FaiFCast Release, and Submit to FOSDEM Legal & Policy Issues DevRoom

Fri, 16/12/2011 - 20:15
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 20:15

Today Karen Sandler and I released Episode 0x1E of the Free as in Freedom oggcast (available in ogg and mp3 formats). There are two important things discussed on that oggcast that I want to draw your attention to:

Submit a proposal for the Legal & Policy Issues DevRoom CFP

Tom Marble, Richard Fontana, Karen Sandler, and I are coordinating the Legal and Policy Issues DevRoom at FOSDEM 2012. The Call for Participation for the DevRoom is now available. I'd like to ask anyone reading this blog post who has an interest in policy and/or legal issues related to software freedom to submit a talk by Friday 30 December 2011, by emailing <fosdem-legal@faif.us>.

We only have about six slots for speakers (it's a one-day DevRoom), so we won't be able to accept all proposals. I just wanted to let everyone know that so you don't flame me if you submit and get rejected. Meanwhile, note that our goal is to avoid the “this is what copyrights, trademarks and patents are” introductory talks. Our focus is on complex issues for those already informed about the basics. We really felt that the level of discourse about legal and policy issues at software freedom conferences needs to rise.

There are, of course, plenty of secret membership clubs 0, even some with their own private conferences, where these sorts of important issues are discussed. I personally seek to move high-level policy discussion and debate out of the secret “old-boys” club backrooms and into a public space where the entire software freedom community can discuss openly important legal and policy questions in the community. I hope this DevRoom is a first step in that direction!

Issues & Questions List for the Software Freedom Non-Profits Debate

I've made reference recently to debates about the value of non-profit organizations for software freedom projects. In FaiFCast 0x1E, Karen and I discuss the debate in depth. As part of that, as you'll see in the show notes, I've made a list of issues that I think were fully conflated during the recent debates. I can't spare the time to opine in detail on them right now (although Karen and I do a bit of that in the oggcast itself), but I did want to copy the list over here in my blog, mainly to list them out as issues worth thinking about in a software freedom non-profit:

  • Should a non-profit home decide what technical infrastructure is used for a software freedom project? And if so, what should it be?
  • If the non-profit doesn't provide technological services, should non-profits allow their projects to rely on for-profits for technological or other services?
  • Should a non-profit home set political and social positions that must be followed by the projects? If so, how strictly should they be enforced?
  • Should copyrights be held by the non-profit home of the project, or with the developers, or a mix of the two?
  • Should the non-profit dictate licensing requirements on the project? If so, how many licenses and which licenses are acceptable?
  • Should a non-profit dictate strict copyright provenance requirements on their projects? If not, should the non-profit at least provide guidelines and recommendations?

This list of questions is far from exhaustive, but I think it's a pretty good start.

0 Admittedly, I've got a proverbial axe to grind about these secretive membership-only groups, since, for nearly all of them, I'm persona non grata. My frustration level in this reached a crescendo when, during a session at LinuxCon Europe recently, I asked for the criteria to join one such private legal issues discussions group, and I was told the criteria themselves were secret. I pointed out to the coordinators of the forum that this wasn't a particularly Free Software friendly way to run a discussion group, and they simply changed the subject. My hope is that this FOSDEM DevRoom can be a catalyst to start a new discussion forum for legal and policy issues related to software freedom that doesn't have this problem.

BTW, just to clarify: I'm not talking about FLOSS Foundations as one of these secretive, members-only clubs. While the FLOSS Foundations main mailing list is indeed invite-only, it's very easy to join and the only requirement is: “if you repost emails from this list publicly, you'll probably be taken off the mailing list”. There is no “Chatham House Rule” or other silly, unenforceable, and spend-inordinate-amount-of-times-remembering-how-to-follow rules in place for FLOSS Foundations, but such silly rulesets are now common with these other secretive legal issues meeting groups.

Finally, I know I haven't named publicly the members-only clubs I'm talking about here, and that's by design. This is the first time I've mentioned them at all in my blog, and my hope is that they'll change their behaviors soon. I don't want to publicly shame them by name until I give them a bit more time to change their behaviors. Also, I don't want to inadvertently promote these fora either, since IMO their very structure is flawed and community-unfriendly.

Update: Some have claimed incorrectly that the text in the footnote above somehow indicates my unwillingness to follow the Chatham House Rule (CHR). I refuted that on identi.ca, noting that the text above doesn't say that, and those who think it does have simply misunderstood. My primary point (which I'll now state even more explicitly) is that CHR is difficult to follow, particularly when it is mis-applied to a mailing list. CHR is designed for meetings, which have a clear start time and a finish time. Mailing lists aren't meetings, so the behavior of CHR when applied to a mailing list is often undefined.

I should furthermore note that people who have lived under CHR for a series of meetings also have similar concerns as mine. For example, Allison Randal, who worked under CHR on Project Harmony noted:

The group decided to adopt Chatham House Rule for our discussions. … At first glance it seems quite sensible: encourage open participation by being careful about what you share publicly. But, after almost a year of working under it, I have to say I’m not a big fan. It’s really quite awkward sometimes figuring out what you can and can’t say publicly. I’m trying to follow it in this post, but I’ve probably missed in spots. The simple rule is tricky to apply.

I agree with Allison.