How FSFE is organised

Paul Boddie paul at
Wed Oct 16 16:26:37 UTC 2019

On Wednesday 16. October 2019 16.24.37 Harald Welte wrote:
> Not only is there a mixture of different positions and agendas, but it's
> also a mixture of people with [formal] legal background with people from
> the developer communities, including some very high-profile developers from
> the Linux kernel community.

Amongst this group of developers, are there any of the usual suspects who 
believe that promising future compliance is better than actually delivering 
compliant software here and now or righting previous or ongoing licence 
violations? This being the "jam tomorrow" doctrine that has seen people 
hounded by the kernel development community for wanting to obtain the source 
code for things that people have actually spent their own money on.


> In fact, those members with "adverse" or "controversial" agendas
> perceive the fact that the FSFE runs the LN as a problem.  I've seen
> rumours about some behind-the-scenes scheming to remove the FSFE from
> the equation.  Alternative groups and events hosted by less community-based
> and more industry-friendly organizers have meanwhile been established,
> although AFAICT of still lesser significance/profile.

Well, if transparency isn't a priority, I'm sure there will be all sorts of 
scheming going on.

> Having the FSFE hosting the netowrk and the related event is a
> strength from the point of the community.

It might be, but how does the community measure the benefits this event 
supposedly delivers?


> Your accusations sound like "You cannot trust software developers
> attending a technical conference, because their main motivation is to
> sell their own software development services, so they will perpetually
> make software more complex to sell even more software development
> services".  While for some sales/business people that might be true, the
> actual experts in this area for decades (whether engineers or legal
> experts) are the ones that want to simply stuff, whether it's license
> compliance or code architecture.

Software developers do not typically go to technical conferences where the 
proceedings are not available and where everyone is bound by rigid "think 
tank" rules on reporting what anyone may or may not have said.


> I do think that more information about the LN could be published, in terms
> of statistics (like number of members from corporate legal counsels,
> independent lawyers, software engineers, geographic distribution, etc.),
> but I am confident it can only work if the actual discussion content can be
> kept private to that group, guarded by the Chatham House rule.

The problem with this from the perspective of an outsider, who is or has been 
supporting a community-oriented organisation like FSFE, is that it doesn't 
give me anything more than "indicators". It reminds me of corporate surveys of 
employee satisfaction where high-quality information may have gone into the 
process but at the end all that came out in the presentation made to employees 
was a bunch of vague satisfaction numbers and the usual self-congratulatory 
conclusion that "things are good but we can be even better".

Or, in other terms, a particular tree may fall down in the woods, but at best 
we will only ever get a breakdown of fallen trees by species over a particular 
reporting period.

> > reason for the FSFE being indifferent about possibly the most significant
> > licence compliance case in Europe in recent years? (One that was only
> > "settled" by the defendant coincidentally deciding to rewrite the
> > offending code.)

(I assume that you would have already known which case I am referring to here 
even before I posted a link about it the other day.)

> It is new to me that the FSFE is being indifferent about license
> compliance.  In fact, for many years virtually everyone there have been
> pushing me to resurrect - which I still have not and
> cannot due to time constraints.  I work 60-80 hours per week on FOSS as it
> is, and I have to set priorities.

So why are they pushing you to do something and not doing something 

> I've been attending court hearings of GPL compliance related lawsuits in
> Germany (not referring to those I was involved as a plaintiff or side
> intervener, but merely watching/observing), and often Max or Matthias
> (or others) were present, too.  At no point during the conversations I
> ever had any doubt that they are against license compliance or against
> enforcement.  The thought seems absurd to me.

I said that they were indifferent about a particular case. Sadly, I cannot 
readily search the FSFE site to see whether the organisation did take a clear 
and active position on that case, nor is it as obvious as it used to be that 
the organisation is taking a stand on such issues generally. Maybe the way 
things are communicated is so diffuse that it becomes difficult to perceive 
what the organisation prioritises any more.

> > And what are we to make of an event that is presumably sponsored by an
> > organisation who was - maybe still is - in a frivolous legal conflict with
> > another Free Software organisation operating in the same realm (who
> > presumably does not participate in this event)?
> Maybe the process/structures of the LN could be made more public.
> During my time at the programme committee I never have seen any
> influence from sponsors in terms of the agenda of the event.   So if
> you're worried about sponsors being able to set the agenda: I have no
> concerns there.

I am more worried about organisations supposedly serving the Free Software 
community spending more time and effort attacking each other and dividing up 
into factions, potentially driven by agendas we cannot readily perceive (even 
if they may not be more complicated than greed or self-interest), than those 
organisations actually focusing on furthering the cause of Free Software.

> > Ultimately, the danger here is that people supporting an organisation end
> > up also supporting counterproductive or harmful behaviour, all because it
> > is not possible to scrutinise what people are saying and doing.
> I guess you will have to have some level of trust for the people who are
> actually involved with the related activities.

Of course. But we end up once again in a situation where us outsiders only 
hear "we got this" and merely have to take people's word for it, even though 
there are plenty of situations in the wider world where people gladly make 
such statements and then proceed to do whatever they see fit, which may range 
from actually doing what they promised, through doing nothing at all, all the 
way to actively working against what people want and expect.

And I understand that it can be tiresome to hear people like me complaining 
about it, just as it is tiresome for me to do the complaining. I'm quite sure 
that this isn't the only mailing list where people wonder "why is this guy 
still here?".

But if everything ends up only being about what a select group of "top men" 
think about some topic or other - because who are these other people anyway? - 
then it becomes a matter of the "top men" doing their own thing and everyone 
else struggling to see what relevance it has to them. And the next thing that 
happens is that everyone else just leaves them to it.


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