COFES 2009 – A Conversation with Evan Yares

On the sidelines of COFES 2009, I sat down with Evan Yares to get his perspective on the ODA and the reasons why he intends to give the organization he once ran a hard time by threatening them with a class action law suit.

Deelip: So Evan, tell me what is all this about?
Evan: First I’ll tell you what it is not about. It’s not about me. Everyone knows that there is a lot of history between the ODA, the people running it and me. So I perfectly understand if people think that this is some kind of a revenge thing. But it is not. This is about the ODA members and more of a fight about a principle, something that I believe is worth fighting for.

Deelip: So what is this principle that you are talking about?
Evan: It’s actually very simple. The ODA is trying to force its Associate member into signing an agreement which requires them to pay for the libraries, when the existing agreement clearly states that there will be no fees whatsoever.

Deelip: So are you saying that the ODA does not have the right to charge its members as and when it thinks fit?
Evan: No, they can. But telling someone that they have to tear up their existing agreement and sign a new one is flat wrong. Furthermore, terminating a member for not doing so is even more wrong. There is a right way of doing this. This is the wrong way.

Deelip: What is the right way?
Evan: I would like to reserve that for the day when I appear in court.

Deelip: Do you really think the ODA is really interested in suing you. That’s the impression I got after reading your blog post.
Evan: I don’t know, but I am sure as hell not suing them.

Deelip: I don’t understand. Then what is this class action suit about?
Evan: I am not suing them personally as President of Purecor and an Associate member. I am going to simply lay out the facts to the class (the Associate members interested in taking this further). I will write a document describing everything and appear as an fact witness if required, at no charge.

Deelip: Help me understand something here. I get the “principle” argument, but to me it all boils down to inconveniencing the Associate members to pay $100 as handling fee. So if you do find Associate members who cannot afford to pay $100 a year, how on earth are they going to pay for this class action suit. I must admit I am new to all of this. Enlighten me.
Evan: That’s a good question. The Associate members joining this class will not have to pay anything. The lawyer taking up this case will figure out whether the case is strong and gauge the amount of compensation/damages that could be won. He will take a percentage of that. And as regards money, I will not spend a single cent on this and neither will I earn a single cent. I have already said that I will donate my share of any settlement to EFF.

Deelip: So what will it take for you to stop this?
Evan: Like I said I am going to write a document and lay down the facts as I see them. If the ODA refunds the fees collected from the Associate members, reinstates the members that they wrongfully terminates, I will then add more information to the document describing what they did and publish the document. If nobody finds a reason to take things forward after that, then nobody will. All I am requesting the ODA is they follow the rules and none of this needs to happen.

Deelip: I am going to ask you a straight question and would appreciate a straight answer. Knowing you I think I am going to get one. Why did you wait 30 days to begin acting? Why didn’t you ask for the bylaws and minutes of the meetings that led up to the decision to charge Associate members on the day you received the first email from the ODA clerk.
Evan: That’s an excellent question. I wanted to see what the ODA would do.

Deelip: Looks like you have some major issues with the ODA.
Evan: I have no problem with the ODA. I care about the organization but I care more about its members. After all, it is a member driven organization.

Deelip: There is a view that you are trying to get back at the ODA management for the manner in which you were made to resign as President.
Evan: Let’s be clear on something. I do not want my job back. In fact, I don’t believe that I am the right person to run the ODA. Neither do I want to be on the Board of Directors. Sure, the organization can benefit from my experience. But I seriously believe that the ODA deserves better.

Deelip: You mentioned not wanting to be on the board. If I understand this correctly, only Founding members can be on the board and Purecor is (or was) only an Associate member.
Evan: You are forgetting that any Founding member could make me their representative on the board. But I am not interested in that.

Deelip: Personally, I believe that neither the ODA, its members or you, need this. I hope you guys can find a way to sort this out amicably.
Evan: I could not agree more with you.