Co-founder of OSI Banned From Mailing Lists
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Eric S Raymond, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative and its president for the first six years, has been banned from two OSI mailing lists following messages whose tone violated the code of conduct.


In today's socio-political climate it's not only who you are or what your opinions are that matters, it's also how you express yourself. One absolute sticking point is that you must not make threatening, disparaging or belittling remarks about another person - and this it seems is what has led to Eric Raymond (ESR) being disbarred from posting.


Although ESR remains one of the best-known names in the world of open source software, it had been a long time since he was actively engaged with the OSI on a day-to-day basis - and by his own admission he hadn't contributed to mailing list discussions.

His initial post came on February 24th 2020 with the subject line: A wild co-founder appears.  In it ESR states:

After twenty years of staying off this list, I have joined it.
I didn't, until now, because whenever I checked in on this list the regulars seemed to be doing the job I expected them to do quite competently. And I had enough of an "I can't be everywhere, dammit!" problem without adding to it. But there are two recent developments I find concerning that have convinced me I need to weigh in.

He continued by creating threads for two specific issues relating to how OSI should handle the potential revocation of license certification and alternative licensing models:

 "Fairness" vs. mission objectives 

 Ethical open source licensing - Dual Licensing for Justice

The former of the two threads proceeded in a perfectly acceptable  and moderate way at first an then there was a change of subject line to: 

Ethical open source and the personal Non Grata clause

At this point the tone changes and the end of ESR's post reads:

Clauses 5 and 6 are in the OSD in part for that reason, and approving mechanisms to end-run them - such as the Persona Non Grata clause - would be a direct and egregious violation of OSI's charter and my intentions in founding OSI. Such clauses are not even a fit topic for *discussion* here outside of a swift recognition that they are out of bounds.

With whatever moral authority I still have here, I say to all advocates of soi-disant "ethical" licensing not just "No" but "To hell with you *and* the horse you rode in on."

The Dual Licensing thread quickly became argumentative and led to a new thread,  Language, appropriateness and ideas being opened and gaining a lot of responses - though apparently none from ESR although it could be that they were removed since on the same evening the following Moderator Notice was posted:

The OSI Board is aware that some offensive emails have been sent to this list. The OSI does not tolerate deliberately divisive or disrespectful messages from any quarter. We have already taken moderation actions to this effect and we will apply further sanctions if necessary.

This was followed up, just over a day later with a post by Pamela Chestek, Chair of the License Review Committee, who had herself been involved in some of the intemperate discussions, with the subject line Member Conduct:

Following an incident on Open Source Initiative mailing lists, the Board has removed a subscriber from both the License-Review and License-Discuss mailing lists for repeatedly violating the Code of Conduct. The Board took steps to mitigate the issue and began deliberating immediately after the incident, reached a decision early this morning, and notified the subscriber of the decision this afternoon.

By this time ESR had already publicized the situation with a post on his "Armed and Dangerous" webpage titled, The right to be rude. In it he claims that the reason for being "kicked off" the lists was:

 for being too rhetorically forceful in opposing certain recent attempts to subvert OSD clauses 5 and 6. This despite the fact that I had vocal support from multiple list members who thanked me for being willing to speak out.

His next point challenges the OSI's motivations:

It shouldn’t be news to anyone that there is an effort afoot to change – I would say corrupt – the fundamental premises of the open-source culture. Instead of meritocracy and “show me the code”, we are now urged to behave so that no-one will ever feel uncomfortable.

Later on he makes his feelings very clear:

We are being social-hacked from being a culture in which freedom is the highest value to one in which it is trumped by the suppression of wrongthink and wrongspeak. Our enemies – people like Coraline Ada-Ehmke – do not even really bother to hide this objective.

Coraline Ada-Ehmke is a current candidate for a position on the OSI board. She is a leading advocate of the Ethical Source movement, is  best known as the creator of the Contributor Covenant. It is this document on which the revised Linux code of conduct, adopted in the aftermath of the Linus Torvalds almost being forced out for his own use of language, is based.

It is tempting to look for comparisons between Linus Torvald's situation and that of Eric Raymond. However, while Torvald's decided to revise his ways and adapt to the current climate - where bad language isn't a joke and isn't tolerated and empathy is the order of the day, ESR is sticking to his existing attitudes and opinions, as is evidenced in the answers he gave to  Bryan Lunduke for a report in the Lunduke Journal:

Lunduke: What do you see as the root cause of the issues you see with the OSI?

Eric S Raymond: The fetishization of ‘nice’ behavior, where ‘nice’ ends up defined as being any behavior some self-appointed censor doesn't like. Usually (and in this case) accompanied by a lot of bafflegab about “inclusion” and “diversity” so that anyone who isn't a fan of the new, censorious rules can be cast as some sort of bigot.

Lunduke: How would you go about fixing those issues?

Eric S Raymond: Abolish “Codes of Conduct” and all the Orwellian doublespeak that goes with them. It's less bad that people sometimes got their feelings hurt than it is to institutionalize a means by which dissenting opinions are crushed under the rubric of “not nice”.

This has become a very controversial point of view and ESR is very brave to continue to state it. But as he is very well respected for his role in the open source movement and for his seminal work, The Cathedral & the Bazaar, he is in a good position to do so. There may be many programmers who value code more than conduct.


More Information

The right to be rude

Open Source Initiative bans co-founder, Eric S Raymond

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 11 March 2020 )