something to hope for. It's worth holding my judgment on the Board of Directors a bit longer.

— Dries Buytaert