Respecting the majority, questioning the status quo as a minority

Tuesday, Sep 14, 2021| by Álvaro Hernández | Tags: postgresql

Respecting the majority, questioning the status quo as a minority

Yesterday, the PostgreSQL Core Team launched an unprecedented attack on Fundación PostgreSQL as a whole and individually against Alvaro Hernandez. Fundación PostgreSQL responded promptly.

This was an attack against a Postgres Community Non-Profit and a Community member at the individual level. It was unprecedented, as no similar attack has happened in the past. But more concerning, it was unnecessary and disproportionate:

  • Unnecessary: Core had previously decided that they didn’t want to have any conversation and would substantiate their claims in court. The processes are awaiting resolution. If Core believes court is the way to go, why take this action before proceedings are finalized? Fundación PostgreSQL has always offered disposition to have conversations and negotiations with the Core Team, which has never wanted to establish any conversation with us, with or without lawyers.
    As the steward of the Postgres Community, Core should have tried everything possible to resolve the dispute, in an amicable manner (never tried, despite their claims), and in private. To try every possible measure without causing harm to the Community and its members. Core’s way of acting has weakened the Community, and wasn’t necessary. It has created an unnecessary divide, only to polarize and attack part of it. Conflicts and disputes may appear in a Community; but the stewards must exercise extreme care in how they are handled, and should put global interests ahead, trying to its fullest to resolve disputes, without creating outrage and undermining some members of the Community. Core has never tried to resolve this dispute, only to strong-arm it.

  • Disproportionate: there was no urgency, nor harm being inflicted upon the Postgres Community. Even if the claim and defense of the trademarks by Core Team may be legit, Fundación PostgreSQL has made it very clear that the registered trademarks are solely for the use of the Community in the best interest of the PostgreSQL project. Moreover, as some raised concerns, personal or organizational profit-seeking activities would have been illegal under Spanish law, given that Fundación is a public-good entity closely scrutinized by the Ministry of Justice (this is not the case of regular companies and associations, which are not as scrutinized as Foundations, only by common law). Board members are not and cannot be paid for their work.
    When you exercise power, as Core did, you need to take actions to the perceived threats that are proportional to those threats. Otherwise the exercise of power can result in authoritarianism.

To be very clear and to address all possible doubts, Fundación PostgreSQL’s intent has never been to hold these trademarks. The only reason why they have been kept is that we believe that the Core Team and its associated legal entity do not have a solid legal base to be the stewards of these trademarks. And that if trademarks were to be consolidated on a sound, legal entity, PostgreSQL Europe –an entity unrelated to Core– must do the same, handing theirs to that legal entity.

When Core asked us to negotiate, we answered with some requests –that have been made public verbatim and in full in our post, for full transparency. And which include that “Fundación PostgreSQL will transfer, permanently and irrevocably, all domain names, trademarks and other IP assets to the new NPO. New, clear and non discretionary rules will be established to allow fair use of the PostgreSQL trademarks by any stakeholder”. Certainly, this was attached to some conditions (that’s a negotiation!). But none of these conditions benefited directly or indirectly Fundación PostgreSQL or any of its members; Quite the opposite, the conditions were aimed at improving the transparency and legal structure of the project. Core never answered, showing no will to negotiate. They just published their public harassment 60 days later. We never expected this matter to escalate, and we always wanted to use our claims as a way to initiate a conversation with Core –something that at different levels we have been trying, unsuccessfully, for years.

In any case, however good our intentions may have been, we acknowledge this wasn’t a good way to start the conversation we wanted to start. Despite our strong disagreement with Core’s way of acting, and the consequences that it has had on our Postgres Community, Fundación PostgreSQL has paid attention to all the reactions and comments of all of you in diverse media. We have heard you.

We believe the Postgres Community for the most part acts, or should act, as a Democracy. And as such, the will of the majority needs to be respected, even if we disagree with it. We have concluded that the majority wants PostgreSQL-related trademarks and other IP assets to be held by the PostgreSQL Association of Canada (PAC). That despite all the shortcomings that Fundación PostgreSQL believes PAC has (which stem from the fact that PAC is not Core, and Core is not part of any legal entity, just individuals); a new non-profit, Fundación PostgreSQL, unknown to many, is less trustworthy than the well-known Core team and PAC. Trust is important in a Community, and we don’t want to break it. We understand this has caused unrest in the Postgres Community, and we apologize to you all for this, to anyone that may have felt betrayed or outraged by our acts. This was never our intention.

If we have created a problem, we will work to fix it. Fortunately, this is a problem that is easy to fix: we have informed the Core Team that effective immediately Fundación PostgreSQL has unanimously passed a resolution to start the process to transfer, permanently and irrevocably, all PostgreSQL-related trademarks and domain names to the PostgreSQL Association of Canada, with no conditions or costs attached. We do this in good will.

We expect (but won’t request) that the Core Team will respond in good will too, providing answers, or even better addressing, the main concerns raised by Fundación PostgreSQL:

  • Are the trademarks and other IP for the PostgreSQL project to be held under one legal entity, or not? If so, every other entity that holds trademarks should be requested, and in the same way, to transfer them. That is, PostgreSQL Europe should also transfer the trademarks they own to PAC. If not, clear rules should be written to ensure equal access opportunity and a level playing field.
  • Why is Core not a legal entity or part of? It is “associated” with PAC, which is at best a very loose legal relationship. PAC has its own board, different from that of Core. Core members are exposed to liability as individuals. This is basically messed up, and needs to be improved.
  • Core should be more transparent, and specially more democratic. The steward of the Postgres Open Source Community cannot be the antagonist of a democratic, open and transparent Community.

It is noteworthy the case of PostgreSQL Europe (PEU) –as said, a legal entity separate from PAC and Core. Being a separate entity, they should abide by the same rules of every other Postgres non profit. According to a long-time Postgres contributor, PEU can hold trademarks “because they asked for permission”. If that would be true: when this permission was requested? Where’s the paperwork? Is it permanent, or temporary? On what grounds it was granted, where are the rules published to give that permission? On what grounds it may not be granted? But more importantly: is PostgreSQL’s trademark strategy based on asking for permission? That doesn’t sound like a solid strategy at all. The reality is different: Core is acting very differently with different organizations over the same facts: PEU is applauded for registering trademarks; Fundación PostgreSQL is taken to court and publicly bashed.

A solid trademark policy should have a single entity holding all the trademarks, domain names and other IP assets. That’s exactly what we proposed to Core. PEU must follow suit and transfer all the Postgres-related IP to the entity that right now holds the rest of the assets, PAC.

The counterpart of respecting the majority’s will in a Democracy is that the minority has legitimacy to make any claims, and its voice should be respected as any other voice. Fundación PostgreSQL, as a minority here, has raised concerns about the status quo of the legal entities and governance of the Postgres project, which we believe should be discussed and addressed. If not, at least now they have been publicly posed, and will remain floating in the air, unsettled.

Your move, Core.

Alvaro Hernandez, Ruben Bravo, Manuel Argiz, Alberto Picon, Cesar Calvo.