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Re: [tdf-discuss] Copyright Assignments & the Document Foundation


Hi Andrea,

On Sun, 2010-10-31 at 23:56 +0100, Andrea Pescetti wrote:
I haven't seen any new contributor write that they joined because of 
(the refusal of) a copyright agreement; while I have seen several new 
contributors write that they started contributing because the "Easy 
Hacks" were so easy that they didn't require any previous technical 
knowledge.

        Well - there is of course an element of truth to this. However - easy
hacks are attractive IMHO because not only are they easy, but because
the result gets included in the code-base, and the developer of them is
treated as a valued peer. Saying "sure you did some good work, but until
we get a faxed form it is worthless to us" to all your contributors has
a sterilising effect on volunteers - and it has a -huge- scalding effect
on other corporations wanting to contribute. Furthermore - the absence
of a corporate spider at the centre of the web makes it possible to
build a loyalty and sense of ownership of the project as a whole -
rather than to a company: which is critical.

        To see ease of writing patches as the primary improvement is to miss
the fact that people don't just want to write patches, they want to get
them included, and be valued as contributors, co-owners and peers: not
as 'intellectual property production machines' to be 'harvested'
etc. :-)

Now, without copyright assignment/agreement (granted by the LibreOffice 
developers to the Document Foundation), the Document Foundation will be 
in the awkward situation I described: it manages a product (LibreOffice) 
but cannot represent the LibreOffice developers since it doesn't own the 
code.

        Sure - it can recommend, advise, and encourage people in directions; it
can lead the project via the brand, it can encourage collaboration and
resolve conflicts - but sure; it is not a monolithic entity that can
dictate ownership of the code.

This makes it a weaker player:

        Or does it ? sometimes influence can be rather valuable, more so than
ownership or control of the asset. In this case because people are
willing to give you far more influence than ownership :-)

Do you need an example? Think of a "happy ending" where, to the benefit 
of users, OOo and all derivatives merge in a common project. There are 
many stakeholders (Oracle, IBM, Novell, Red Hat, Redflag, the Document 
Foundation...) and they might agree on a new, free, license with some 
special provisions due to the long history of OOo. Now, without 
copyright assignments/agreements every stakeholder would be able to join 
the unified project except the Document Foundation.

        Wait - this is an amusingly different side to the same coin that I see.
You try to draw a picture of a terrible dysfunctional situation where
companies have all this freedom to join something that individuals do
not :-)

        The reality is quite different - that individual contributors to
LibreOffice have -collectively- a substantial say in how their aggregate
contribution is used - since no-one else can go away and "negotiate"
away ownership of their code / translation / artwork etc. Indeed -
individuals are peers of their corporate contributors in any such
discussion. That means that it cannot be done in a dark corner - for
sure !

        This IMHO is a huge strength and reason for individual ownership.

By choosing against copyright assignments/agreements you are killing
this dream...

        Personally I hope that the 'dream' of assigning exclusive ownership to
Oracle, that is not shared with others, is thoroughly dead.

        To me the experience of this has been more of a nightmare than any
dream - in addition I have -never- seen evidence that Oracle actually
needs this right. Furthermore, I am persuaded that in general,
developers bear other contributors no ill will per-se, and would be open
to a new (non-abusive) [ie. copy-left] licensing regimen, if one is
proposed.

        Clearly, the dream of working together is real, the licensing regimen
we suggest 'LGPLv3+/MPL' meets Oracle's product needs [ though not
behind-the-scenes license sale needs of course ] (of that I am certain).
So - I do believe this is a completely reasonable offer, made in good
faith, and that the (C) assignment issue is really a distraction; and
worse a dangerous one about concentrating control, whose merit (as you
suggest) is around non-transparent discussion and negotiation.

        HTH,

                Michael.

-- 
 michael.meeks@novell.com  <><, Pseudo Engineer, itinerant idiot



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