Does Open Source Really Need Tax Breaks?

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.


Brazil Engagements

During the first couple of weeks of July Simon will be in Brazil for a number of events.

If you’re in Porto Alegre you could hear him talk at FISL, where he’ll talk on Wednesday July 3rd on the topic of how open source turned businesses and governments around the world into users and promoters of free software. He’s also speaking on the Friday July 5th about the threat of software patents, (even to those in a country which doesn’t seem to allow them) and what steps can be taken to counter that threat.

If you’re in São Paulo, he’s also talking at TDC on Wednesday July 10th, where he’ll be talking about OSI, the MariaDB Foundation and again about software patents and what you can do about them.

If you’d like to meet with Simon while he’s in Brazil – for example to discuss joining OSI or the MariaDB Foundation or to become an OIN licensee – please use the contact form.

Thoughts on Open Innovation

Thoughts On Open Innovation” is a collection of essays considering open innovation with an eye to a) the effects of open innovation on every day life and b) the sorts of legislation that would support and sustain it. The collection is now available in paperback form via Lulu as well as in PDF form from Openforum Academy, the publishers of the title. Simon’s essay “No One Speaks For Me: The Legislative Disconnect Of The Meshed Society” is included as part of the collection. His essay looks at the concept of a meshed society and at some of the ways in which the old world naturally excludes and even fights the onset of the new. The collection as a whole is intended to form part of Openforum Academy’s policy outreach with a view to delivering “a snapshot of important developments for policy-makers, business leaders and researchers to consider.”

Community Foundations at OSCON

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 roles
  • Do we need an Executive Director?
  • Outsourced administration
11:10  Fundraising and fund-using
  • How can we raise the funds we need?
  • How can we spend money?
  • Should we pay for code?
11:45  Open Q & A

12:00  End

Chair:  Simon Phipps, OSI & MariaDB Foundation

  • Josh Berkus, Software in the Public Interest & PostgreSQL
  • Steve Holden, Python Software Foundation
  • Paula Hunter, OuterCurve Foundation
  • Bradley Kuhn, Software Freedom Conservancy & FSF
  • Dave Neary, Red Hat & GNOME
  • Deb Nicholson, OIN, MediaGoblin & OpenHatch
  • Ian Skerrett, Eclipse Foundation

The topics covered here are just some of the considerations to be made when starting a foundation; in fact even the decision to start a foundation is itself not always the best option. Hearing about some of the mistakes, failures and successes that the panel have already experienced will help get your foundation on the right track.

Simon will also be giving a talk on the Thursday afternoon about the process by which corporations can find themselves embracing and benefiting from open source.

The Power To Act Against The Community’s Interests

This week it emerged that somehow an error had found its way into the MySQL build system which had changed the licenses on the manual pages from GPL to a restrictive proprietary license. It took some two months before the issue was discovered. Oracle have reversed that change now, so the panic mode has passed. The incident definitely served as a timely reminder though, waking up the open source community once again to the care and attention needed when considering the use of “contributor agreements”.

While they’ve promised that they’re not going to do any such thing, Oracle could potentially change the MySQL license at any moment. Contributors needn’t be party to that decision as they sign away any copyright interests they have in the project when they sign the contributor agreement. For those starting new projects though, this incident highlights one of the reasons contributor agreements can detract from the health of a project. There are other alternatives that should be considered.

In this week’s InfoWorld article Simon takes a look at contributor agreements, commenting on the practices of duel licensing and copyright aggregation along the way. What is the best way to make sure that your community flourishes?

Italian Region Switches To Open Source

Bolzano LogoThis morning saw the announcement by the Italian province of South Tyrol that they would begin a three year migration process to using LibreOffice for all of it’s public administration needs; they apparently use Microsoft products at present. The move is part of a broader strategy to eliminate dependence on monopolistic vendors, reduce costs, become more flexible and support locally based service providers.

