Ubuntu Code of Conduct: omissions and suggestions
Matthew Paul Thomas
mpt at canonical.com
Tue Apr 5 15:16:44 UTC 2016
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When Ubuntu’s Code of Conduct
<http://www.ubuntu.com/about/about-ubuntu/conduct> was published in
2005, it was groundbreaking. Few other open-source projects had one.
It was far from perfect, but it had real benefits — most of all in
establishing expectations, and rarely also in providing the authority
to remove counterproductive project members.
The Code had a minor update in 2009,
and a major revision in 2012. Since then, tens of thousands of other
open-source projects have discussed and adopted their own codes of
conduct. So it’s no surprise that the state of the art has advanced.
By today’s standards, Ubuntu’s code of conduct falls short in four
notable areas, as identified on the Geek Feminism wiki:
1. No descriptions of common but unacceptable behavior. This means,
for example, that the Ubuntu IRC Council has had to provide their
own descriptions, even of things that don’t apply just to IRC.
2. No reporting instructions with contact information. This is perhaps
the most glaring omission (and what motivated me to write today).
3. No information about enforcement. Version 1.0 said “the Ubuntu
Community Council will arbitrate in any dispute”, with 1.1 adding
“Ubuntu governance bodies”, but 2.0 removed both of these.
<https://launchpad.net/codeofconduct> Matthew Garrett made a start
on defining the enforcement process in 2007, but it didn’t go
The current process may be precise and well-known to the Community
team, but defining it in the Code itself would be much more
reassuring to potential reporters.
4. No clear demarcation between an anti-harassment policy and more
general community guidelines. And more pertinently, no clear
anti-harassment policy at all.
I would add a fifth issue:
5. Needless bureaucracy of “signing” the Code. Firstly, this is
difficult to do: for example, step 1 is “Register an OpenPGP key”.
Secondly, it introduces weird questions about what happens if a
miscreant never signed the Code, or signed only an old version. And
thirdly, it’s unnecessary: Ubuntu governing bodies should be able
to sanction anyone using Ubuntu project forums or infrastructure
whether they have signed a document or not. For example, I have
never signed the Code (I tried once, but Launchpad lost my GPG
keys), but I would expect to be held to it regardless, merely
because I communicate on project channels and mailing lists.
Personally, I think the Ubuntu project would benefit from a revision
that addressed these five issues.
Good reading on modern codes of conduct:
* “Codes of conduct and the trade-offs of copyleft” by Sumana
* The “Codes of Conduct” section from Karl Fogel’s “Producing open
* “HOWTO design a code of conduct for your community” by the Ada
* “The complex reality of adopting a meaningful code of conduct” by
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