So you are responsible for some ‘free and open’ project or effort that is in the public interest. This could be free software/open source, open hardware, open science, open content, etcetera. With open, we mean that you are sharing not just the final end result as something immutable, but you’ve made it part of the ‘Commons’ by explicitly allowing anyone to build and extend on what you’ve created. In legal terms this is normally done through a ‘license’, and each incremental author actually needs to license his or her part.

However, once different people start contributing, managing who can license what becomes cumbersome - especially if you need to make upgrades to a license. Mix in the need to collectively raise funds for promotion, development and maintenance, and you’ve just experienced why people that are involved with larger projects sometimes feel victim to their own success. None of this matters when a project is young, but as soon as it is about to outgrow the original creator it becomes urgent - there is a window of opportunity for quick and effective repair which slowly starts to close once you’ve passed a certain scale, The critical fase of scale up is where we aim to help out.

0) Orientation phase

You’ve informed yourself about the possibilities and requirements of participation in [The Commons Conservancy]. Probably you are busy doing so now. Read our mission, and see if you agree with it. If you are interested in the legal aspects, feel free to take some time to read a few of our regulations from the DRACC or check the high level summary of our organisation. Take a look at one of the Programmes in a little more detail to get acquainted. And if you have questions, feel free to contact us.

1) Initiation phase

Presuming you are still interested, you notify us of your intention to join [The Commons Conservancy]. We will do a quick check at our end (whether or not the effort qualifies), and if all is well we send you a notice of eligibility. The project you represent appoints a quartermaster (a fancy word for someone that is going to be working with us to prepare for subsequent adoption as a Programme by [The Commons Conservancy]. This could be you, or another person adequately mandated by you and the rest of the team. From our end, we appoint a case officer to assist in aligning the scope of the Programme as well as selecting the most suitable governance model if you are still undecided.

2) Setup phase

The proposed mission and founding statutes of the Programme are defined in conformance with our mission and approach, either based on an existing template or written by you. You can take a look at the statutes of FileSender, one of our Programmes, as an example.

All Programme officials that need to be formally affiliated with the Programme inside [The Commons Conservancy] at the point of its launch (digitally) sign a copy of the founding statutes which includes our Pledge) which basically means you share our ideas and agree to behave normally (we have a Code of Conduct which is based upon IEEE’s internationally agreed upon professional ethics).

3) Operational phase

Once all the signatures are there, we formally approve the proposed Programme statutes and officially establish the Programme. These initial statutes of the Programme are published in the DRACC series, at which point they enter into effect. The Programme is now fully operational:

  • We will now accept donations of intangible assets — such as copyright, trade marks, patents, databases, integrated circuit layout design and the like — on behalf of your Programme.

  • You run the Programme according to the Programme Statutes, following the procedure outlined in DRACC Decision handling procedure.

  • Access is granted to relevant facilities and services of [The Commons Conservancy] and its partners. [The Commons Conservancy] has for instance signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NLnet foundation, a not-for-profit recognised as “Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling” (public benefit by the Netherlands tax authorities.

    Under the provisions of that Memorandum of Understanding a thematic fund will be automatically established for all eligible Programmes upon entering [The Commons Conservancy], instantly allowing your Programme to receive tax-deductible financial donations and do tax-friendly outgoing donations.

    If you have specific needs, just ask the Board of [The Commons Conservancy]. They can help, for instance to sign tailored agreements on your behalf.

4) Graduation phase (optional)

As time passes, your Programme may be so successful that you wish to establish your own foundation or join another not-for-profit legal umbrella. You can request the transfer of your intangible assets — such as copyright, trade marks, patents, databases, integrated circuit layout design and the like — according to the procedure laid out in DRACC “Graduation“.

Obviously you need to take into account any provisions that have made in the Programme Statutes regarding the possibility of and conditions for such a transfer.

The above means (more or less) that you are free to leave at any point unconditionally. However, you are invited to leave a clone (digital copy) of the assets involved with us for emergency purposes - this allow us to rescue your code even decades from now. Without enough rights, we cannot step in when the host threatens to go down permanently. The clone will automatically enter the Hibernation phase (see below), unless other provisions are made through the Programme statutes or regulations.

5) Hibernation phase (optional)

If the appointed governance body of a Programme has retired or — for whatever reason — is no longer responding to official requests from our Board within the required timeframe, it is up to the community to take the necessary actions to repopulate through the procedure as established in its own statutes (e.g. an election, divination, a lottery or other means).

If the Programme is still unable to appoint the minimum amount of officials within three months, the Programme will go into Hibernation unless other provisions were made in the regulations of the Programme. Assets held by us on behalf of a Programme are strictly handled according to the procedure defined in DRACC Hibernation.

6) Revival, forking and termination phase (optional)

Taking into account any formal visions you/the Programme itself have on the topic, a Programme MAY be revived or forked (or not). ‘Revival’ shall mean that a new Programme is established according to the procedure above, but with one difference: enters the Setup Phase with the previous statutes and regulations of the Programme it wishes to inherit.

There are many paths and approaches to reach ones goals, and sometimes the community within a Programme needs to split up to walk alternative paths. A Programme itself set conditions regarding the possibilities and conditions of forking and revival, in line with the procedure defined in DRACC Hibernation.