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Re: Debian UK

Henning Makholm <henning@makholm.net> writes:

> Scripsit MJ Ray <mjr@phonecoop.coop>
>> Henning Makholm <henning@makholm.net> wrote:
>> Yes, I've a personal axe, but it's based on this real event:
>> I was told I had been made a member of a new UK unincorporated
>> association based on db.d.o data. Even if it wasn't a business,
>> involuntary membership violates some basic principles, including
>> privacy of personal life and freedom of association.
> Blah. So they allow you to vote if you care to. I'm quite sure they
> don't require you to pay dues. I.e., they are unilaterally granting
> you a privilege without expecting any consideration in return, so if
> you don't want to vote at their meetings, just don't. End of story.

Actually, depending on what parts of UK law the organisation ended up
falling under (and without a clear constitution &c this will probably
*not* be what you expect it to be) the membership might be jointly and
severally liable for the actions of the organisation.

It's good practice when setting up an organisation to ensure that (a)
the members are insulated from such things as the organisation being
sued or going into debt, and (b) the officers of the organisation are
moderately insulated from such things.

A loose association of people, engaged in trade, might well fall "under
the radar" of the law for some time, but I thought Debian of all places
would know that that is *not* a good tactic.

A few minor examples:

In the UK, VAT registration is *required* if you are "in business"[1]
and your 12-month *turnover* exceeds £60000. Probably this is not an
issue for this organisation at present.

HMC&E has an interesting guide at
<http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/guidance/480.pdf> which includes definitions of
Charity and Non Profit Making Company, and also explains how and when
payments made by an organisation to a person need to be treated for tax.

Since this organisation is making payments to people for expenses, I
assume that someone involved is keeping the relevant paperwork (a
receipt book is a good start) to ensure that the organisation doesn't
fall foul of the law on payments to "staff".

>> Is DUS's involuntary membership even legal? I don't know.
> Which law would prevent them from giving you a vote in their matters?
> How would you enforce such a law? Do you imagine showing up at their
> AGM and casting a vote, only to sue them with a claim that your own
> vote should not count because you did not agree to have the right to
> vote in the first place? Sheesh.

Under non-UK law this argument might be relevant.

Under UK law, as a member of an association without a legally-structured
constitution, you have potentially *become vulnerable* to any legal
penalty levied at the organisation.


[1]  By which they mean "buying and selling stuff", roughly.

rich walker         |  Shadow Robot Company | rw@shadow.org.uk
technical director     251 Liverpool Road   |
need a Hand?           London  N1 1LX       | +UK 20 7700 2487

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