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ESR banned from OSI over this email (opensource.org)
81 points by rurban on March 8, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments

ESR is right. Open Source is granting everyone permission to use, copy, modify, and/or distribute software for any purpose (with or without copy-left).

There are those who want to co-opt open source for political aims and grant licenses only to those who agree with them politically, but such limitations are anathema to Open Source and discussing such ought not even to be entertained on OSI lists.

Those wanting to deal in “My-worldview-only source” can go find themselves a different name.

I agree. I think ESR is correct and should not be banned from this message (although if he got banned for something else (as someone else has suggested), that is a different issue and one I cannot comment on because I do not know). A different name is needed for what you are referring to as "My-worldview-only source".

> co-opt open source for political aims

Are they though? I just clicked on the first links on the ESD website linked elsewhere and landed here:


This is based entirely on the UN Charter of Human Rights. These are not political aims in the sense of "you can reasonably be on either side of this".

Society as a whole understands that freedom is one of a handful of fundamental values that need to be balanced against each other. That's why freedom of speech is not absolute [1]. The concrete question here isn't even about restricting freedom, but about the authors of software using their authorship as a platform for denouncing organizations [2], without actually stopping them from using the open source project. So it's strictly about how people, according to ESR, should or should not be allowed to speak their mind.

By refusing to even consider the legitimacy of this, and by harsh ad-hominem attacks on the other side ESR simply demonstrates in my mind that he hasn't thought very much about these wider issues.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_free_speech_exce...

[2] http://lists.opensource.org/pipermail/license-discuss_lists....

> This is based entirely on the UN Charter of Human Rights. These are not political aims in the sense of "you can reasonably be on either side of this".

The UDHR is a very broad and vague definition of human rights. The actual interpretation of it is an extremely legally complex and politically charged topic. Human rights cases usually takes years of court battles to resolve.

If you see the discussion around “Ethical Source”, people want to ban Amazon from using their source because they’re doing business with ICE. And BP for crimes against humanity. Others might want to ban any Israeli businesses, and again others wanting to ban anyone associated with the Palestinian Authority, because either or both are in their opinion violating human rights.

Anyone using ESD software would open themselves to insanely expensive lawsuits. It would be all too easy for anyone to come up with a claim that your business is somehow aiding in the violation of human rights in some fashion, and since the legalities are so complex, you can’t easily have the suit dismissed. You’ll have to spend months or even years fighting the claim in court, burning hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers.

That's a fair point, and I fully agree that there are many political issues around the UCHR. I am certain a lot of the business world would want to stay away from code that is licensed in this way, and I suspect that the authors of code licensed accordingly would be just fine with that.

My overall point though, that there are legitimate issues on balancing freedom and other values, stands. I think there is a good argument to be made that licenses are not the place to do this balancing act, but the naive "freedom maximalists" deny that there even is an issue to discuss here, quoting Paine, and what have you to take the grandest of stands.

Creative Commons for example allows for at least some of this type of fine tuning in the license. After all CC NC is a thing, and I haven't heard doom-sayers predicting the end of liberty because CC blessed the possibility that authors would want to restrict the use of their work in that direction, even while sharing it freely otherwise.

Seriously, look at the quoted message by ESR here:


I wouldn't choose ESD style licenses for many of the reasons noted. But I also support contributors ability to choose how to give away their contributions, and to actively shape the communities they participate in. I think it's legitimate that the OSI says that this does not meet their definition of an Open License.

But ESR is not arguing for that, he is seeing the very existence of people who don't share his "freedom maximalist" position (or like code of conducts, or...) as a grave threat that "his" culture needs to be protected from.

P.S.: Regarding "people want to ban Amazon from using their source because they’re doing business with ICE", from what I can see they merely want to use the license as a place to express their misgivings. Amazon would still be free to use the code as long as they also distribute the license file that says that the authors don't like Amazon for doing business with ICE.

Amazons freedom would be limited in the same way as for any copy-left license that requires reproducing the license.

Now this is still a questionable idea for any number of reasons, but it's not a ban, and no novel lawsuit threats would emerge from this.

This is rather misleading. You looked at one ethical license and it seemed to be unobjectionable. What about all the other ethical licenses? Are they equally apolitical?

The whole argument in that thread boils down to a disagreement over whether tolerance has limits. There is a fundamental paradox contained within the concept of unconditional tolerance. Does one commit to tolerating the intolerant beliefs of others?

The 'social justice' movement contains a faction who ironically insist that the rest of society must tolerate their right to arbitrarily be intolerant of others ('de-platforming'). The idea of "safe spaces" is often used to weaponize a supposed requirement for tolerance as a real application of intolerance itself.

ESR was just being pointed and firm in his assertion that the opposing position was, in his opinion, no longer worth considering. The way he used the well-known idiom "to hell with you and the horse you rode in on" contains the word "you", but was attacking an idea, not a specific person. This tendency to frame deplatforming, which is intolerance itself, as a perverted way of supposedly defending tolerance, is very destructive to honest discourse.

