Redefining Community Relationships

Apache's OpenOffice.org inclusion is about more than just code

Like so many things in life, nothing about the relationship between Apache OpenOffice.org and Team OpenOffice.org e.V. is as simple as it seems.

Following yesterday's post that asked specific questions about the goals and objectives of Team OpenOffice.org e.V., members of the broader OpenOffice.org community pointed out that as far back as August 13, Apache OpenOffice.org leaders were calling for the cessation of outside fundraising activities specifically aimed at OpenOffice.org.

The reason was, as outlined yesterday, because the Apache Software Foundation does not permit donations earmarked for specific Apache projects. If you donate to the ASF, the funds are distributed to the projects based on the ASF's policies.

IBM Senior Technical Staff Member Rob Weir, a key player in Big Blue's Open Document Format (ODF) work, first outlined the need to streamline fundraising activities in the "Fundraising" thread on the [incubator-ooo-dev] mailing list, initiated by Ian Lynch (founder of the INGOTs project) on Aug. 13, 2011.

Lynch's initial message was itself a response to Apache OpenOffice.org Podling Manager Shane Curcuru's request to begin a discussion of the various outside fundraising activities in the OpenOffice.org ecosystem. Lynch started the thread by pointing out Team OpenOffice.org e.V. as a pre-existing fundraising organization.

Weir's response to Lynch's message added Software in the Public Interest, Inc. (SPI) to the list, and also set the stage to shift all fundraising activities to the ASF.

"Donations went to Team OpenOffice.org, e.V, or to SPI (for US donations). I'm assuming that Oracle does not control either of these accounts. I'm assuming as well that Apache and the PPMC has no control over these accounts.

"So first thing we should do, [once] we control the wiki, is change this page:

"http://contributing.openoffice.org/donate.html"

To Weir's credit, he did not unilaterally advocate an immediate change, but went on to raise the existing Apache policy and ask if there were any fundraising needs for Apache OpenOffice.org that the ASF wouldn't be able to address.

Curiously, the page Weir mentioned in his Aug. 13 message was left unchanged until sometime after my post yesterday indicated that the Monetary Donations page still showed Team OpenOffice.org e.V. (and SPI) as recipients for incoming OpenOffice.org donations. The version of the page I referred to is still available in Google's cache. Weir's initial suggestion was finally implemented... 66 days after it was brought up.

The suggestion to disconnect from existing extra-OpenOffice.org organizations was not initially met with uniform agreement. OpenOffice.org developer Eike Rathke pointed out that Team OpenOffice.org e.V. performed a valuable service to the OpenOffice.org community:

"Team OOo paid bursaries for individuals that went to OOoCons and Hackfest, paid hardware for buildbots and pootle servers, paid students for the OOo internship. Do you think that Apache will cover those expenses?"

Open source luminary Simon Phipps chimed in the next day:

"It's worth noting that these grants were always made by Team OOo (and indeed by FrODev [Freies Office Deutschland e.V., another fundraising non-profit]) at their sole discretion and without any ability to officially direct them from the OOo project itself. I find it hard to see how Apache would be able to unilaterally shut down an independent, complementary activity like this."

And that's the real crux of Apache's problem: all of these organizations--SPI, Team OpenOffice.org e.V., and Freies Office Deutschland e.V.--do not and never did operate within the purview of the OpenOffice.org project. They provided funding to various OpenOffice.org developers, often times in the form of travel funds and similar expenses, independent of what Sun, then Oracle, and now the ASF ever decided. How could the ASF enforce fundraising rules on independent organizations?

As the conversation in the thread continued, it became clear that it wasn't strictly outside fundraising being questioned, but rather fundraising by organizations using the OpenOffice.org trademark either in the organization's name (as with Team OpenOffice.org e.V.) or as a specified fundraising target. Weir's main thrust in the conversation was that each organization would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to see if it would be able to use the OpenOffice.org trademark within their fundraising activities. Weir would not name a specific organization he had in mind, only that he awaited proposals that the Apache team could evaluate.

Weir's reasoning was summed up in this Aug. 14 message:

"Think of it this way. IBM pays me to work on the project and pays for my travel to project-related events. If that is legal, then it is also legal for a non-profit organization to raise money to enable someone else to do these same activities. But you need to think of that organization as external, not part of Apache, not part of this project. Apache projects consist of individuals, not for-profit corporations, not non-profit corporations.

"However, to the extent they use trademarks owned by Apache, like 'OpenOffice.org' in their name or in their fundraising materials, then this may be a concern for us as the trademark owners. And depending on how the funds are used, this may be a concern for regulators.

"For example, if I created a non-profit called "Friends of the Red Cross" and was not affiliated with the Red Cross, but used their logo in my fundraising materials, you can imagine that I would quickly receive a letter from the Red Cross lawyers. I'd probably also get a letter (or visit) from the Secretary of State in Massachusetts, asking to see my books and investigating whether I was making fraudulent use of that logo."

This mid-August conversation pretty much defines the relationship the ASF wants to have with organizations like Team OpenOffice.org e.V.: Apache's could be cool with them, if they get approval to use the OpenOffice.org trademark.

It is not clear if Team OpenOffice.org e.V. has directly communicated with the ASF regarding the trademark use of OpenOffice.org. Given the ASF's apparentApache OpenOffice.org roundabout description of the organization as "former contributors to the original OpenOffice.org product," I would say no.

Nor has it been made clear why Team OpenOffice.org e.V. made claims in their press release last week that OpenOffice.org was in danger of extinction if funds were not raised immediately. Inquiries to Team OpenOffice.org e.V. have not been answered to date.

After digging into these mailing list archives, it's clear that Team OpenOffice.org's place in the OpenOffice community will be redefined on Apache's terms, one way or the other.

Read more of Brian Proffitt's Open for Discussion blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Drop Brian a line or follow Brian on Twitter at @TheTechScribe. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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