IRS Blocks Open Source Non-Profit Status

Open source Foundations have a great track record for good governance of open source projects – think of the Apache Software Foundation, the Document Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation or the Mozilla Foundation and the tremendous software they produce speaks volumes. We take it for granted that they need to be tax-exempt organisations.

Yet troubles in the USA with gaining recognition for open source projects from the tax authorities raise an important question: is tax-exempt status really necessary? Or are we mistaking approval of sound accounting principles for certification of good governance?  Today’s article in InfoWorld has more.


Community Foundations at OSCON

Meshed Insights Ltd

OSCON is approaching and the schedule‘s looking great. On the Tuesday morning Simon will be one of several open source foundation leaders giving guidance and sharing experience on some of the practical aspects of starting a foundation at the Community Foundations 101 tutorial. Here’s the program for that event:

Scheduled: 9am Tuesday August 23rd, in room F150

09:00    Welcome and introduction of Faculty
09:10    Should we form a Foundation or join a host organisation?
  • What is a Foundation and what benefits does it provide?
  • Should every project be part of a Foundation?
  • Should we start our own Foundation?
  • What existing Foundations could we join?
09:50  How do we form a new Foundation?
If we form a Foundation:
  • Where should we do that?
  • What “type” should it be? 501(c)(3, 4, 6), eV, Stiftung etc
  • Regulatory trends
10:30  How should we staff & administer it?
  • Staff…

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MariaDB Progress

I just posted a State Of The Sea Lion report on the MariaDB blog detailing where we have reached with implementing a community-centric approach for the MariaDB Foundation.

Brazil Protests Peaceful, And Not About Bus Fares

Favela among treesIn preparation for FISL (where I hope to be speaking next week), I have been continuing to try to understand the protests in Brazil, which are now regularly bringing crowds the size of a European town onto the streets. They aren’t really about “bus fares” — and as far as I have been told are free of violence by the protesters apart from a statistically insignificant number of them. With so many people on the streets, there are bound to be a few disorderly encounters; to focus on them is try to distract from the real issues.

The real issues every Brazilian friend I have spoken to cares about relate to a sequence of governments failing to address structural issues and widespread corruption, and even perhaps joining in. The protesters are people just like you and me, who just won’t take it any more and are peacefully but loudly saying so.

So an example, shared with me by a dear friend: In this Guardian article, they mention PEC 37, a proposed constitutional amendment that would stop federal prosecutors being allowed to perform any investigation apart from what the police tell them. Given the police are widely mistrusted, this is seen as an attempt to pull a curtain across the corruption at the heart of state and federal government, rather than to expose it to daylight.

The protests are attracting 6 and 7 figure crowds because everyone knows about this corruption problem. It’s why the health service doesn’t get fixed; it’s why the World Cup stadium in Rio was so expensive; it’s why taxes for ordinary people are so unfair; it’s why justice is slow and beyond the reach of many. All of those issues are symbolic for a section of the protestors, but the protest is not about them; it’s about the failure of Lula, and Dilma after him, to reform the administration of Brazil.

The bus fare rise was a symbolic last straw. After spending an unimaginable amount of money on a stadium Rio (and all the other cities where one has been built) doesn’t need, bus services are so badly funded that the only way to keep the (very bad) buses on the road is to raise fares. Every Brazilian can see the bitter irony that the state can afford the World Cup but not properly-funded bus services so many need to live.

The President has said she’ll stop fare rises and bring in doctors to help in hospitals. But every Brazilian I have spoken with understands that’s treating the symptoms and not the disease. The problem is not the bus fares; it’s the lack of investment in infrastructure. The problem is not a shortage of doctors; Brazil has many excellent and dedicated doctors who are paid too little. It’s that hospitals are under-resourced to the point that the treatment is inadequate. Bringing in more medical staff from Cuba will just mean there are more people struggling to make an inadequately-resourced hospital fail less.

What’s needed is a root-and-branch clean-up of the political system so that the people can get the society they know Brazil — with its oil and other natural resources as well as it’s half-miracle of a newly-vibrant middle class economy — can afford.  I’ve no idea who advised her to make a speech that, to ordinary Brazilians, was as insulting as it was shallow. But she needs to get back to her roots and listen to the people if she doesn’t want to find herself impeached. It’s happened before.

Endangered Downloads

I’ve posted an article in a few places commenting briefly on the implications of Github, Google and others (but notably not SourceForge) deciding not to offer downloads as a service to open source projects. My instinct tells me this is a warning sign; I’d be interested in your views.

Too Much Power?

In InfoWorld this week, I’ve reprised my views about contributor agreements. The trigger for this was seeing Oracle erroneously change the license for the MySQL man pages from GPL to something nasty. Once they were told, they fixed the error (which had been public for two months), but the fact their build system even has an option for proprietary relicensing that can be accidentally enabled is cause for thought.

Why can they do that? Contributor agreements have given them ownership of all the copyrights, including for things they didn’t make. With those copyrights comes the power to change the license without asking anyone (even by accident).  In an age of OpenStack, Eclipse and Apache, why should we still have important open source projects under the control of unaccountable entities?

