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PASS Summit Speaker Contract and Free Tools

PASS Summit Speaker Contract and Free Tools

After push back from the community around new terms in the PASS Summit 2016 speaker contract, the board tried to do the right thing by modifying the contract language to address those concerns. Adam Jorgensen, President of PASS, also solicited feedback in his blog post about the changes. This post is my feedback.

Your Contract Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad

(Just kidding about feeling bad. Not kidding about the contract.)

I’ll be blunt. This is a badly written contract. I suspect it was not reviewed by a lawyer - a dead giveaway for that is when key terms are never defined - and it suffers as a result.

Part of the process of talking to a lawyer when drafting a legal agreement is to be forced to articulate everything you actually want to say - and then to be subject to hard precision questioning about the various corner cases. Armed with that information, a good lawyer will draft the most clear and unambiguous language possible to express exactly what you mean.

This contract looks like it went through that process in earlier revisions, but I'd bet that a couple of board members tried to self-serve on these most recent edits. Good intentions, but a really bad idea. You would laugh at a lawyer who tried to build their own data warehouse, so why would you try to write your own legal agreement?

Case Study: Why Lawyers Are Worth the Money

I’ll focus just on the problems this causes for the recently infamous Clause 14:

14. You recognize and agree that the purpose of your session(s) is to provide educational content and is not to be used as a sales or marketing platform. Personal contact information and applicable copyright notices are permitted within the PASS provided PowerPoint template, however, overtly sales oriented company and/or third-party branded logos, products, and/or services, with businesses that you have a monetary relationship, are restricted to the biography and contact slides. Open Source scripts and tools that are available at no charge and do not require any registration or email for such are permitted.

Among other issues, the contract fails to define "overtly sales oriented," "third-party," "monetary relationship," and "Open Source." Furthermore, the second run-on sentence fails to make clear which conditions apply to which activities. For example, can you talk about products as long as you're not doing so in an "overtly sales oriented" way? Or does "overtly sales oriented" apply only to logos?

Either way, it looks like anybody can show any freemium tool they want as long as they don't talk about paid features (since it's not "overtly sales oriented" if you're not selling anything). And apparently anybody can talk about paid features as long as they don't have a "monetary relationship" with the vendor. Is that really the intent? I don't think so, because it would actually make the rules around paid third-party software looser than they have been. Nevertheless, it's clearly a reasonable interpretation.

Another reasonable interpretation is that, largely due to the last sentence, the intent is to forbid anybody from showing paid, closed source, or registration required third-party tools. Under that reading, totally reasonable activities are forbidden, which I'll detail in the next section.

Specific Bad Things That Can Happen

For example, all of the following would be restricted from being discussed by ANYONE outside of contact slides, because they fail on multiple prongs:

  1. BIDSHelper – It’s a third-party tool consisting of partially open source code and partially closed source binaries.
  2. ZoomIt – It’s a closed source tool that, while available for download on TechNet, is still owned by Russinovitch and Sysinternals (i.e. third-party). Can I use it in my demos if I promise not to say its name?
  3. VMWare – Closed source, third party, most people have a monetary relationship through their mutual funds. Does this mean we can present with Hyper-V VMs only?
  4. Almost every SSIS Community Task and Component – for the same reasons as BIDSHelper
  5. Attunity SSIS Adapters for Oracle and Teradata – Even though Microsoft paid Attunity to make these free, they are third-party, closed source, and Attunity is a widely held publicly traded company. Plus you have to mention Oracle and Teradata to discuss them.
  6. Oracle, DB2, MySQL, and every other data product that exists in a real world heterogeneous environment are all off limits – even to discuss interop.
    • Most are closed source, third party, and have the same monetary relationship issues as VMWare. Also if your company ever bought this software, which is how you became qualified to talk about interop, you also have a monetary relationship.
    • MySQL is not fully open source, and since the Oracle acquisition, requires an email address to download.
  7. File formats produced by basically any non-Microsoft product are out or have to be danced around to avoid mentioning any product names.
  8. At least one of the funny things in each BI Power Hour for the past few years would be forbidden. They usually have to do with closed source, third-party products such as Facebook and My Little Pony.
  9. As an extreme case (e.g. if Richard Stallman were interpreting the contract), any tool that runs on Windows is not fully open source, since it has closed source dependencies. Even non-extreme interpretations will exclude a surprising number of “open source” tools that depend heavily on closed source DLLs.

Even Worse Thing

Note that the language about open source tools being permitted is also vague. It doesn’t actually override the restriction to biography and contact slides. It could, but the way it is written, it doesn’t (which is why you get lawyers to help you write contracts). As a consequence, very many speakers will be unable to discuss the following:

  1. Most things related to Big Data, including Hadoop:
    • If you’ve made a donation to the Apache Software Foundation, you have a monetary relation with the company behind Hadoop.
    • If you've sold solutions that include Hadoop implementations, then perhaps you have a monetary relationship since you've made money off of Hadoop (and likely hope to evangelize your skills to make even more later).
  2. Anything cool and useful that you’ve ever worked on. Even if it’s free and open source, as the creator, you will always have a monetary relationship with something you spent time and money to build. So these rules potentially mean that the most qualified person to talk about a tool can’t actually talk about it. They need to find someone else to talk about it for them. That is just plain silly and bad for the community.

So What to Do?

First, regardless of what else you choose to do, PASS, please have a lawyer review this contract and clean it up. The issues I noted with #14 are just particularly problematic examples of issues you'll also find elsewhere. If you don’t want to do that, then don’t call it a contract. Call it guidelines or something similar and don’t require a signature.

Personally, I think PASS should simplify the whole thing and just say “free tools only.” No open source restrictions; no email restrictions; no vague monetary relationship restrictions. PASS always speaks about how important and powerful the community is. It should put its money where its mouth is by letting the community handle this on its own.

PASS, trust your community-driven session selection process and the broader community of attendees to choose reliable presenters and to punish those who violate the cultural norms of the conference.

Full Disclosure

Of course, as the author of one of the most widely used free SQL Server tools in the world, I’m biased. This contract language potentially forbids any mention of Biml, which is used for free by thousands of people every day. Last year, in response to community requests, PASS decided to include Biml as an official topic at Summit. These latest contract changes might undo that – I hope unintentionally.

Hello World!

Hello World!