Lasted edited by Andrew Munsey, updated on June 14, 2016 at 10:10 pm.
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a non-profit organization founded in October 1985 by Richard Stallman to support the free software movement (free as in freedom), and in particular the GNU project. From its founding until the mid-1990s FSF's funds were mostly used to employ software developers to write free software. Since the mid- to late 1990s there are now many companies and individuals writing free software, so FSF's employees and volunteers mostly work on legal and structural issues for the free software community.
The GNU Project
The original purpose of the FSF was to promote the ideals of free software but the organization was also charged with developing the GNU operating system.
FSF has the resources and the will to enforce the GPL and other GNU licenses, but only for software for which it owns the copyrights GPL'd software owned by others must be defended by its owners, since the FSF has no legal standing to enforce the GPL for them. FSF handles around 50 GPL violations per year and tries to bring the other party into compliance without involving the courts.
The GNU GPL is the most widely used license for Free Software projects. The current version (version 2) was released in 1991 but FSF are working on version 3. FSF have also published the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL), and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL).
Guardian of copyrights
FSF holds the copyrights to most GNU software and some non-GNU Free Software. They require copyright assignment papers from each contributor to GNU packages so that they can defend the software in court if a dispute arises, and so that if there is a need to change the license of a work, it can be done without having to contact all contributors that have ever worked on the software.
The FSF's publishing department, responsible for "publishing affordable books on computer science using freely distributable licenses."[phttp://directory.fsf.org/ The Free Software Directory]
This is a listing of software packages which have been verified as free software. Each package entry contains 47 pieces of information such as the project's homepage, developers, programming language, etc. The goals are to provide a search engine for free software, and to provide a cross-reference for users to check if a package has been verified as being free software. FSF has received a small amount of funding from UNESCO for this project. It is hoped that the directory can be translated in to many languages in the future.
Maintaining the Free Software Definition
FSF maintain many of the documents that define the Free Software movement.
FSF hold seminars about legal aspects of using the GPL, and offers a consultancy service for lawyers.
FSF provide project hosting via their Savannah website.
FSF holds a number of campaigns against what it perceives as a danger to software freedom, including software patents and Digital Restrictions Management. Defective by Design is an FSF-initiated campaign against DRM.