The Ethical Source Movement

Announcing a New Kind of Open Source Organization

Creators of the Hippocratic License establish a nonprofit to empower developers to use their technology talents for social good and to prevent harm

Geneva, Switzerland, January 19, 2021 – The creator of the Hippocratic License, an ethical license for open source, and Contributor Covenant, the first and most popular code of conduct for open source projects, today announced the establishment of a new nonprofit, the Organization for Ethical Source (OES).

Central to the philosophy of open source is the notion of software freedom, referred to as “Freedom Zero”: that open source software can be used for any purpose without restriction, even for explicitly “evil” purposes. The world has changed since the Open Source Definition was created — open source has become ubiquitous, and is now being leveraged by bad actors for mass surveillance, racist policing, and other human rights abuses all over the world. The OES believes that the open source community must evolve to address the magnitude and complexity of today’s social, political and technological challenges.

Inspired by the work of Latinx and Chicanx activist organization Mijente and their #NoTechForICE campaign, the Ethical Source Movement launched in October 2019. Its first milestone was the March 2020 release of the Hippocratic License 2.1, an ethical open source license tied to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and developed in collaboration with a pro-bono legal team from partner organization Corporate Accountability Lab. The license has already been adopted by hundreds of open source projects including the Ruby library VCR, mobile app development tool Gryphon, Javascript mapping library react-leaflet, and the entire open source portfolio of the WeTransfer corporation. But the most significant impact of the license may be the debate it sparked between ethical-minded developers and open source traditionalists around the primacy of “Freedom Zero.”

“For too long we’ve been comforting ourselves with the myth that technology is inherently neutral. But there is nothing neutral about police using facial recognition algorithms to target legitimate protestors, or algorithms that perpetuate bias and sexism and racism, or any other of the dozens of kinds of human rights abuses we see technology playing a part in today,” said Coraline Ada Ehmke, president and founder of the Organization for Ethical Source. “As technologists we have to accept that our work has an outsized impact on society, and that means we have an outsized responsibility to minimize the harm it can cause. The Organization for Ethical Source was founded to help technologists accept these responsibilities, and learn how to center justice and equity in the work we do. We are united in our conviction that software freedom must not come before human freedom.”

With a founding grant from the Omidyar Network, the Organization for Ethical Source is developing new programs that build on its initial work with the Hippocratic License — extending the reach of that effort while developing new tools and projects focusing on ethical governance, digital supply chain compliance, and other strategies. The organization’s leadership team includes founding members Coraline Ada Ehmke, Don Goodman-Wilson, and Tobie Langel. Elections for the Governing Committee are slated to take place in February 2021.

“There are so many ways that communities can come together today to tackle the tech industry’s biggest problems, and that is especially true about the open source community,” said Aniyia L. Williams, Principal, Responsible Technology, Omidyar Network. “We are excited to see the formation of the Organization for Ethical Source, and are thrilled to power the innovative, thoughtful, and courageous plans they have for creating accountability in building software.”

“Systemic change in the tech industry is long overdue, and the Organization for Ethical Source is a much-needed catalyst,” said Charity Ryerson, Executive Director of Corporate Accountability Lab. CAL is a nonprofit organization providing legal support to the new organization through developing ethical license offerings and providing free direct legal services to ethical license adopters. “We are excited to support this initiative, and hope to see tangible improvements for cobalt miners, Foxconn workers, immigrant detainees and others who have been harmed by Big Tech.”

The Organization for Ethical Source brings together open source maintainers and contributors, tech ethicists and advocates, licensing experts, human rights workers, academics, and more to strategize about ways to incorporate ethics into open source work. Learn more about the Organization for Ethical Source, or apply to join.

About the Organization for Ethical Source

The movement to promote ethics and social responsibility in open source was founded in October 2019 by Coraline Ada Ehmke, and led to the establishment of the nonprofit Organization for Ethical Source under Swiss law in December 2020. The organization is dedicated to giving technologists tools and resources to ensure that their work is being used for social good and to minimize harm. It develops tools to promote fair, ethical, and pro-social outcomes for those who contribute to, or are affected by, open source technologies. https://ethicalsource.dev/