Karen Sandler Wins the Prestigious Free Software Award

March 26, 2018

This past Saturday at the LibrePlanet conference, Conservancy’s Executive Director, Karen Sandler won the most prestigious Award in the area of software freedom: the Free Software Foundation’s annual Award for the Advancement of Free Software. The award is given annually by the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to an individual who has made “a great contribution to the progress and development of free software, through activities that accord with the spirit of free software.”

Richard Stallman, President of the FSF, presented Sandler with the award during a ceremony. Stallman highlighted Sandler’s dedication to software freedom. Stallman told the crowd that Sandler’s “vivid warning about backdoored nonfree software in implanted medical devices has brought the issue home to people who never wrote a line of code. Her efforts, usually not in the public eye, to provide pro bono legal advice to free software organizations and [with Software Freedom Conservancy] to organize infrastructure for free software projects and copyleft defense, have been equally helpful.”.

In her acceptance speech, Sandler spoke about her dedication to free software as a patient, advocate and professional:. “Coming to terms with a dangerous heart condition should never have cost me fundamental control over the technology that my life relies on”, said Sandler. “The twists and turns of my own life, including my professional work at Conservancy, led me to understand how software freedom is essential to society. This issue is personal not just for me but for anyone who relies on software, and today that means every single person.” The audience responded enthusastically with vigurous applause and a standing ovation.

Sandler has worked for over a decade in free and open source software. She is known for her advocacy for the issue, particularly in relation to the software on medical devices. Sandler is Executive Director of Conservancy, leading the organization to provide a nonprofit home for over 40 member projects and tackle the most critical issues facing free software today. Sandler previously served as the Executive Director and and later member of the board of directors of the GNOME Foundation, and before that, she was General Counsel of the Software Freedom Law Center. She co-organizes Outreachy, the award-winning outreach program that provides paid internships in free software for people who are typically underrepresented in these projects. She also serves as on the advisory committee of the Center for Research in Open Source Software at University of California, Santa Cruz.

As is traditional for the award winner, Sandler gave a Sunday session talk at LibrePlanet describing her work and its context in the future of software freedom. She also participated in a panel about medical software and data. Other Conservancy’ staff members including Distinguished Technologist, Bradley Kuhn, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Brett Smith, and Compliance engineer, Denver Gingerich also delivered talks at the conference.