Why did Linux Foundation cut independent board seats?

Why did Linux Foundation cut independent board seats?
David Goehring [REMIXED] (CC BY 2.0)

One of the most powerful organizations in the open-source world faces questions over why it quietly did away with two seats on its board designated for non-corporate members.

As of Jan. 15, the Linux Foundation’s bylaws were changed to remove a provision that allowed for the election of two board members by the group’s individual affiliates. The entirety of the board’s membership is now selected by the Linux Foundation’s corporate members.

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One of those corporate members is VMware, which is currently facing a licensing lawsuit in Germany backed by the Software Freedom Conservancy, a non-profit organization that provides legal services to free software and open-source projects. The SFC’s executive director is Karen Sandler, who announced publicly in September that she planned to run for one of the individual board member positions.

The foundation’s policy change was highlighted in a recent blog post from Matthew Garrett, a prominent open-source thinker and activist, who noted that the group also switched the name of its “individual membership” program to “individual supporter.”

Sandler herself, however, declined to draw a straight line between her candidacy and the removal of the community board seats, telling Network World that the foundation has always been clear about the fact that control of the board rests with the funders.

“Since the [community] seats were by far a minority on the board and since in theory individuals could, for example, pool their money and (if they have $500,000) purchase a board seat at the Platinum level, perhaps the change isn't that big from a technical perspective except possibly in very hotly contested issues at the board level,” she said via email. “Making community seats uncertain means that the board won't necessarily have the insight they would have had by including those seats.”

Sandler was less conciliatory on the subject of funding for the SFC, to which the Linux Foundation until recently contributed. Some corporate sponsors of the SFC remain, she said, but others have dried up as a direct result of the organization’s actions against VMware.

The hope, according to Sandler, is that individual donors can pick up where corporate contributions leave off.

“[R]elying primarily on corporate funding has often led other charities to shy away from important but controversial issues,” she wrote. “We will not shy away from them. We would rather shut down the organization than curtail our work to corporate whims.”

The Linux Foundation did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

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