Matthias Kirschner, FSFE: Plagiarism & Child labour in YH4F

I started primary school in Melbourne in the same district where Kylie Minogue acted in the TV series Neighbors. In fact, Kylie starred in a number of other shows prior to Neighbors. One of the most prominent was The Henderson Kids. When they started filming, Kylie was only seventeen. We can see her full name in the credits:

Kylie Minogue

The FSFE (that is the fake FSF) announced their child labour competition Youth Hacking 4 Freedom (YH4F) in 2021. I wrote a previous blog about how unethical this is.

Their original announcement promised an award ceremony in June 2022. Many people noticed that June came and went and there was no news about the awards. It looks like they moved it to October. Why? Could it be because the ILO decided to call a week of action against child labour from 3 to 12 June 2022?.

One of the most startling things in FSFE's recent announcement is the obfuscation of the children's names. While we can see the name of Kylie Minogue in the credits of her early TV appearances, we can't see the names of the children who did unpaid work for FSFE. They only show the names of the children who won a prize and even then, FSFE only shows us their first names.

Matthias Kirschner wants to be a middleman. If you use the code created by these children and if you want to make a donation then he wants you to give the money to him and not directly to the children who wrote the code. Obfuscating the names of the real authors in this way is very close to plagiarism.

If you look at the FSFE staff list, none of the adult staff are developers. They are entirely dependent on children and volunteers to write code.

An earlier report tells us that over 100 children registered for the program. We don't know how many of those children started working on a project or how many hours each child worked. We only know 6 children received fixed-fee payments in the form of prizes at the end.

FSFE, YH4F, Ekaterina Radaeva, Katya Radaeva, Miquel Puig, Hector, Stavros Piperakis

Three of their names can be found elsewhere: Ekaterina (Katya) Radaeva, Miquel Puig, Stavros Piperakis.

I had a look at some of the repositories. It looks like they were forced to put a copy of the GPL-3 license in each project but none of them have added a copyright statement with their name and the date of the copyright. Without a complete copyright statement, the license is not valid.

Child safety

There have been widespread reports about bullying and exploitation in FSFE. One female employee, Galia Mancheva filed court documents claiming that the FSFE president, Matthias Kirschner, came to her home uninvited during medical leave.

In another extraordinary case, a Red Hat / Fedora ambassador (24 years old) brought his 16 year old girlfriend to tech conferences. Red Hat is one of FSFE's largest sponsors.

This is not a safe environment for children.

How much money are they missing out on?

The FSFE claims to follow the guidelines from Transparency International and publish annual statements about their income and expenses. In reality, the statements on their web site are highly obfuscated. Somebody shared the real internal spreadsheet for 2017 expenditure and we can compare it to the statement that appeared on the web site.

This is the public table from the FSFE web site:

Income EUR
Donations 198,820.36
Fellowship membership fees 208,581.31
Paid services 107,783.06
Merchandise 28,580.78
Interest and currency exchange gains 7.22
Total income 543,772.73
Expenses EUR
Basic infrastructure costs2 142,724.77
Public awareness3 116,770.30
Community support 1,641,50
Legal work 83,132.44
Policy work 76.760,25
FOSS4SMEs project 2.939,16
Merchandise 23,425,66
Total expenses 447,394.08
Surplus 96,378.65

Notice how the table obscures the real expenses for salaries. We can see the salaries in the spreadsheet.

The line for employee costs is EUR 223,983. We can see the number of employees here (archived page from 2017). 3 men full time, 1 man part time and 2 women full time.

In Germany, a woman is paid 70% of a man's salary. If we assume that the part time salary is 50% then we can calculate the salaries using simple algebra:

3x + 0.5x + 2* 0.7x = 223 983

4.9x = 223 983

x = €45 710 (man)

0.7x = €31 997 (woman)

Each of the men appears to be receiving €45 710 per year without writing any code. We don't need to use any algebra to work out that the majority of the children received nothing.