[OSI] [ESR] Open Source Iniciative bans co-founder, Eric S. Raymond.
cecilia.tanaka at gmail.com
Wed Mar 11 17:11:48 PDT 2020
Open Source Initiative bans co-founder, Eric S Raymond
Mar 9, 2020
Last week, Eric S Raymond (often known as ESR
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_S._Raymond>, author of The Cathedral
and the Bazaar <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cathedral_and_the_Bazaar>,
and co-founder of the Open Source Intiative
<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Source_Initiative>) was banned from the
Open Source Intiative (the “OSI”).
Specifically, Raymond was banned from the mailing lists used to organize
and communicate with the OSI.
For an organization to ban their founder from communicating with the group
(such as via a mailing list) is a noteworthy move.
At a time when we have seen other founders (of multiple Free and Open
Source related initiatives) pushed out of the organizations they founded
(such as with Richard Stallman being compelled to resign from the Free
Software Foundation, or the attempts to remove Linus Torvalds from the
Linux Kernel – both of which happened within the last year) it seems worth
taking a deeper look at what, specifically, is happening with the Open
I don't wish to tell any of you what you should think about this
significant move. As such I will simply provide as much of the relevant
information as I can, show the timeline of events, and reach out to all
involved parties for their points of view and comments.
Raymond made the following statement, on February 27, 2020, on his personal
“I – OSI’s co-founder and its president for its first six years – was
kicked off their lists 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.
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.
The effect – the intended effect – is to diminish the prestige and autonomy
of people who do the work – write the code – in favor of self-appointed
tone-policers. In the process, the freedom to speak necessary truths even
when the manner in which they are expressed is unpleasant is being
And that is bad for us. Very bad. Both directly – it damages our
self-correction process – and in its second-order effects. The habit of
institutional tone policing, even when well-intentioned, too easily slides
into the active censorship of disfavored views.”
So what, exactly, prompted this extreme measure? What could happen that
would be so problematic that an organization would ban their founder (and
one of the most well known individuals in the Open Source world)?
Thankfully the Open Source Initiative keeps a public archive
all the posts to their mailing lists. I did what any journalist would do in
this scenario… I started reading.
And I didn't have to go very far back through the archive, either. Turns
out the first post (in a very long time) from Raymond was 3 short days
before he was banned (and before the blog post he penned above).
February 24th, 2020. Raymond posted the following
an OSI mailing list with the title “A wild co-founder appears”:
“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. Please pay careful attention, as I am not making
this choice [lightly].
I will start individual threads for both issues.”
What followed from there were several posts by Eric Raymond over the next
two days – having conversations on multiple topics relating to Open Source
licensing and how the OSI should handle potential revoking of certification
Some of the messages had strong disagreements over OSI policy. However, I
was unable to find any messages, from Raymond (or anyone else) that would
(based on my understanding of the Code of Conduct
<https://opensource.org/codeofconduct/licensing> that the OSI has adopted
for their mailing lists) constitute a banning… of a founder or of any
Then, on February 26, 2020, “Moderator at OpenSource.org” posted the following
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.
No further details were provided, making this difficult to verify.
The next day (February 27, 2020), Josh Berkus (a Red Hat employee and
regular speaker at Open Source conferences) posted the following
ESR's “sharp language” is not an attempt to persuade. It is an attempt to
intimidate opponents; to “win” an argument by making others afraid to
participate. Indeed, even today OSI mailing list composition is entirely
folks with enough privilege to be resistant to personal attacks. That's a
sad, terrible thing.
It's not “free speech” when it's an attempt to shout others down so that
they have no voice. It's something else entirely.
Further, not one of ESR's points is original or even original to this list.
In his absence, not one of the ideas he so “colorfully” expressed will be
lost. In the meantime, we're missing the input of so many people who will
not participate in OSI because of our tolerance for wholly uncivilized
behavior like his posts.
Followed shortly thereafter (February 28, 2020) by Pamela Chestek (a member
of the OSI Board <https://opensource.org/docs/board-annotated>) who posted
the OSI Mailing list with the title “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.
The Board regrets that some material was published that should not have
been, in spite of our best moderation efforts. We ask for all mailing list
participants to be cautious with the use of CC, BCC, and Reply-All fields
in the future.
Although we have failed in this instance, the OSI continues to work on
making the email lists safe environments where all people and viewpoints
are greeted with an open mind and treated with dignity and respect. OSI has
a broad constituency and that remains a fundamental asset to our mission.
We will be following up in the coming weeks with a more general public
statement about the current state of our moderation efforts, as well as
relevant projects that are in flight. We are grateful for the feedback
we’ve received and welcome further input on our efforts.
We hope that our continued efforts will bring more underrepresented voices
to the table, and that those who left will feel safe returning. We want you
all with us on this journey.
I reached out to the Board and leadership of the Open Source Initiative for
comment, and to provide the quote from Eric Raymond that prompted the
decission to ban him.
As of the writing of this article, I had not yet received any reply from
the Open Source Initiative leadership.
I also reached out to Eric S Raymond to see if he could shed any further
light on the situation and get his views. What follows are his complete
responses to me.
*Lunduke*: Any idea what statement/email you sent that specifically caused
*Eric S Raymond*: “They never told me specifically which message was the
In fact, they haven't publicly admitted to banning me, though I got an
email telling me I had been banned.”
*Lunduke*: I've also asked the OSI board the same question (and others)…
but have yet to hear back from them.
*Eric S Raymond*: “Don't hold your breath waiting. Full political
ass-covering mode will be in effect now, and you can quote me on that.
These people are an utter disgrace to the ideals on which I founded OSI.”
*Lunduke*: What do you see as the root cause of the issues you see with the
OSI (which you call out in your blog post <http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=8609>)?
*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 thay 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”.
Let's take a step back, for a moment, and look at thing from a high level.
Where are we at, as of the writing of this article?
Eric S Raymond (ESR), one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative,
has been banned from OSI mailing lists.
No verifiable reason has been given, by the OSI, for the banning. Based
on the timeline, presumably the offending message (or messages) would have
been sent in the two day window between February 24th and February 26th.
The Open Source Initiative has not responded to a request for
clarification or comment.
Perhaps interestingly, the Open Source Initiative is right in the middle of an
election for a few of their Board seats <https://opensource.org/elections>.
With such clear and strong conflicts happening between a founder of the OSI
– and some of the current leadership of the OSI – it will be interesting to
see what direction the current OSI leadership and membeship choose to go in.
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