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Thread: Contributor Agreement

  1. #1
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    Unhappy Contributor Agreement

    PJ of Groklaw, respectively a very respected blogger and website in the Legal Open Source Community, raises some very interesting points on Canonical's Contributor Agreement (it is a comment to one of her "latest news picks" section):

    Well, let's stop and think a minute. We just emerged recently from the MySQL drama. Dual licensing, we learned, can be a problem too. Greed causes many issues. Why can't businesses just stop trying to force FOSS to be what it isn't? And it's not so nice to use developers. By that I mean, why would a developer who cares about FOSS want to work for your business for free, and then his code gets relicensed as proprietary code to boot? Even if he still has a FOSS version of his contribution? Seriously. Give me a reason, please. Maybe there's one I can't think of, but I can't think of any reason at all. The motive for writing FOSS is gone. I can see if a developer wants to dual license his own code and if folks want to do this, who am I to say no? But why would he freely share it with your business so you can make big bucks? You are worried about your business model. But with dual licensing or open core, either one, what is the business model there for him? Kuhn may not have the right word, but he's got his finger pointing in the right direction, and here's why I think so. Look at Canonical's assignment agreement. Do you see anything that would prevent Canonical from going completely proprietary? I don't. I'm not saying they would. But what stands in their way in that agreement? Your little piece might still be yours, but the project as a whole can be relicensed any way they want. Ask your lawyer, because I could be off, but it doesn't, to my eyes, say that there will always be a project as a whole that will be available as FOSS, just that you can use your contribution any way you want. In practical terms, unless you can find all the others who contributed and reproduce the entire Canonical code, what have you got compared to what Canonical has? Is that what you call business?
    If you want to take a look for yourselves, you can find the agreement here:

    http://www.canonical.com/system/file...0ver%202.5.pdf

    I would really like to know the views of other Ubuntuers out there, more informed than I am, about this issue.
    Last edited by Yeti can't ski; October 19th, 2010 at 01:06 PM.

  2. #2
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  3. #3
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    From Canonical's FAQ on the issue:

    Does clause 6 allow Canonical to potentially lock away my contributions under a proprietary license?

    No — Canonical can't lock away your contributions under this agreement, because of clause 2. Canonical could use your contributions in a proprietary program, but the contributions would remain distributable by you under other licenses (thanks to clause 2), and thus be available for use elsewhere.
    http://www.canonical.com/contributors/faq

    Why keep the right to re-license code under proprietary terms?

  4. #4
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Two tin cans are better than an iphone

    http://www.ehow.co.uk/how_2067160_ma...hone.html?cr=1

  5. #5
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Code makes their things work, and if a contributed code is needed to make a proprietary software work, of course they'd keep the right to re-license it. Whatever contribution we make to Ubuntu, it's going directly to their hands - you are not spreading it independently. GNU license allows you to take to the code and release it proprietarily anyway Canonical isn't at fault.

  6. #6
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by Oxwivi View Post
    GNU license allows you to take to the code and release it proprietarily anyway Canonical isn't at fault.
    Could you please elaborate on that? You refer to GPL3?

    The original holder of copyright has obviously the right to double license his/her/its own code under any number of licenses. It is a part of the legal system. It is not the GPL that "allows" it.

    Still, inviting people to contribute to a project under the Free Software flag and then take their code and distribute it under a proprietary license seems IMHO just morally wrong.

    Canonical is not doing it, as far as I know, but I don't understand why they reserve the legal right to do so.

  7. #7
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by Yeti can't ski View Post
    From Canonical's FAQ on the issue:

    http://www.canonical.com/contributors/faq

    Why keep the right to re-license code under proprietary terms?
    So that the GPL doesn't stop you from entering lucrative markets simply because of some legal technicality.

    It's really an non issue. The agreement only applies to Canonical created project not general Ubuntu development. Even if for some reason Canonical decided to close those projects the code released up to that point would still remain under a FOSS licence.
    WARNING: "sudo rm -rf /" = BAD Read this for more information.
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  8. #8
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by Oxwivi View Post
    GNU license allows you to take to the code and release it proprietarily anyway Canonical isn't at fault.
    The only three ways to close GPL code is by having it run on server (since you aren't distributing the GPL doesn't kick in), by using a hardware solution to only allow your modified GPL code to run (TiVo does that; that loop hole was closed in GPLv3) and by owning all the copyright on the code (since you would be the sole owner you can do with your property what you like).
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  9. #9
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by zekopeko View Post
    So that the GPL doesn't stop you from entering lucrative markets simply because of some legal technicality.

    It's really an non issue.
    Having code created and contributed under the FOSS spirit re-licensed and finishing under a proprietary license does not sound, once again IMHO, as a "legal technicality". And it also does not seem a non-issue to me (or to PJ, by the way).

    It is an erosion of copyleft. Nothing more, nothing less. Only if you consider copyleft non-important you may regard this as a non-issue.

  10. #10
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    Re: Contributor Agreement

    Quote Originally Posted by Yeti can't ski View Post
    Having code created and contributed under the FOSS spirit re-licensed and finishing under a proprietary license does not sound, once again IMHO, as a "legal technicality". And it also does not seem a non-issue to me (or to PJ, by the way).

    It is an erosion of copyleft. Nothing more, nothing less. Only if you consider copyleft non-important you may regard this as a non-issue.
    That's because you only think of re-licencing in the terms of proprietary licences. What if somebody wants to re-licence the project under a more liberal licence ala MIT or Apache2 or simple give an exception to a part of the GPL for one specific platform?

    BTW PJ isn't exactly a unbiased source. She is going to chastise Canonical for this but will defend IBM if they do something similar (which they do).
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