Conference Session

When Software Is a Service, Will Only Network Luddites Be Free?

By: Bradley M. Kuhn

About Bradley M. Kuhn

(Courtesy of

Bradley M. Kuhn (born in 1973) is a free software activist from the United States. Kuhn is currently the FLOSS Community Liaison and Technology Director of Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) and president of the Software Freedom Conservancy. He previously served as the Executive Director of Free Software Foundation (FSF) from 2001 until March 2005. He is best known for his efforts in GPL enforcement, both at FSF and SFLC, as the creator of FSF's license list, and as the original author of the Affero clause of the AGPL. He has long been a proponent for non-profit structures for FLOSS development, and leads efforts in this direction through the Software Freedom Conservancy.

About the session

So-called Application Service Providers, who provide "Software as a Service (SaaS)", are now the rule rather than the exception in the software industry.  The freedom implications of ubiquitous, high-bandwidth networking and AJAX-based application delivery are not yet fully understood nor adequately addressed by the Software Freedom Movement, such that even those of us who have been paying attention during SaaS' rise remain befuddled by the freedom implications of the new environment.

Our Movement must develop a multi-front response to this proprietary threat that will make the 1980s and 1990s battle against proprietary operating system vendors look easy.  The challenge is specifically centered around two complex issues: (a) traditional user-freedom-protecting licenses (i.e., the copyleft) fail to protect the freedoms of SaaS users, and (b) even if users have the source code to the application they are using, they cannot run it themselves and generate the same network-effect available in the canonical instance.

In this talk, Kuhn will frame and introduce the key questions introduced by these new issues.  He will discuss the Affero GPL, which is one of few FLOSS licenses that address this concern from the software licensing perspective, and explain how our traditional solutions cannot succeed as easily in this new context.

There are two primary challenges that face the Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) world in the next ten years.  The first is network service software, which moves computing from the users' own computer to remote systems that reside in corporate data centers.  This is a unique and dangerous question for FLOSS developers, and requires a more holistic response that previous endeavors.

The second challenge is much more mundane: how do we organize, administrate, and coordinate the vast contributions made by programmers around the world in a way that preserves the spirit of FLOSS?  This question is not one that easily inspires hackers to write good software, but nonetheless remains a central question in our efforts.

Bradley M. Kuhn, president of the Software Freedom Conservancy and FLOSS Community Liaison of the Software Freedom Law Center, is on forefront in answering both these issues.  Kuhn will discuss how the movement must prepare and plan in new ways to meet these challenges with the same spirit that made this community-oriented and democratic movement possible.

Over the last decade, Open Source and Free Software finally achieved a new level of mainstream success; it has become an integral part of our technological infrastructure.  While this software freedom movement was founded by those who wrote the software, it is defended by the licensing structures and legal systems that were designed to respect, rather than reject, the rights of users.  These freedoms -- which allow users to copy, share, modify and redistribute that software -- created a unique ecosystem that allowed the community to flourish.

In this talk, Kuhn will discuss his ongoing efforts (which he began a decade ago as a graduate student at Ohio's own University of Cincinnati) to help preserve, protect and promote these freedoms embodied in software freedom licenses like the GPL.  Kuhn will outline his past work at the Free Software Foundation in this regard, explain the motivations and ideas that led to the creation and fruition of the Software Freedom Law Center and the Software Freedom Conservancy, and discuss the challenges that lie ahead for defending software freedom.

This is a Keynote (45 min)