For reference, the ESD that is mentioned in another of ESR's messages (and the one that some argue costed him the ban): https://ethicalsource.dev/definition/

I am not sure how that would work. Point 5, "Creators have the right to solicit reasonable compensation from any commercial entity that benefits from the software" alone is a huge mess. What does solicit means? Or benefit? Can the commercial entity just answer "thanks for trying, but no"?

Quoting the movie Trolls, "that's not a plan, that's a wishlist".

This whole thread is referring to the Persona Non Grata clause: http://lists.opensource.org/pipermail/license-discuss_lists....

Of course it's not open source but they're still trying to weasel it in.

That is even more ridiculous than the MongoDB license. (The ESD was the subject of his anger in a more colorful email that might have contributed to the ban as well).

> Software is considered Ethical Source if it meets the following criteria: ...

Great, guess my source(s?) is unethical from now on. And I’m okay with that.

Btw, checked out who’re in the working group. Not at all surprised to see familiar handles who are at least as toxic as esr.

Oh dear, not only is it uselessly vague, seeing the copyright notice owner at the bottom there makes me never want to touch the ESD with any length of bargepole.

> Software is considered Ethical Source if it meets the following criteria:

> It can be freely used or combined with other software.

This seems to prohibit Copyleft.

> The source code is available, developed, and maintained in public view and welcoming of public contributions.

I have no real objections here.

> Its community of contributors is governed by a code of conduct that is consistently and fairly enforced.

They'd probably object to the following Code of Conduct: "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." But it would work.

> It is distributed under a license that prohibits the software from being used by any individual or organization which directly or indirectly facilitates, encourages, manipulates, coerces, or forces people to engage in behaviors that are in opposition to a specified framework of social good, provided that the framework does not conflict with the rights enumerated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

That prohibits pretty much all existing OSI licenses. But again you could just have the Thelema framework from above.

> Creators have the right to solicit reasonable compensation from any commercial entity that benefits from the software.

That's meaningless. You can send all the strongly worded letters you wish.

> Users of the software must, upon request, be provided with any and all data generated and stored from their usage of the software in either a human-readable or widely interoperable open format.

I don't object to this in principle, but there isn't always a "widely interoperable open format" for every data type. Nor is there any universal "human readable" format. You could technically comply by simply converting the output to hex, since it's "human readable". Maybe do it in Japanese, transliterated in EBCDIC for the hell of it.

It's not even well phrased enough to be a wishlist!

He isn't entirely wrong but his tact could do with some work. This email isn't that bad but the others in the thread are less savory.

I agree with him in principal however, the persona non grata clauses have no place in open-source licenses.

IMO the problem with the political correctness debate is your are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Even if everyone knows that is the motivation behind such an effort you can't call it out as such without becoming vilified - regardless how how you reason your argument. (not saying ESR did a good job here)

This results in many, myself included simply not taking place in such debates and eventually just not taking part in communities where this sort of discourse goes on.

There is a big difference between codifying the "don't be a dick rule" and making normal people feel like they are stepping on egg shells.

I agree with him in principle too, but he's actively hurting his cause by coming off as so unreasonable. There are better ways to make the case.

I suspect this is a broadly shared feeling (I certainly share it) -- the downvoters could perhaps engage the point made instead of acting in a way that proves it.

ESR clearly blew a gasket and banning him, however temporarily, is a necessary thing.

He does, however, make a couple goodish points:

- Zero tolerance CoCs are a disgrace for software because the friendly-or-else atmosphere they help create makes horrible-but-personable people thrive in places where they'd otherwise be laughed out of the room. Politicians excel at this game; see Congress' CoC forcing reps to call each other "my good friend" instead of (for example) "this baby murderer over here" no matter how horrible a proposal they made is.

This is a Hard Problem to solve though.

- The ESD is a terrible, unusable license that shouldn't be called Open Source, for various reasons like how its "freedom" functionally depends on how litigious the creators of a software piece woke up that day waaay more than traditional OS licenses, giving authors a direct link between their personal values and their actual, inanimate work product.

Imagine being able to buy a yoga book, then getting sued because the author required you to be a vegan first.

Give ESR a couple days rest, knock on his door and have a proper chat? Maybe this can actually be resolved with actual honesty for one.

According to this, the offending mail has been deleted from the list. http://techrights.org/2020/02/29/getting-banned-osi/

Thanks. This 'under attack' and 'us vs them' really sucks. It would be unwise to form an opinion of the whole thing without actually reading all of the emails. Yes, there are ad-hominem attacks in the email you quoted, and even if ESR was right in everything, probably not the best way to express it.

Anyway, at least this outrage brought the issue into attention, now I'm super curious about this matter.

