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Georg Greve’s Keynote at the Plone Conference 2009

Georg Greve of the FSF at the Plone Conference 2009

Georg Greve from the Free Software Foundation Europe was talking about decision making. He started explaining how he moved from being a software developer to being a politician.

He takes the relicensing policy as an example and wonders how we reached a decision on it. What is a majority? How do we define the qualified majority needed? Here the Plone Foundation is one important piece. If we wouldn’t have the Plone Foundation it would come down to consensus. This works well in certain group but sometimes it also leads to shoutocracy where those people who shout the loudest go on doing so and the others at some point simply give up.

This is not applicable in many cases. E.g. in the Plone Foundation it is about copyright and you need unanimous agreement, you need everybody to say „Yes“.

Copyright Law

Copyright laws are man made by man made processes. So where does it come from?
It starts with national levels which have some form of majority. In a bi/multilateral situation it is unanimity and in the united nations it’s consensus.

This sounds as if the bi/multilateral decisions are easier to make than the UN ones but that’s not necessarily true. There are a lot of rules involved and it might come down to harsher negotiations. It is also complicated with certain regimes where they technically have 100% of their people behind them.

But why do copyright laws happen? There are always some reasons behind those laws. In copyright it is about „fairness“ politicians say. But what does „fair“ mean? Also politicians are not expert in this field but they still need to make decisions. So they rely on other people to help with that decision.

He gives TRIPS (Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) as an example. Originally it was driven by a very very targeted agenda by large US corporation, by a coalition of the willing. Only those who wanted the maximum went along. And now governments need to enforce something which was created by a group of coporations. He mentions the U.S. Special 301 list with the „naughty“ countries who do not enforce that.

He mentions a study (LAWRENCE) where 3 professors found out that lobby expenditures can receive you a 22,000 percent return on investment. This is for tax regulations, we don’t know about copyright lobbying. So it’s a worthwhile thing to do for companies.

On which side do you wanna be? What’s your perspective of this?

„Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians“ (Charles de Gaulle)

The only way your voice is heard is that you need to be at that table where decisions are made. E.g. Plone is also affected by this. Like software patents, web standards, etc.

„Those who are too smart to engage in politics aree punished by being governed by those who are dumber“ (Plato)

Inactivity is not an option. There are moments where we have to act!


This is going in two directions, the external government between Plone and the outside world. But there is also the inside governance, how does the community work in itself?

Plone already decided to be a community instead of being a single vendor. He thinks that this is the more sustainable approach. The single-vendor approach is complicated because it’s only one company you don’t know the future about.

There are also other issues that come up. How do you address growth? This is one of the most challenging issue. How do we keep the substance strong as people get in and how do we ensure that our community remains able to make decisions. No one has found the answer to that yet though.

What about the structural „bottleneck bugs“?

There is things in the plumbing which you might want to redo at some point. KDE just has gone through such a process which was rather painful. Many projects encounter such situations. It is very hard to find volunteers to do that work. You also cannot find a customer to pay for all of this. There is no visual change.

How do we find ways to address those problems? He knows that the Plone community is thinking about this and he also helped the Open Database Alliance to find a solution for this. There the membership fees are done like this: 50% allocated by members, 20-30% allocated by board. Members can allocate fund for certain projects. All the members interested in this can pool their funds for this project.

In order for this to work you need the right choices. The ODBA has certain seats for users, developers etc.

Food for thought

  1. Get active. Find ways to express your political agenda! Just being a small foundation of a few 100 people is not an excuse. You can make a difference!
  2. The most important asset of Plone is YOU! In the end whether the PF is structured this or that way, the strategic choices still need to express what the community wants. He was positively impressed by what he experiences at the conference as he experiences a positive and lively community. Keep it that way!
  3. Coordinate with your allies, like FSF. Talk to them as often as you can. Find common priorities and build alliances on them.

This live blogging report is without any guarantees of correctness and corrections are very welcome in the comments!

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