Interview: Georg Greve

As the President of the Free Software Foundation Europe, Georg Greve will be keynoting about the GPLv3 and beyond -- an outlook for the year in Free Software that lies ahead.

What's your plan for the FOSDEM keynote?

FOSDEM is the traditionally the first Free Software conference of the year. Since I will be giving the closing keynote the focus will be on the year that lies ahead. Of course that includes the GPLv3, but it also goes beyond it in various ways. The past months were truly exceptional: The Free Software community now finds itself in the center of drastic changes and it seems likely 2007 will see this trend continuing. So as a community we will have to make some decisions, and I will provide a view on where things may go.

The FSFE has been a strong supporter of FOSDEM... Have you attended before?

Yes, there has always been a good connection with FOSDEM, which is why the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) -- including myself -- has been at every single FOSDEM since 2002.

Could you give us an overview of how the FSFE has evolved since 2001?

In 2001 we started the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) as the first Free Software Foundation outside the United States, starting what we hoped would become a global network of sister organisations.

Today we still have the original FSF in the United States, but we also have (in order of their founding) the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), the Free Software Foundation India (FSFI) and Free Software Foundation Latin America (FSFLA).

All four FSFs form a global network of equal sister organisations that are legally, financially, personally and organisationally independent From each other, but share one spirit and goal, as well as close ties in their work. So the original ideal of the Free Software Foundation is stronger than ever and rests on many more shoulders around the world.

As far as FSFE is concerned, we started in 2001 with a couple of volunteers and me investing my full time work into the organisation, initially without any form of payment.

Today we have teams in more than ten countries, hundreds of volunteers contributing to the work in various ways, a European core team with almost thirty people coordinating our activities, six full-time and two part-time employees as well as up to two interns at any given moment.

We have crossed blades with Microsoft in European Court where we continue to fight for the freedom of Samba to write interoperable software. We have been part of the United Nations World Summit on the Information Society, partially within the German governmental delegation. We have fought (and won) with our allies in the European software patent battle.

If you wish to have an idea of the many things that have been done, feel free to take a look at the 2003 and 2005 executive summaries at

and our monthly newsletters at

Also don't forget to take a look at the Fellowship of FSFE. During FOSDEM 2005 we announced the start of the Fellowship as a community for people who share an interest in various forms of freedom in the digital age. It allows to make the interest in these issues visible, contribute to FSFE's work, get active yourself, and find likeminded people.

We are very happy about how this has worked out in many ways: people organise local Fellowship meetings and last year there was a global Fellowship meeting in Bolzano, Italy during which we started to discuss the beginning of a Fellowship Advocacy project.

Through the Fellowship we've discovered people we might never have met otherwise, such as Shane Coughlan, our Freedom Task Force (FTF) coordinator.

So during this year's FOSDEM the Fellowship will see its two-year anniversary, and so far it has only gotten better. I hope that everyone will join us at the next Fellowship meeting which will take place sometime later this year and meanwhile visit

What were, in your opinion, the most important evolutions around free software in 2006?

2006 was a very important year for Free Software.

There is of course the drafting of GPLv3 and all its conferences that has provided for quite a bit of discussion and will continue to shape and influence the Free Software community in 2007 and beyond.

We've also seen the big hearing with 13 judges at the European Court in the Microsoft antitrust case. While the outcome still remains to be seen, this could be an important part of establishing a code of conduct that will help to limit lock-in and arbitrary modifications of protocols for the sake of monopolising new markets.

The deal between Novell and Microsoft seems to be headed in the opposite direction, but was nonetheless an important event for Free Software in 2006. This is continued in the battle around OpenXML vs ODF as the existing international standard.

And finally we see Sun making a bold move towards freedom with its announcement to GPL Java. While long-hoped for and expected eventually, this was certainly a highlight of 2006.

Simon Phipps from Sun Microsystems is also present at FOSDEM 2007. You're happy with the direction that Sun has taken?

Yes, I think Sun has gone through a remarkable evolution.

They are on a very good track, and if Simon and I get the chance we should definitely have a beer together.

Are you personally involved in GPL v3?

I've been involved in the process since the planning stage, mostly in some of the coordination, motivating people to participate in the process and helping to explain what is going on and what isn't, because GPLv3 certainly saw a lot of mistaken reporting.

FSFE also organised the third international conference on GPLv3 in Barcelona and I've participated in all but one of the international conferences as well as some local events.

There have been many (failed) attempts to get software patents included in European legislation. Will these efforts stop at some point, or is it a battle that will continue?

These efforts will only stop once certain major companies understand that software patents are detrimental to their business. This is unfortunately not to be expected so soon. So the battle will continue until we managed to remove the motivation for software patents.

We're working on this at the United Nations as well as through our relationship with business.

What kind of skills does on need to influence political decisions?

I'd say the most important thing is not so much skill but determination. The software patent struggle has shown that people with little political experience but a lot of determination can bring about major change. So without determination and the will to take personal responsibility, there is no political change.

But if people have that determination there are of course skills that help: Knowledge about the area you are working on is obviously very important, but if you cannot explain this in terms that a political audience understands, its use is quite limited.

So being able to talk and write coherently in understandable and simple terms about your area is vital. Many people also underestimate social skills, but most human beings tend to make their personal decisions based on such "soft" factors more than hard facts.

And you need to be able to deal with a lot of frustration, keep a cool head and exercise a lot of patience. The extreme case of this is the United Nations where you may have to spend days listening to things you disagree with or find outright scandalous until you find the right opening to place your message. Losing your temper at the wrong moment can destroy years of carefully constructed positions and agreements.

Another reason why a calm head is important is that there is always another crisis, always another battle coming up. We have seen in the software patent battle that many very energetic and courageous people simply burnt out because they spent all their energy in a sprint to do this one thing, to prevent that one initiative.

FSFE has always tried to avoid that. While the necessity for a sprint may exist occasionally, we see politics more like a series of marathons than a sprint. So we were always careful to do what we could, even stretch things painfully thin at some times, but always kept an eye on not destroying our substance so we would be stronger and not weaker when the next crisis hit.

And one of the lessons to keep in mind is that while this one may seem more important than anything else, there will always be another crisis.

And finally the ability to cooperate and communicate across various barriers is very important. There is strength in numbers and not everyone needs to do this work personally: By standing up and making themselves heard in support of groups and organisations, people can give additional strength and weight to the ones working in the trenches.

That is one reason the anti-software patent coalition was able to swing the debate, and it is one reason why we ask everyone to join the Fellowship of FSFE.

You're a practitioner of Aikido. Is that a benefit in doing what you do?

Yes. Aikido teaches you many things, and for me it has helped me to understand myself and life much better.

Among many things Aikido teaches you patience in pursuing improvement of yourself and the limits of strength and violence: In Aikido you seek to achieve a state of peace not only for yourself, but also for those around you, including people you may not like or that try to attack you. You don't allow yourself or others to be harmed, but you also don't seek destruction of an attacker.

Aikido teaches you about avoiding overreactions, trying to stay calm in a situation where you're being attacked from many sides at the same time. It is also about posture and stance, and about how to deal with other people.

That my work as president of FSFE leaves me too little time to train Aikido as much and as regularly as I would like to is probably my biggest regret about the past years.

We wish you a lot of practice then. Thanks!

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