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On Thu, Oct 28, 2010 at 9:18 AM, Charles-H. Schulz <> wrote:

Hello all, (apologies for this quite long email)

I would like to discuss a bit the position of the Document Foundation
with respect to copyright assignments. I understand there have been
questions here and there about this topic, and it's perhaps necessary
to explain our position.

We initially agreed not to request the assignment of copyright for code
contributions, and we can only witness that it's been so far the right
decision: Many developers have joined us and contribute to the
LibreOffice codebase or extend it by localizing it and testing

We knew ever since the beginning that imposing a copyright assignment
would be a big minus for developers. For one thing, it represents
complexity for developers, and on the other hand, the experience we had
with the copyright assignment under the stewardship of Oracle speaks
for itself. It is also worth noting that in practical terms, the bulk
of the LibreOffice codebase, that is, everything except our new
patches, our new code, the localizations, the hacks, etc. is still
under copyright from Oracle. Also, as a warning of sorts, keep in mind
that copyright assignments are not the same thing as software licenses.

I am going to write below some of the reasons why I also think that not
having a copyright assignment is either a good idea or does not really
matter at all.

1) no one has yet been able to clearly articulate what advantage we
would gain by having one for TDF. For instance, it's not at all clear,
and is in fact quite likely than any major software vendor would be
shunned away from our project if we had a copyright assignment: it
would basically mean that we would own their "intellectual property",
and I'm not so sure it flies well with corporate lawyers in charge of
protecting it.

2) the state of the art in terms of such assignments is changing
rapidly. We stand at a corner of FOSS history, where the realization
that projects led by one vendor only tend to fail, unless the vendor
itself puts others in charge of the projects and gives free reins to
its community. Look at what's happening with Fedora with respect to
its ditching of copyright assignments. Experiences in other projects
show that the "protection" that such assignments provide is at best
minimal, and most of the times quickly abused, most of the time by its

3) copyright assignments are not blocking the reuse of code or
anything similar; there are several reasons for this, but one which is
practical: a few years ago, you had a central branch with a tool like
CVS. In the CVS (and even SVN) there was a real hierarchy. There was my
branch and you were contributing to it. Now, many projects use similar
tools, except that they are in fact quite different: they are
distributed: there are as many different copies as there are
developers; and the choice is social (people agree on what's best or
respect the guy who has the biggest beard or something like this). So
people create a big heap of code, and if they want to create their own
stuff in their own corner, they do it; they don't deal with
hierarchies, and paperwork. If they're not happy, they leave. That's
how it works today. BTW; LibreOffice uses Git, which is a distributed

4) the notion that we cannot change license because we don't have
copyright assignment needs to be put to rest once and for all today.
There is a very simple explanation with respect to this issue; ask any
lawyer and he/she will confirm this: Sun/Oracle has licensed the OOo
code under LGPL v3. They could have put "LGPL v3 or later" or "LGPL v3
or +". But they didn't. And that's what makes impossible to turn OOo
into a different license unless the sole copyright owner agrees to
change it, which is unlikely with Oracle.

5) based on my 4) point, you can object that without a copyright
assignment, we would be stuck with the same license for ever, since we
would not be able to decide to change the license of our lines of
code.  In fact, the problem lies in the heap of code we would have to
change in order to be able to turn the whole code into something
else... but here's what the developers of LibreOffice did: they simply
didn't change the license, they started to license their own changes
under the same license (LGPL V3)... and added : "or +" after it. So the
license will change or at least be modified that way. But what if we
want to change the whole thing? well, we'll contact all the authors who
got their code into LibreOffice. We have their emails, etc. And if some
of them don't agree with us, then perhaps we'll have to redevelop their
own code.

6) there is also a confusion between copyright assignment and copyright
protection. True, when you assign code to the FSF, you do expect to be
legally protected against unpleasant surprises. But developers can also
decide they don't like the FSF so you will have lost your
effective control over what you develop. One might object, then, that
if someone sues you, you would be better off with an entity
protecting you. Usually, the patent trolls and the suers on code of
this world don't attack individuals. They attack entities with money.
On to the money question...

7) what if we had money to protect our code? Well, we may still not want
to lose developers for that. But we could do something else: acting as
the defenders of all the copyright owners. And then, it does not
require a copyright assignment, it only requires, if a problem arises,
that enough contributors or all the contributors signs a small paper
saying "The Document Foundation is representing us legally in xyz case".
That's all.

Your questions are welcome, but I hope it helped clarified this

I understand not requiring any form of copyright assignment, but what about
voluntary copyright assignment?

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