My concerns about GPLv3 process

MJ Ray mjr at
Tue Jan 31 12:16:28 UTC 2006

simo <simo.sorce at>
[the comments tool]
> But the tool is very powerful and, more important, useful and usable.

I'll have to take your word for that, seeing as I can't use it!

> I think it is a good compromise, Firefox is free software and is also
> available on multiple platforms, I do  not think the requirement is so
> bad anyway.

It's a long way from "We support the Any Browser Campaign".
Do you think Any Browser support is pointless, then?

(Firefox is free software? Don't look in the other-licences
folder at the unmodifiable parts then... Most firefox-based
browsers are free software, even so.)

> > The large political caucus structure is described in
> > - mere serfs only
> > make comments to the appointed Discussion Committees who then
> > decide what to present to the Foundation in direct hearings
> > (Minor) or International meetings (Major).  The Discussion
> > Committees meetings need not be public, so I call it a
> > caucus system after the non-public political party meetings
> > or the WSIS group meetings.
> Well, do you understand how much would it cost to make in person
> meetings and organize them to be open to the public ?
> This is just a practical decision, most of the discussion between
> committee members is made electronically or by phone anyway.

Did you read my suggestions for a good comment process? Where
did I call for open public in-person committee meetings?

To be clearer: I think FSFE members spoke at about 30 events in
2005.  GNU speakers (mostly RMS) seem to do a similar number.
Not all of those would be appropriate opportunities, but there
would be plenty to introduce GPLv3 to many interested people.

[the point]
> > Try to promote the request to use an open, familiar process
> > with a truly international aspect instead of the cooptable
> > caucuses.
> The conference was really open to anyone to come and partecipate, people
> came from Europe, South America, Asia ... of course being held in Boston
> there were much more people living in the US than others, but that would
> have been the same in any place, with locals being more than others.

Sticking "International" in a conference title and expecting
people to dump exhaust fumes into the upper atmosphere in
winter (and it's not fun to do much else from Europe at this
time of year) is not very good. This is why a multi-site intro
is a very good idea.

> Btw, can you explain what is a "familiar" process ?

I think most hackers and users are more familiar with bug trackers
than with caucuses. We have a large problem with growing cynicism
and falling participation in political processes, while "bazaar"
software development seems to be growing, yet FSF looks like it
modelled GPLv3 discussion on the declining political processes!

> > Look up "Regulatory Capture" and compare vulnerable
> > models with the GPLv3 process. No licensor nor licensee should
> > be allowed to influence this process in secret.
> Anybody is allowed to influence the process through the comments on the
> GPLv3. Of course committees will be able to summarize the issues they
> see most important and advice FSF to look at them, but committees have
> no power decide anything, they are just a way to allow FSF understand
> the concerns of various parties.

Are you saying committees will not be deciding which issues
are Major, Minor or dismissed?

> > These criticisms are made calmly. I'd really prefer to have
> > these bugs fixed long before the outcome maybe goes wrong.
> > The arguments for secrecy are rather limited, aren't they?
> What secrecy ?
> The issues are posted on the side along with comments and
> anyone is allowed to see them, which committee made the issue and which
> explanation is given.

Discussion Committees A-E can work in secret if they wish and
nothing appears to republicise the process later.

I'll take your word about "which committee made the issue and
which explanation is given" because I think it's too early to
tell and my browser is unsupported by

> Joke: Do you want me to copy you any mail/phone call I receive during
> this year to make it an open, non secret, process ? Should I also record
> all in person talks and forward them too ? :-)

If something is introduced for consideration, you should make it
public at some point and it should remain public from that point on.

> > Would leaving comments help? The opaque process does make me
> > doubt it. Each time I ask a question about the process, there's
> > been either "wait" or no clear answer AFAICR.
> The process is quite simple.
> a) people and committee members leave their own comments on the comments
> page
> b) committees read the comments of an area they they think is important,
> try to group comments by argument and discuss the argument.
> c) committees posts issues on the same page grouping all comments that
> seems relevant and try to summarize the concerns that were raised on the
> argument.
> d) FSF supervises the process, give explanations when needed

Where is step c "posts issues on the same page" documented?
That looks like new data to me. There seemed no requirement
for steps b-d to be public. Your description contradicts
- does it need updating?

> At the end, FSF will gather all issues and decide whether they need to
> be addressed by modifications, clarifications, FAQs, etc..
> > "Democratic" can just mean governed by the people.
> What people ? 

Licensors and licensees, I would expect. Most of these are software
developers or software users, who I suspect are more likely to be
familiar with bug tracking systems, rather than political caucuses.

> Do we have a "Free Software Nation" with passports and citizenship ?

Are you enjoying whistling past the graveyard?

> FSF invited People that actually do use the GPLv2 and are interested in
> commenting on the GPLv3. I think they tried hard to call persons that
> represent the majority of people who uses the GPL day by day.

FSF has also locked out many free software users by siting the
only public event so far in the USA and by requiring a particular
browser. Most foreign users of lynx, w3m, links and much other
free software need not apply, or can email and pray.

> > I don't believe that's the case,
> > so I'd like to see at least the minimal democratic transparency.
> Can you please explain what this broad requirement should be in
> practical terms ?

An open and transparent process with well-understood process and
audit trails on all public submissions until the final reckoning.
A tin-pot town council can manage it: why not FSF?

> > Of course the FSF has the right to use whatever process it wants.
> > I have the right to question the process and it would be wonderful
> > to see some of the FSF board minutes that show the reasoning.
> Have you sent them a request about that ?

Years ago, I asked for the FSF annual meeting minutes. I was
told there was no need for them to be published.  Do you think
this request would get a better reply? (So no, I've not asked,
but I'm not eager to waste my time calling into a void. Why
aren't FSF board proceedings published anyway?)

> > I think FSF members want the GPLv3 to be useful and have wide
> > public support, but I think it looks like they have picked a
> > lousy tool to try to accomplish that.
> I think the tool is a quite good one, and I find really hard to imagine
> alternative practical methods. Do you have practical advices to make the
> process better ?

There's a touch of "if I was going to get there, I wouldn't start
from here" to this and I've hinted at most of it, but I would:

1. migrate the fancy web comments to an open bug tracker
   with BTS proxies and helpers on-call for those who need them,
2. replace Discussion Committees A-E with geographic forums
   (mainly because cultures and time zones make that grouping
   as practical as anything else),
3. prepare and dispatch GPLv3 briefing packs to all speakers,
4. organise and call GPLv3 meetings at events,
5. make people and materials available to local user groups,
   law libraries and whoever else you think is relevant, and
6. issue calls for participation by non-big-business groups
   such as free software projects, cooperatives, charities,
   governments and civil society.

Hope that you will support those,
MJ Ray - personal email, see
Work:  Jabber/SIP ask

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