Welcome to last century

This is going to be a rant; a particular rant directed toward Free Software Foundation. If you’re one of those self-defined advocates who pretend that Stallman’s smell is worth to be made an eau-de-toilette, then you won’t like my post; I won’t care and I won’t care about your comments. So you’re warned.

I have said before that I have decided to accept Werner’s offer of helping him out with GnuPG by signing the FSF copyright assignment forms — even though their value in Europe is dubious at least. I’m not going to complain about the copyright assignment idea itself; I’m definitely not a lawyer, I barely can deal with the paperwork I deal with on my daily job.

I started having doubts about the whole handling of the copyright assignment to FSF when I was given the first templates by Werner: a text file to mail, including ASCII-reduced name and a home address. I have said many times that in the 21st century, still requiring people around the globe to provide ASCII-reduced names only is at a minimum silly. We’re in a world that is using a number of languages and scripts; and while I agree we should provide a more or less common way to pronounce our names, requiring people to limit their name to ASCII, especially in official contexts. But so it is.

Turns out that the reason why they ask for your home address is not simply to write it down properly in the database, but because they send you snail mail forms to sign and send back. Okay now that starts to feel strange because I have signed quite a few work contracts before, and but for one of them, I both received and sent them as PDF forms. I also signed (a long time ago) a SCA form for the OpenJDK project to Sun; even in that case, emailed scanned documents were just enough.

While strange I expected to follow the usual process: I’d receive two copies of each form, pre-signed by the FSF representative, I’d keep one copy of each and send back the other with my signature on them. Today I received the envelope; there was only one copy of the forms; my name was misspelt (even though I used the ASCII-limited spelling, they dropped the accent!); the forms weren’t pre-signed, just a print out of something that they could most likely have sent me over as PDF, in a much more environmental-friendly way. And one more respectful of the developers who actually ask to have their copyright assigned to the FSF.

Why do I say that? Well, first of all, because the assignment forms make me declare I’m signing off the copyright for “$1 or equivalent goods”… I guess they are referring to the FSF sticker they sent over with the envelope — together with an advertisement for the FSF membership. Okay so this is likely because signing away the rights for nothing is not going to stand up quite well in court, and a sticker is as good as anything when “nothing” is the unusable default. Why should this make me upset?

Well, to begin with, because sending back the signed form is going to cost me more than the nominal $1. But it’s not just that; the paper upon which the forms are printed is a quite high-quality paper. Not just higher than the usual copier paper I use for my own consumption, but also quite higher than what most of the official communications I receive here in Italy. Why using such paper at all?

To be honest, Donnie provided a possible reason: it’s a legal paper so it should be as durable as possible; high-quality paper tends to endure time much better than standard copier paper. On the other hand, if that was the idea, then I guess they should also replace their printer — if they can do that, given that most likely any printer that they could buy has a closed-source firmware on it and they can’t use it. That’s because the two printed forms were put one over the other and then mailed; with the result that part of the text of the topmost was transferred to the one under it. They are still both legible, but gives a hard shake to the “preservation” theory.

Really, even if they need the original signature, why they couldn’t give me a PDF, so I could simply send it to them in two copies, and then they’d send me the counter-signed form with the sticker? Wouldn’t that save us one whole snail-mail trip, a lot of time, and also a bit of paper?