VMware lawsuit fallout causes funding issues for GPL lobby group

Software Freedom Conservancy now gets the big tech cold shoulder, it claims

The Software Freedom Conservancy is turning to open source citizens to fund its operations and reduce its reliance on big tech. The GPL campaign group is making the change, it claims, because its campaigning has put it at odds with corporate sponsors.

The breaking point was the group’s decision to support a legal case by a third party in Germany this year over claimed GPL violations against virtualisation giant VMware.

Executive director Karen Sandler said in a letter to sponsors, seen by The Register: “Over the past year, and in particular since we launched the VMware suit, some of our corporate funding has been pulled.”

She claimed the Conservancy had been blocked from or cancelled at conferences because "we tackle important but controversial issues, such as GPL compliance."

In a blog here, the Conservancy wrote that since the VMware case had started:

Some companies have withdrawn from funding us and some have even successfully pressured conferences to cancel or prevent talks on our enforcement work.

Neither Sandler nor the group's blog post named names.

The group reckoned it had funds to cover the VMware case but not on-going operations under its current model that's based on donors and annual pledges.

“We have lost committed general funding from companies explicitly because of our enforcement work. Continuing this work without individual support is no longer possible,” the group blogged.

The Conservancy threw its financial backing behind Linux kernel maintainer Christopher Hellwig’s suit against VMware in March.

Hellwig claimed VMware’s ESXi hypervisor used portions of the code that Hellwig wrote for the Linux kernel, in violation of the terms of version 2 of the GPL.

According to the Conservancy's own website, VMware has filed a statement of defense, asserting arguments for the dismissal of the action. However, VMware has "explicitly asked for the filings not to be published and, accordingly, Conservancy has not been able to review either document".

The case is still ongoing.

Sandler reckoned that to continue the Conservancy’s work it must “transition to a primarily individual-supported model".

“We will continue to seek corporate support, of course, and we're grateful for the corporate donors whose support has continued. But our constituency is the software freedom community, and that's where our support should ultimately come from,” Sandler wrote to supporters. ®

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