ReactOS Deutschland e.V. is live!

It took almost a year, but as of today ReactOS Deutschland can finally call itself an e.V.! (eingetragener Verein = registered association) Now what is ReactOS Deutschland and why should I care?

On 24 January 2009, seven ReactOS developers met in Osnabrück, Germany to found what would become the legal entity to represent the ReactOS Project in Germany and around the world. This became necessary for practical reasons: On the one hand, ReactOS is an open-source project that is driven by volunteers in their free time. But even with that free labor, the project still has to pay for servers and travel expenses (to represent ReactOS at open-source exhibitions). These costs are covered through donations via PayPal and SEPA wire transfers (an intra-European payment method).

While a ReactOS Foundation had already been established a few years ago, its legal domicile (Russia) had the effect that these popular payment methods weren’t available. This is why our PayPal and European bank accounts had been run by private people for a long time. Now that the donations were approaching significant amounts, this was no longer a viable option and founding a legal entity for ReactOS in Europe was inevitable. I took it upon myself to dig into the relevant regulations in Germany and write our first charter.
I mean, this can’t be too hard, can it? After all, the KDE and OpenOffice projects (to just name a few) also successfully managed to establish non-profits in Germany. And ReactOS has a strong German community to support this endeavor.

Little did I know back then that it would take almost 12 months to explain our project to the authorities and get the necessary approvals, even with the help of some veterans in that space. Part of the reason is that we decided to not just become a registered association, but also an approved non-profit organization. This has several tax benefits for us and for our potential donors, and it feels just like the right thing. After all, we are an association that is mainly operating on the internet and not in a physical office. It would be a shame if we had to spend too much of the worldwide donation money on German taxes.

If you want to found a non-profit in Germany, your organization needs to pursue certain approved activities. This list (§ 52 AO for law nerds) is a hodgepodge of multiple generic and very specific purposes that lawmakers decided on over time. Sadly, open-source software development is not on the list, even though support of ham radio activities is.
What we had to do instead, and what KDE e.V. and Deutschland e.V. already did in the past, is choosing the promotion of research and education and explaining in detail how we are going to achieve that via the development of our open-source operating system. This is less of a hack than it may sound. Check our charter if you are interested in the details (German-only so far, sorry!)

Finally, when you decided on a purpose for your non-profit and wrote the wordy charter, all of that has to get past the municipal finance authority. In theory, it shouldn’t matter where you found your organization, since all authorities are bound to the same federal laws. In practice, our financial authority told us outright that they wouldn’t have accepted the charters of several similar German open-source organizations. Besides, some details recently changed in the laws, which only affected us as a new organization. Anyway, with time and constructive assistance, we eventually got our charter through and could proceed with the registration at the district court. Latter thing is just a formality and not expected to cause any trouble. Just bring enough time :)

I hope these lines can be helpful to anybody who also wants to set up a non-profit in Germany. If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to send me an e-mail. I can’t give official legal advice, but I may freely talk about our experiences and how we did certain things.