Brazil’s Half-Miracle

On all the social media networks, there’s a hashtag that I have kept seeing the last few days: #ChangeBrazil, associated with unrest across Brazil. Since I may be going there soon for the huge FISL open source conference,  I wondered exactly what was going on.  I asked one of my friends in Brazil and she sent me a link to a video to explain it.

That does a pretty good job explaining the current situation; the coverage on the BBC lacked any kind of context. I’ve been to Brazil often, read a few books, even shaken hands with former President Lula, so I’ve a little background to go on.  Certainly visiting Brazil over the last decade I have seen a huge change.

From what I can tell, the bus fares are just the last straw in a problem that has been developing throughout that decade.  The reforms of President Cardoso (the one before Lula) are having the effect he anticipated and Brazil is actually faced with an economic miracle. His basic economic reforms — notably introduction of the Real as Brazil’s currency — led to the building of a middle class that has revived and energised Brazil’s economy. His autobiography is an excellent and readable source on this subject.

But since Cardoso, the Presidents haven’t been able to follow through on Cardoso’s work; it’s only half a miracle. In the two terms of Lula and now of his chosen successor Dilma there is a problem. They failed to fix the systemic corruption inherited from before Cardoso — many say they have participated in it — but they have not realised that more is needed than just creating a middle class. To grasp the depth of the corruption before Cardoso, I recommend Peter Robb’s gripping account of the fall of President Fernando Collor de Mello.

The truth is that a middle class paying high taxes and facing inflation that’s eroding their income expects health care, expects safety, expects fair representation, expects fiscal security, expects all the things the very-rich people expect, in return for their taxes. But instead of delivering those things, Lula and Dilma have focussed on their own popularity and international reputation and neglected the reforms Brazil needs.

Notably, they have spent astonishing amounts of money on the World Cup and the Olympics, while spending little on the hospital system and neglecting taxation reform.   That means that while they show the world the high life, they have left the middle classes who are powering Brazil’s revival to face the life of the poor while paying the taxes of the rich.

The expensive stadium for the World Cup may well be the real last straw, rather than the bus fares that are hitting the headlines; that’s why so many of the protests have the previously unthinkable spectacle of Brazilians booing FIFA and the President at the opening of the new stadium and calling for a boycott of the World Cup. It looks like rank-and-file Brazilians are not going to take it any more.

Their protests have been mostly peaceful, but the heavy-handedness of the police is fanning middle-class disquiet into social angst of a calibre to feed a revolution. Dilma is attempting to spin the situation, but she doesn’t have the almost supernatural charisma of her predecessor that allowed him to tearfully brush-off scandal after scandal and survive association with deeply discredited colleagues who might have expected his loyalty after their “fixing”.

The situation is dire, and the only reason most of us don’t know is the problem is masked by other international issues. Could it be a modern Diretas Já?

Porn Summit Actively Harmful

The government clearly wishes to be seen to be doing something about the issues of children viewing pornography and of child pornography. To this end they have called a summit, to be chaired by Culture Secretary Maria Miller and attended by major Internet service providers. But the invite list conspicuously omits anyone representing actual citizens, the people creating and using the internet who would actually be affected.

Since the proposals will materially harm the Internet for everyone in Britain, that’s quite an oversight. That’s like only inviting postmen to a summit about hate mail.

Read more in ComputerWorldUK.

Don’t Stop With The Trolls

Bridge on the River DeeMy article in InfoWorld this week rounded up the news of the White House initiative to deal with patent trolls and repeated some proposals I’ve made before on other reforms we could make to relieve some of the pain of the dysfunction while we wait for root-and-branch reform of the patent system.

The White House initiative is good and encouraging, but it’s a source for some concern. There are actually plenty of giant corporations who have found they can monetise their vast patent portfolios effectively. The careful construction of the White House proposals suggests to me that they don’t intend to take action against the behaviour of those corporations.

Their tactics are a lot like those of patent trolls. They approach innovators, demonstrate the magnitude of their patent portfolios, assert there is sure to be a conflict and then demand payment of tribute (euphemistically described as “cross licensing”, as if their victims have something to offer in fair exchange). This is all done under cover of NDA-imposed secrecy from the beginning, and those who dare say they are being shaken down — as TomTom did for example — are punished for their temerity. As a consequence of the NDAs and the out-of court settlements there are no public traces – the perfect shake-down.

This is just as chilling to innovation as the actions of non-practicing entity trolls. In some ways, it’s worse. Its perpetrators also use their patent portfolios to chill fair competition, acting in a way that surely should be considered a form of anti-trust when they take vast swathes of vaguely-described “invention” and attempt to apply it to their competitors to lock them out of markets or tax their profits. Preventing direct copying of actual, concrete inventions would be fair enough. That’s not what we’re talking about here though. We’re talking about attempts to control use of gestures, ideas and even rectangles.

So as we congratulate the White House for taking action against trolls, even going to the extent of creating cute animated graphics to promote their efforts, let’s not give their corporate advisors a free pass.  Patents on pure software are abuse waiting to happen and they need to be eliminated. The worthy White House actions against trolls should not distract us from that goal.

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