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Re: The General Public Licence (GPL) as the basic governance tool

From: Ludovic Courtès
Subject: Re: The General Public Licence (GPL) as the basic governance tool
Date: Sun, 23 Feb 2020 22:34:32 +0100
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/26.3 (gnu/linux)


Eli Zaretskii <> skribis:

>> From: Ludovic Courtès <>


>> Quoth RMS¹:
>>   GNU package maintainers have committed to do work to maintain and add
>>   to the GNU system, but not anything beyond that.  We have never
>>   pressed contributors to endorse the GNU Project philosophy, or any
>>   other philosophical views, because people are welcome to contribute to
>>   GNU regardless of their views.
> That's just the tip of a very large iceberg.  I know it, you know it,
> and every GNU maintainer knows it.  When we get appointed, we receive
> a 1000-word message from RMS with some quite non-trivial instructions,
> including, but not limited to, a pointer to maintain.texi as the place
> to find specific policies and guidelines that are mandatory to follow.
> That is what I alluded to when I said "maintaining a GNU project
> according to the guidelines".  I don't know how things are on your
> plate, but for me following those guidelines takes most of my free
> time, and requires some non-trivial efforts.

Of course, but these are mostly technicalities.  Richard’s point here is
that we’re expected to do nothing beyond following those policies, and
even the guidelines can be sidestepped.

>> The GNU Social Contract is about changing that. 
> How can you change that if the document is voluntary?

Endorsers will know what to expect from each other and people who work
with them will have a clearer picture, too.

>> That some of us want to change the governance of GNU is not a mystery.
>> Our first message to maintainers¹ and the endorsement page² read:
>>   Additionally, we think it can be a first step towards formalizing a
>>   transparent and collective governance of the GNU Project.
> I think you are missing the point.  You are asking people to endorse a
> document, but it's unclear whether the document is a goal in itself or
> a step in some direction, and if the latter, then what exactly is that
> direction.  "We think it can be a first step" doesn't cut it: is it
> the first step or isn't it?  If it is, then I at least would like to
> know where you are aiming, and I'd like to see it written clearly and
> unequivocally on your site, including any controversy that might exist
> about those goals (so people could consider them and make up their
> minds).  You see, I'm somewhat picky in choosing documents which I
> sign, and would like to understand better what kind of movement I'm
> joining by doing so.  I expect that at least some of us here think the
> same.

We did spend some time to make the message concise, clear, and
to-the-point.  :-)  Let me explain it with more words:

  The goal of this document is to state the core values GNU maintainers
  and uploaders and contributors who have endorsed it are committed to
  uphold.  It is both an agreement among us, GNU contributors, and a
  pledge to the broader free software community.

This paragraph is telling about the intrinsic value of endorsing the
document: it defines the commitments of those who endorse it.

  Additionally, we think it can be a first step towards formalizing a
  transparent and collective governance of the GNU Project.

Note the “additionally” adverb here: we (the authors) think endorsing
the document has intrinsic value for the project, regardless of one’s
ideas on how the project should be run, but _additionally_, some of us
think it’s a first necessary step towards collective governance.

I hope that better answers your questions.

> Moreover, being involved in a campaign to diminish and unseat the
> current leadership for reasons that are controversial at best puts you
> at a disadvantage, because there could be a reasonable assumption that
> this document is part of that campaign, and if that is so, then people
> might decide they don't want any part in that.  If the document is not
> part of that campaign, then onus is on you to convince us that it
> isn't, and the best way of doing that is honestly and clearly mention
> the issues and controversies on your site.  Keeping silence about that
> just makes people wonder and ask questions, and is unfair towards your
> audience, since it might trick some of them to make decisions they
> will later regret.

I do see that some people do not judge the document for what it actually
says, and I think it’s a pity.

Over the last decade I have, again, not been silent about a desire to
work towards a collectively-run GNU.  But I’ve also done a lot for GNU
in that time, and I don’t think it’s useful to view every single action
of mine as “part of that campaign”.

>> Now, I do think there is value in having maintainers endorse the Social
>> Contract, regardless of the governance model one is aiming for: it can
>> improve cohesion and allow for more delegation of responsibilities.
> Details, please: what cohesion are we talking about, how it will
> depend on whether I did or didn't endorse the document, and which
> responsibilities you expect to be able to delegate to those who
> endorse it.

If you and I both state our commitment to upholding that set of values,
then we have something in common that we can build on.  We know we’re on
the same page.

A project like GNU is the people who make it.  If the ties among those
people are stronger, the whole project benefits.  The Social Contract
can be one of these things that allows us to emphasize what we share.


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