I was lucky enough to chat to Jason Huggins earlier last week, getting an update on Saucelabs, the commercial arm of (his) Selenium Project [related post here]. Needless to say the conversation ranged far and wide. One issue was open source foundation choices. Given the decision to “go commercial” and build a business around Selenium, the right partner was essential – why does an open source project need an open source foundation – because of all the boring crap involved in running an organisation, especially a non-profit, even more especially one connected to a profit-making business. That’s the thing about choosing an Apache or Eclipse license; you are also implicitly choosing an open source Foundation to work with you on a project.
But these days commercial open source businesses increasingly want the flexibility to choose, and change, a new license for commercial reasons. Thus, for example, our client Neo4J recently made the Community edition of its graph database available under the GPLv3.
And intriguingly Hugs decided to go with the frankly not so well known Software Freedom Conservancy as a foundation even though he is happy with Selenium’s Apache 2.0 license.
The reasoning was straightforward. For one thing- the new coolness moved there. GIT is now a Conservancy member… and if its good enough for Linus… [update: should have said- jQuery too!].
None of the Selenium contributors wanted to deal with the bureacracy of foundation overheads. One suggested the SFConservancy. What tipped the balance? Freedom to Leave. That’s right – part of the core SFConservancy pitch is the idea that you may prefer to back out of a license or foundation structure. Freedom To Leave is literally written into the SFConservancy charter.
All agreements between member projects and the Conservancy stipulate clearly that the member project can leave the Conservancy with a few months’ notice. Federal tax exemption law, though, states that projects must transfer their assets from the Conservancy in a way that is consistent with the Conservancy’s not-for-profit tax status — meaning the assets cannot be transferred to an individual or a for-profit entity. Generally, a project would either find another fiscal sponsor or form their own independent tax-exempt non-profit.
We fully expect that some Conservancy projects will ultimately wish to form their own non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations; that’s why we design our agreements with projects to allow them to leave to another 501(c)(3) organization. Typically, projects join Conservancy because the project leaders don’t want the burdens of running a non-profit themselves. Often, as projects grow, leaders get interested in the non-profit management and organizational side of the activities and are then prepared to take on the additional work themselves.
So Freedom To Leave swung it for the Selenium guys. But what does the Conservancy do?
- Member Project Services
- Tax-Deductible, Earmarked Donations
- Asset Stewardship
Conservancy can hold any assets for the project on its behalf. This includes copyrights, trademarks, domain names, physical computer equipment or anything that should be officially held in the name of the project. Member projects are not required that Conservancy hold all assets of a project. (For example, member projects are not required to assign copyrights to the Conservancy.) However, Conservancy can accommodate the needs of projects that want their assets under the control of a not-for-profit entity and exercised only for the public good.
- Contract Negotiation and Execution
- FLOSS Copyright License Enforcement
- Fundraising Assistance
- Avoid Non-Profit Administrivia
- Leadership Mentoring, Advice and Guidance
- Some Personal Liability Protection
All useful services then. In case you’re wondering I Italicised the line above on copyright because its such an important part of commercial open source business, as anyone that has watched the Jenkins Hudson mess can attest. Seems like SFConservancy may finally be hitting its stride. If the market wants to decouple the management of a non-profit with the choice of an open source license it will likely pick up even more business. I will be watching them more closely from now on.
From a disclosure point of view I should say the Eclipse Foundation and Apache Software Foundation are both RedMonk clients.
Special thanks to tibchris for the amazing photo, attribution only creative commons licensed on flickr. the horse may not be in midstream exactly, but i love the breaking wave…