You can tell that this is a project with a high likelihood of success because of the extent of the planning that has apparently gone into making the change. Simon’s article “Migrating to Open Source Needs a Plan” laid out some of the reasons why it’s vital that these sorts of migrations are not taken lightly or used simply as a cost cutting measure. When done carefully and with forethought there are rich rewards to be reaped and this South Tyrol migration bears the hall marks of an administration that is making the change in the right way. Gradual phase in, dialogue with and training for unfamiliar users, a changeover budget, these are all signs that this is one migration which is going to meet its aims.

The “Technical Round Table for Open Source” on whose advice this decision seems to have been made  have very likely built their proposed changeover plan on the basis of the document foundations own recommendations for migrating to LibreOffice. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this bold move.

Making Transparency A Priority

Have you heard of the Tshwane Principles yet? Published a week ago the Tshwane Principles on National Security and the Right to Information set out detailed best practice recommendations on where the lines should be drawn between disclosure and  secrecy with regard to government held information. The document represents over two years of work by a collaboration of governments, academics, civil society groups and a wide range of expert opinions from over 70 different countries. The standards also address other issues from the treatment of whistle blowers, to the classification and declassification of information and to the formation of independent oversight bodies to name just a few.

This announcement article from the Open Society Justice Initiative who facilitated the creation of the principles claims that even the draft form of the principles has already proved itself a useful tool in the debate over  state information laws in South Africa. It’s hoped that the completed Tshwane Principles will be considered and adopted by governments all over the world, promoting openness and justice in the area of information access. Lord Alex Carlile QC described the Principles as “a standard that is both aspirational and achievable”. Whenever issues of access, disclosure and classification make it onto the agenda, the Tshwane Principles need to be close behind, holding governments to a standard that is high and fair yet still has its feet firmly grounded in the realities of security today.

Porn Summit is Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Representatives from a whole host of ISPs will meet tomorrow with Culture Secretary Maria Miller in a summit to discuss the problems of illegal child abuse image distribution and the effective filtering of legal pornography. Brushing aside for a moment the fact that these are two very separate issues that need to be handled in different ways and not be confusingly bundled together, there are some other serious problems with the governments approach to the issue.

Having a meeting to which only service providers are invited emphasises the governments apparent position that it is the ISPs responsibility to police the content created by internet users. This is as ridiculous as expecting postmen to not deliver hate mail. ISPs are not and should not be responsible for the things Internet users choose to put online.

On the issue of filtering, it’s amazing that ministers still consider filtering as a possible course of action. Only this week ORG have released a collection of other web sites blocked by existing filters used by mobile carriers. To try and put an absolute filter on something as subjective as inappropriate content seems almost wilfully dismissive of citizen freedoms. Read more in today’s ComputerWorldUK article.

Fixing PRISM

The risks relating to PRISM came as no surprise to privacy and security specialists such as Casper Bowden, independent privacy and surveillance expert and former Chief Privacy Advisor to Microsoft. In fact, last year he co-authored a report to the European Parliament outlining the risks posed by FISA 702 and associated loopholes in EU Data Protection law.

Today’s article on ComputerWorldUK takes the form of a question and answer session with Bowden, exploring some of the elements of FISA which have been alarmingly highlighted by the revelations of PRISM. It also seeks to respond to the question of how we can be protected against widespread cyber-surveillance and makes concrete proposals. The interview was conducted in February, before PRISM’s existence became known, but as he commented at the Open Rights Group conference last week, the analysis is as relevant today as it ever was.

Getting Out of PRISM

The revelations about U.S. intelligence activities over the past week have been a wake up call to us all. The implications of big brother’s ever searching gaze are far reaching and require immediate consideration, especially given the ongoing growth of cloud computing.

One website is usefully collating details of software systems that reduce the risk of your communications being intercepted. Looking through some of the software presented on “PRISM break” helps to visualise the extent to which the existence of PRISM compromises your internet privacy. Having seen the wide range of solutions they suggest, perhaps you’ll want to overhaul your cloud service use completely, or perhaps you’ll settle for smaller changes, like installing the HTTPS everywhere browser plug-in.

Whatever you decide, there are lots of options out there. So be encouraged, we are not helpless when it comes to protecting our safety and privacy online. Together with the open source community we do not need to give in to the big brother states and corporations of this world. Read more in this week’s InfoWorld article.