November 22, 2006

SPI set to settle long-standing domain name dispute

Author: Bruce Byfield

Software in the Public Interest (SPI) is a non-profit organization dedicated to further the interests of free hardware and software. It is best-known as the public face of Debian. However, after several years of relative inactivity, SPI is getting its affairs in order and expanding to include other projects. At its November meeting yesterday, the SPI board of directors discussed a wide range of topics, from the status of talks with potential member projects, the removal of an apparently defunct project, and the issue of the Debian trademark in Spain. Most importantly, the board resolved to settle at its next meeting a domain name dispute with the Open Source Initiative (OSI) that dates backs to 1998.

SPI board meetings occur monthly on the #spi channel on irc.oftc.net. The board is a who's who of Debian past and present, including SPI president Bdale Garbee and Branden Robinson, two former Debian Project Leaders, and long-time Debian activists such as Ian Jackson and Martin "Joey" Schulze.

Guests are also welcome as observers, and usually include a large number of other Debian developers. Between IRC nicknames and the digressions common to chat, the discussion sometimes assumes a surreal quality, especially over points of order, but meetings still manage to conclude in about an hour most of the time.

Signs of renewed life

One of the signs that SPI is coming out of hibernation is the report by Josh Berkus, the current treasurer. The report is put on line to save the trouble of presenting detailed information on the channel. Berkus, whom fellow director David Graham describes as the first treasurer SPI has had for a while who actually understands finances, reports that the 2005 financial statement is being wrapped up, and that he expects shortly to move on to the 2006 statement and SPI's registration as a non-profit in New York state, which is four years overdue. Berkus also notes that SPI is receiving more than $100,000 in annual income, which means that it faces more exacting filing requirements to keep non-profit status.

Still another sign of revitalization appeared in Garbee's reports that he has been having online and face to face discussion with potential new SPI members, including LedgerSMB and OpenOffice.org. This news prompted Berkus to remind the board that SPI needed to get an Associated Projects HOWTO online as quickly as possible.

Conversely, the board voted to remove OpenVAS as an SPI associate, since, judging from the fact that its Web site is down and queries go unanswered, the project is apparently dead. The board also voted to return any donations for OpenVAS to those who sent them.

The Debian trademark in Spain

The SPI board also discussed a longstanding dispute over the Debian trademark in Spain. The issue arises because the trademark is currently held by Jesus Martinez, who is unconnected with both Debian and SPI. This dispute prevents the registration of the Debian trademark throughout the European Union, of which Spain is a member. Martinez has offered to settle if all Internet references to his expropriation of the trademark are removed, and if he receives €3,000 and written authorization from SPI to continue using the trademark personally, but the SPI board has rejected its terms.

SPI's legal counsel, Gregory Pomerantz, continues to pursue the issue. However, as Berkus notes, the board is concerned that Pomerantz "does not have enough pro-bono time to take care of all of our advice issues" and may not be receiving enough information from the board. Since Pomerantz is well-versed on the issue, the board wishes to retain his service, but is considering paying him for some of his time to help settle the issue more speedily. In the end, though, no decision about a course of action was reached.

Transferring the OSI domain names

The board also moved towards resolution of a longstanding issue with OSI. In 1998, when Bruce Perens left SPI to help found OSI, he did not transfer rights to the domains opensource.org and opensource.net. SPI still retains these domains, and since the split OSI has regularly made requests that the rights be transferred to it.

In the past, this request has been ignored due to the ill-feeling between the two non-profits. For instance, past SPI board members have also used allegations about how OSI is governed as a reason for not granting the request. Now, SPI board member Graham suggests that "the governance structures of other 501(c)3 non-profits is none of our business and that we have a responsibility to turn these domains over to OSI at the earliest opportunity. I am not willing to postpone this vote as I believe it is an issue that should be settled for once and for all."

Jackson proposed that the vote be delayed until next meeting so that board members could complete discussion of the issues via email. The motion passed, but, speaking as president, Garbee warned board members, "Let me be very clear about this. I'd like to close this issue one way or another, once and for all. I will not tolerate another postponement, so please, everyone on the board continue to discuss and be ready to vote on the resolution a month hence."

Anthony Towns, the current Debian Leader, postponed discussion of several points he wished to raise, and the meeting adjourned shortly after Garbee's statement -- not the most action-packed piece of free software business to most people, but a representative sample of the daily concerns that someone in the community has to manage.

Note: Covering SPI meetings is an experiment for NewsForge. We aren't going to publish a report for every meeting, but we are considering doing a story when anything of interest happens. Help us make a decision by letting us know what you think of the experiment.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager's Journal.

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