Eben Moglen Steps Down From Free Software Foundation

Moglen will return to teaching at Columbia University and spend much of his free time on the Software Freedom Law Center.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

April 25, 2007

3 Min Read

The Free Software Foundation has lost one of its best-known leaders.

Board member Eben Moglen announced this week that he is stepping down from the board and his position as general counsel now that the latest draft of GPLv3 has been released. A spokesman for the Software Freedom Law Center said that the two organizations will continue working together. Moglen gave a keynote speech at the MySQL Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday and spoke as a leader of the Software Freedom Law Center during a phone interview afterward.

Moglen said he discussed his plans with others at the foundation before posting a blog explaining his reasons for leaving. FSF president Richard Stallman could not be reached immediately for comment, but Moglen said he left on good terms.

"This is not the consequence of disagreement about anything," he said during an interview Wednesday.

Moglen said timing and other commitments drove his decision and that Stallman remains a friend.

"I have my own young, growing nonprofit to take care of," he said. "We have a long alliance on working on things that we both consider very important: free software, technological liberty in the 21st century, and free society. I don't think that can be changed, and I certainly don't think this does it."

Moglen's blog indicated that he has enjoyed devoting most of his time working on GPL. He said in the blog that the draft 3 discussion was going to be the "Last Call Draft," and he believes that is a good time to let go.

"I agree with RMS [Stallman] that it was very important to add another cycle of public discussion, and I'm sure the Free Software Foundation will be making some changes based on that discussion, as it has in response to comments all along," he said. "But I think the big issues have been correctly addressed, and that the detail work -- which as lawyers we have to take more seriously than everyone else -- is ready for the pressure of reality. So it's time I began to think about life after GPLv3."

Moglen said the Software Freedom Law Center and its clients will use the new license, and he believes others will embrace it as well. He said he will return to teaching at Columbia University and spend much of his free time on the center. He also said that he has many clients who may like him to be on their boards, and since he cannot accommodate all, he has decided not to do it for one.

"Great things are happening that haven't had enough attention because everyone has been watching GPLv3," he said in his blog. "The really innovative work is being done by the other lawyers here. They are refining organizational structures, innovating strategies for setting up project conservancies -- a new type of shared container for multiple free software projects -- which gives those projects administrative and legal advantages with minimal overhead. They are counseling young projects making astonishing new free software that's going to be rocking business's world three or four years from now."

Moglen said he commented on the matter with his SFLC hat on and said attorney-client privilege prevented him from giving more details.

"There's probably lots more that can be said, but it wouldn't be a story about conflict," he said. "It would be a story about my immense respect for Richard Stallman."

Moglen acknowledged detractors and critics of GPLv3 and the FSF in his blog, but he said the foundation is in good hands with Stallman and controller/executive director Peter T. Brown. Finally, he expressed relief that GPLv3 is almost done.

"It's simply a right decision at the right time," he said.

This story was updated on April 25 to include additional comments from Eben Moglen.

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