Frans Pop Debian Day suicide, Ubuntu, Google and the DEP-5 machine-readable copyright file

Volunteers have scoured the debian-private (leaked) gossip network looking for further evidence about the Frans Pop "Debian Day" suicide.

Yet the evidence is not there. It is in broad daylight on the debian-project mailing list.

Early 2010The idea of Constantly Usable Testing (CUT) resurfaces in Debian.
Monday, 9 August 2010a new mailing list for Constantly Usable Testing is created and people who are not subscribed are CC into the message chains.
Friday, 13 August 2010Lars Wirzenius announces he is going to join forces with Colin Watson (Ubuntu) and together they will push people to create machine-readable copyright files (DEP-5).
Sunday, 15 August 2010Frans Pop sends his resignation email. In hindsight, it was a suicide note.
Monday, 16 August 2010Debian Day - 17th anniversary of Debian.
Friday, 20 August 2010Frans Pop takes his own life.
Saturday, 21 August 2010Colin Watson (Ubuntu) sends a message on debian-private trying to undermine the significance of the phrase his main concern was his work for Debian. Ubuntu is trying to avoid responsibility for the death.
16 August 2017Margarita Manterola confirms Google has used the Constantly Usable Testing (CUT) to create gLinux.

Frans Pop was a leader of the Debian Installer project. The Installer is the software that people use to install the Debian system onto a new computer. The CUT initiative was particularly demanding for the Installer developers.

Machine readable copyright files (see the DEP-5 specification) may not have directly created more work for the Installer developers, however, it dramatically changed the nature of the project from a volunteer community to a slave community.

Machine readable copyright files (DEP-5) and the road to suicide

Lars Wirzenius announced he was going to help Colin Watson push through the machine readable copyright file policy. His email does not mention who is paying him to push this policy. Colin Watson was one of the first Ubuntu employees. Lars' CV tells us he was a contractor for Ubuntu between 2007 and 2009. Was he contracted again in 2010 to push machine readable copyright?

There are approximately 20,000 packages in Debian and each package requires a copyright file. The file aggregates copyright notices from the source code, including the names of the authors and their chosen licenses.

The law does not require the file to be in a machine readable format. A free-form text file or even a photograph of a copyright notice is perfectly acceptable in law.

Volunteers estimated that it would take about 1 hour for somebody to manually examine each package and convert the free-form text copyright files into a machine-readable copyright file. For all 20,000 packages, that is approximately 20,000 man-hours of work. The people pushing for this, Lars and Colin, were being paid to push this policy. Other volunteers would not be paid for the 20,000 hours of work.

It is ironic that large companies like Ubuntu and Google have pushed for all this unnecessary work on machine-readable copyright files but now they are paying a lawyer to argue that software developers have no rights derived from copyright anyway.

More significantly, the idea of a machine readable copyright file is not useful for everybody. It is only relevant for some very large organizations. Therefore, there is something grossly unfair about pressuring lone volunteers to work on this. Another rogue organization, the FSFE, has made a similar effort, they call it the REUSE campaign and they have a dedicated web site for REUSE. The following quote stands out:

A REUSE-compliant project makes the jobs of legal experts and compliance officers much easier.

What Lars, Colin, Ubuntu and FSFE are telling us is that we have to complete 20,000 hours of unpaid work to make life easier for some highly paid lawyers in large tech companies.

Creating machine readable copyright files is about as exciting as completing tax return forms. It is a tedious chore. Many of the original Debian Developers and co-authors started doing software development as a hobby. An hour doing a chore puts them off Debian for a month. If you only have one hour per week for Debian, there are many more important things you could spend that time on.

More significantly, some people feared that this outbreak of bureaucracy would deter new people from joining the Debian community. Debian would descend from a community of experts to a community of mediocre form-fillers.

The most alarming feature of these machine readable copyright files is that they commodotize the names and intentions of the hackers and other creative experts who own the copyright. Commodotizing their names in this manner is incredibly degrading. Asking them to spend time on this bureaucracy themselves is like asking them to dig their own graves.

And that is almost exactly what happened. The negativity of the machine readable copyright files and the manner in which Ubuntu bullies were pushing us to do this work had a significant burden on every volunteer. For Frans Pop that burden was simply too much.

Remarkably, Colin Watson from Ubuntu was one of the people who went to Frans' funeral. Watson had tried to diminish suggestions that Debian was a factor in the suicide. We attach the funeral report below. Perhaps he was scouting for any people or information that may tarnish Ubuntu or connect them to the pressure on Frans Pop.

Frans Pop, Debian, suicide
Subject: Re: Death of Frans Pop - funeral report
Date: Fri, 27 Aug 2010 16:45:43 +0100
From: Steve McIntyre 

Hi all,

The funeral for Frans Pop happened yesterday in Schagen and 6 DDs went
along to pay their last respects. Colin Watson and I flew over from
the UK and we met up with Thijs Kinkhorst, Jeroen van Wolffelaar,
Geert Stappers and Joost van Baal from the Netherlands.

We got to meet a number of people from Frans' family, and a lot of his
friends too. Although the backgrounds were very different (stories
from childhood, student life, National Service and his Debian work),
the picture painted of him was remarkably consistent: a fairly quiet
person who worked hard on everything he did to very high standards. He
was a perfectionist in most areas, almost obsessively so. He also kept
his life very compartmentalised and private, meaning that many of his
friends had not previously met.

I spoke briefly about Frans' work in Debian, highlighting the areas
where he worked and the number of people he had worked with in various
teams. I also told the group about the massive number of messages of
sympathy and condolence which I had been asked to pass on. His family
knew that Debian was important to Frans, but were not aware of just
how wide his influence and effect had been. They were especially
surprised and grateful that people had travelled so far for the
funeral; I told them that I would not have missed it for anything.

I now know more about the circumstances surrounding his death, but I'm
not going to share it on a mailing list to cause more pain and
argument. Contact me privately if you want to know.

I've sent email including the proposed obituary text to Frans'
stepfather and brother today to ask for their approval, and I'm hoping
to receive that shortly. I also asked if they would be happy with any
potential dedication(s) that might be made. I'll report back on these
as soon as I hear anything more.

Rest In Peace, my friend. You will be missed.

Steve McIntyre, Cambridge, UK.                      
There's no sensation to compare with this
Suspended animation, A state of bliss

Archives of the CUT-team email threads, the period when Frans Pop was contemplating whether to go through with his suicide overlaps this, 15 to 20 August 2010

We can see the mailing list was created in the first week of August 2010, the first messages arriving on 5 and 9 August 2010.

CUT, Constantly Useable Testing, Debian, gLinux, Frans Pop

Ironically, one of the proponents of CUT, Asheesh Laroia, who also uses the alias Paul Proteus, sends his messages from a domain


From  Mon Aug  9 19:12:40 2010
From: (Joey Hess)
Date: Mon, 9 Aug 2010 15:12:40 -0400
Subject: [cut-team] Contantly Usable Testing, and Debian "rolling"
In-Reply-To: <>
References: <>
Message-ID: <>

*taptap* is this list on? Alioth may be being slow. I've CC'd 7 people
who have not subscribed to the list yet. There are currently 9 people
subscribed to the list.

Quoting Asheesh in full for those who did not see it before, replies inline.

Asheesh Laroia wrote:
> Hi all! We are the people who worte we'd be interested in being on a
> "CUT" team at the end of Joey's Birds of a Feather Session.
> This is a little long, but it deserves your attention.


We found an archived copy of the web site:

Asheesh Laroia, Paul Proteus, Make Sad, CUT, Constantly Useable Testing, Debian, gLinux, Frans Pop