[Spi-private] Re: Josh Berkus's platform on political activity, was: money handling

Ian Jackson ijackson at chiark.greenend.org.uk
Tue Jul 18 17:23:56 UTC 2006

I would like to point out some things that some people (Josh perhaps
included) aren't clear on:

 * Most of the money and other assets that SPI legally owns are held
   in trust for the corresponding Associated Projects.  See the
   Framework for Associated Projects [1].  The terms of the trust are
   the Framework itself and any other agreements between the project's
   representatives and SPI.

   (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trust_law.)

   This means that SPI is legally obliged to use these assets as
   directed by each Project, provided of course that that doesn't
   conflict with SPI's own need to use its assents only for the
   furtherance of its charitable purposes (this is spelled out in the

   This means that SPI is not able to arbitrarily freeze the funds
   allocated for particular projects.  Of course SPI might refuse to
   spend these funds in ways that SPI considers are inconsistent with
   SPI's goals (as set out in the bylaws) or legal obligations.  As
   the trustee and as a charity, SPI has to take responsibility for
   these kind of decisions.

   In principle it would be possible for a disagreement about whether
   some use of SPI funds held in trust for a Project conflicted with
   SPI's goals to be resolved in court: someone intended by the
   project to be a beneficiary could sue SPI for breach of the trust.
   Of course we all hope it wouldn't come to that!

   (As an aside, this is why the earmarked funds should be reported as
   liabilities in SPI's balance sheet.)

 * SPI is already officially opposed to software patents.  See the
   Position and Promises about Intellectual Property [2].

   So if a Project wanted to register a patent we would want to be
   clear that the intent was for defensive use only, and then once
   registered SPI (as the legal owner) would use the patent only
   defensively.  SPI would refuse to use the patent to generate

   I hope that no SPI Associated Project would ask SPI to spend SPI
   money earmarked for them on a software patent for revenue
   generation.  If they did ask that we would find ourselves in
   serious dispute with them.

   On the other hand, of course, SPI won't spend money earmarked for
   Projects on campaigning against software patents unless directed by
   the Project (see above).  And in general we'd probably want to
   consult our lawyer before we used charitable funds for these
   purposes, because of the legal restrictions that usually apply to

[1] http://www.spi-inc.org/corporate/resolutions/resolution-2004-08-10.iwj.1
[2] http://www.spi-inc.org/corporate/resolutions/resolution-1998-11-16.iwj.2


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