I'm reading his side first here: http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=8609

I can't believe the article says that they muzzled ESR because of the Verizon employee. If you look at the response of the employee it is by no means calling for removal and is quite respectful.

ESR posted a long string of emails, many worse than this. Saying this one is the reason he was banned is cherry picking things in his favor.

You are right. This was his first respond to the weird Persona Non Grata idea, the actual attack came later, as I learned: (now deleted) http://lists.opensource.org/pipermail/license-discuss_lists....

This one isn't bad at all. Would you mind pointing me to one that actually is?

http://lists.opensource.org/pipermail/license-discuss_lists.... quotes the email from him that apparently finally got him banned.

This is an important issue that is critical for the future of FOSS and the sustainability of the tech ecosystem in general.

At a basic level, the ESD group represents bureaucracy, and the bureaucratization of FOSS. It is importing an intolerant minority into the FOSS community to hijack it for other purposes.

They should fork their own distributions and produce things people need, and when nobody wants them, they should consider whether they are in fact just or virtuous at all.

As someone who has no idea about the context and doesn't know about ESR, can someone explain what's going on here?

The Wiki article[1] on ESR has some bits. Including:

> Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a 'women in tech' advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp.

> Police who react to a random black male behaving suspiciously who might be in the critical age range as though he is an near-imminent lethal threat, are being rational, not racist.

> Gays experimented with unfettered promiscuity in the 1970s and got AIDS as a consequence.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond#Political_beli...

I think the goal here is to prevent a toxic atmosphere in Open Source communities. The problem is that to enforce this it may remove freedoms that some Open Source advocates feel is important. Thus we have heated conversations between those for and against the Personal Non Grata.

I could be wrong on the whole thing. I'm not well versed in what is going on but based on what I see this is my understanding.


ESR is right, and his banning, ironically, proves his point. To hell with the sanctimonious bastards in the OSI who did this.

ESR is a person, Eric S Raymond. He wrote "the cathedral and the bazaar", maintains "the jargon file", and is generally involved in the open-source community. You could consider him an "influencer" like Stallman, although to a lesser extent. He also holds some unpopular right-wing views, like gun rights, freedom of speech, and "meritocracy".

He had this to say on the topic of women's advocacy groups.

>The short version is: if you are any kind of open-source leader or senior figure who is male, do not be alone with any female, ever, at a technical conference. Try to avoid even being alone, ever, because there is a chance that a 'women in tech' advocacy group is going to try to collect your scalp.


He's a bit of a crank, and not very popular these days.

It looks like the the email was deriding a license that let projects decide certain companies were "unethical", and prevent those companies from using the "open source" code. Right now that list includes Amazon "for collaborating with ICE" and BP for "contributing to climate change".

I feel the cause is worth fighting for, but this is surely the wrong solution.

This is because:

1. It doesn't prevent subcontracting out. Amazon can merely push the egregious behavior to a spin-off or a contractor who likely will not have as many qualms about it.

2. Easy forking. It's not clear that a PNG clause will help. Given the resources of Russia/Iran/China/Amazon/Microsoft/Google, it's likely the most popular projects could just be forked anyway with a more compliant license.

3. Not everyone in Amazon/Iran/etc. are evil. Only certain people are.

4. Do we really want to encourage "Fuck You" licenses by naming names? It's the scarlet letter of licensing.

Why the hell these important discussion are always "flagged"?!

Maybe because the link is highly misleading. The linked email is not very offensive, and was not the reason for the ban, apparently. The EMails that were, were removed from the list.

dong does not know who ESR is

Its hilarious because all sorts of highly politicized articles which bring out the worst and promote ignorance/ psuedo-intelleculism in people get front paged all the time and are justified under some vague rule, but this, which is probably a little more relevant to HN is flagged.

Cancel culture at it again. They could've told him to knock it off and that other people are on the other end of email privately, at least. Ban everyone and create a useless safe space where nothing happens.

He has been told that many, many times, over the course of years.

The problem isn't that nobody told ESR to knock it off, the problem is that ESR believes this style is perfectly okay and there's no reason to change.

Okay. Thank you for elucidating. Sigh. Perhaps he needs a different forum/community for misfits where necessary roughness is permitted and similar folks can violently agree or disagree in their own way.

I don't think you understand the extent of the problem.

He regularly argues things like that blacks have too low an IQ to be taught things like correct handling of weapons, he posits the existence of honey traps, where activist women try to seduce him and other leading Open Source figures, in order to accuse them of sex crimes. It goes on and on.

"Roughness" or being a "misfit" is not how I would characterize the problem.

I'm sure he knows how to admin his own mailing list with other people like him. But I wouldn't expect any mainstream project or club to tolerate garbage like that indefinitely.

"You may have freedom, and you may have freedom - but you may not have freedom!"


"You have freedom, I have freedom, and that means I'm free to call you a <pejorative> if I want to."

The issue seems to be that some people want the freedom to remove the freedom of those who use <pejorative> to express their freedom...

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