Bonum Certa Men Certa

Who is a real Debian Developer?

posted by Roy Schestowitz on Apr 16, 2024

Reprinted with permission from Daniel Pocock.

Personally, I resigned from some of my activities mentoring in Google Summer of Code at a time when I lost two family members.

Most people only showed sympathy and respect for my family at that time. Colleagues in the Debian world started sending me insults, telling me that I am not a real Debian Developer. It is no surprise that there is a suicide cluster in this group ( Debian suicide cluster meets criteria from Public Health England).

Instead of apologizing to my family, they have paid vast sums of money to lawyers to repeat these insults over and over again. ( Evidence: over $120,000 of Debian money wasted on using lawyers to harass my family and I after loss of two family members).

Therefore, it is important to look at who really is a Debian Developer.

Origins of the term Debian Developer

Looking at the very first archived copy of an email from the debian-project mailing list in 1994, we find that Debian co-authors are using the term Debian Developer four years before there was a trademark. That is four years before the Debian Project constitution. The term Debian Developer is completely valid for somebody who has done significant creative work over many decades. In plain English, the term Debian Developer can mean three things: somebody who possesses the skill of creating Debian software, somebody who has an authorship interest in the Debian software and thirdly, but lastly, somebody who is a member of the clique. Copyright law does not require somebody to be a member of the clique. I never joined the Debian Project Unincorporated Association, I have always used the term Debian Developer first and foremost to describe myself as an author with moral rights in the creative work.

Legitimate interest: a very long history of voluntary contribution

Some of us started doing Debian as a hobby alongside other hobbies such as amateur radio. One of the early Debian Project Leaders, Bruce Perens, also notably came to Debian for amateur radio purposes.

I passed the amateur radio exam in 1993, when I was 14 years of age. My first years of voluntary activities in amateur radio and free software were during a time when I was legally a child. I didn't receive any payment for some of those activities. I offered my time on the basis that I was gaining skills and helping real communities.

Around the same time, while I was still legally a child, I came to appreciate the fact that there are some adults who exploit talented and precocious youngsters by trying to direct the work that is being undertaken and failing to disclose or share financial benefits.

I believe my first engagement with Debian was in 1997 and the first proof I can find of my engagement with Debian is an email from 23 February 1998 about package creation.

The Debian Project constitution was originally published on 10 September 1998, some time later.

The trademark was only registered later on 21 December 1999

Looking at the UDRP verdict, ( WIPO UDRP case D2000-0410) the panelists gave some weight to those possessing a copyright interest that predates the registration of a trademark or a copyright interest arising from a situation that intersects with the history of the trademark.

The spirit of the UDRP verdict can be extracted in good faith to questions like who can use the term Debian Developer.

Legitimate interests: the promise of recognition

The misfits behind the WIPO insults do not pay the rest of us anything for our collaboration in creating the Debian software.

They told us that the only thing we get in return for our creations is the recognition.

Using the term Debian Developer is interchangeable with recognition for our skills and recognition of our status as voluntary, un-paid joint authors who are not compensated in any manner other than recognition.

They are now using the web site and the trademark to give people negative recognition. This is like bouncing a cheque.

In the circumstances, it seems entirely appropriate for me to follow through on the promise of recognizing people. The misfits have provided a list of the domains along with the dates that each domain name was registered. On the list, the name is the first name registered. was registered for the purpose of delivering on the promise of positive recognition to the authors and our work.

Evidence: my blog Modern Slavery & Debian Open Source lists many of the promises of recognition in lieu of payment for our work.

Debian promises recognition, I take the following quote from the latest Debian law suit where they admit using the promise of recognition to lure people into working for free:

64. ... un des avantages importants de travailler pour la communauté Debian est la valeur de sa réputation dans le domaine, à la fois professionellement et dans la communauté. ...

The promise of recognition is repeated again here in the Debian wiki.

The motivations of the authors also are varied, but the coin that they get paid in is often recognition, acclaim in the peer group, or experience that can be traded in in the work place

The same thing appears in the page about Debian Membership:

Debian has several types of association and membership for those who do wish to be recognised, or have rights within the project.

For people promoting Debian, there is a template for giving a talk. It includes the comments:

you are recognized for your contributions ... Did you ever have a boss who takes credit for your work? Not in Debian.

In short, there is a big emphasis on working for recognition instead of a salary. They gave us the promise of recognition and that gives rise to a legitimate interest in using the trademark in domain names for web sites about our work.

Moreover, it means once we gain the status of Debian Developer in the sense of being a joint author, as the term has been used since at least 1994, they can't bounce the cheque and extinguish our copyright / recognition / status as these things are interchangeable.

Bad faith: not every co-author wants to be a member of something too

In a number of jurisdictions, we have seen people establishing associations, some of them legally incorporated, some of them unincorporated, where they now use the term Debian Developer interchangeably with the status of a member rather than the status of an author.

The insistence that authorship rights can be dumbed down to a relation of membership is an example of gaslighting, as explained elsewhere.

Over the years, people have regularly protested against this practice of conflating authorship and membership.

In 2005, some Debian Developers in the UK created the Debian UK Society. They published a proposed constitution / articles of incorporation suggesting that every Debian Developer in the UK would become a member of the Society unless they opt-out.

Some authors felt this was a forced membership, similar to forced membership of a trade union.

Here is a blog post by MJ Ray objecting to the change in status conflating joint authorship with rights of membership.

The Debian UK Society (DUS) asserted automatic membership of debian developers (much like that sometimes suggested for SPI and rejected every time) and some of its members insulted and lied about me instead of fixing that bug. Credit to them for fixing it eventually.

The matter was discussed at length on the debian-project mailing list.

That's not interesting, though. I don't care about DUS except:

  1. I want no connection with it right now; including
  2. I want it not to hold my personal details (especially not the inaccurate personal details it currently uses).

[ ... SNIP ... ]

Opt-out membership associations seem a very shady practice - can anyone clearly opt-out without DUS recording personal data?

and again on the debian-uk mailing list.

Steve McIntyre: Membership of the society consists of the set of registered Debian developers resident in the UK, bar those who have deliberately opted out.

Why would you force authors to downgrade their rights from their status under copyright law to a lower status as described in the Debian UK Society constitution?

Under copyright law, joint authors can't expel each other

Under the constitutions of these associations, they purport that authorship and membership can be simultaneously extinguished on the whims of the leader of the day.

Some of us never joined any of these associations yet they claim, in bad faith, that they have the power to "expel" us.

The status of Debian Developer is independent of membership status

Nonetheless, when we examine the words from Steve McIntyre above, we can see that the status of being a Debian Developer (co-author or joint author) is something distinct from being a member.

The distinction is therefore clear to those who created those periphery associations around the copyrighted work.

Who has a copyright interest in the Debian GNU/Linux?

The question of copyright in the Debian GNU/Linux software is examined in much more detail in the blog about the subject.

Those having a copyright interest are therefore joint authors entitled to recognition as Debian Developers.

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