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Re: DebConf and legal structure for the project (was: General resolution: Condemn Russian invasion of the Ukraine)

On Fri, Apr 08, 2022 at 10:17:46AM -0700, Russ Allbery wrote:
> Anyway, a lawyer familiar with non-profit law and with conventions (which
> are fairly common for non-profit organizations) will probably have helpful
> opinions about all of this and likely would be able to advise us how to
> make everything more robust.  I'm sure they see similar problems
> regularly; a non-profit dedicated to a particular purpose that holds
> associated conventions in various countries each year is a fairly common
> setup (I can think of two or three others just off the top of my head).
> Maybe Software in the Public Interest is sufficient and they could tell us
> that (although I'm dubious).

This is a pretty well-explored problem space.  There are a number of
organizations that help academic or FOSS organizations run
conferences.  Examples of these include Usenix (which used to be the
organization that ran the Linux Kernel Maintainer's Summit), The Linux
Foundation (which now runs the Maintainer's Summit as well as Linux
Plumbers Conference), and Association Headquarters (which is a
for-profit company that helps non-profits run conferences as well as
being their "legal entity", ala SPI).  These organizations don't need
to be homed in the country where the conference takes place.  The
Linux Foundation is based in the US, but has run (or will be running)
conferences in Canada, Korea, Japan, China, Ireland, Germany, the
Czech Republic, etc.

These organizations all employ profession event/conference planners,
and can handle signing legal contracts with hotels, caterers,
restaurants, etc., thus shielding the techies from legal liability, as
well as generally being able to do a much better job at running a
conference compared to techie who tries to pretend to be an event
planner on the side.  The tradeoff is that while the conferences do
tend to be more polished, having professional, paid staff is
expensive.  And so typically, to go down this path, the conferences
need to hit up corporate sponsors to help pay for the event.

Using one of these professional organizations is going to
significantly change the characgter of Debconf.  Whether that's a
positive or a negative really depends on what we want Debconf to be,
and how much we want get on the corporate sponsorship bandwagon.  I'm
not aware of organizations that try to organize conferences "on the
cheap", since there is inevitably overhead associated with setting up
a legal entity, and then employing someone who understands how to work
with hotels, caterers, restaurants, A/V folks, etc.

There are some regional Linux User's Group that manage to hold
conferences where they have a legal entity to sign the contracts with
the hotels, but they have the advantage of not changing locales
regularly, so they can build up long-standing relationships with local
conference centers or local companies (for those events which are
small enough that they can just use an auditorium and meeting rooms at
a friendly company or university).


						- Ted

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