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On the importance of copyright assignmentMatthew Aslett, April 6, 2009 @ 9:37 am ET
Some weeks ago Luke Kaines stated his observation that “requiring copyright attribution is a greater sin than providing commercial add-ons”.
His perspective was based on the theory that requiring copyright assignment restricts the developer community, a theory that was apparently repeated by Dave Neary during the recent OSBC event (I missed that session due to our CAOS client lunch).
Daniel Chalef of KnowledgeTree provided some evidence of Dave’s perspective and also the contrary view that the assignment of copyright is critical not just for vendor-dominated projects but also for community projects such as The Mozilla Foundation, The Apache Foundation and The Free Software Foundation.
Daniel referenced Eben Moglen and his explanation of why the FSF requests copyright assignment: “If there are multiple authors of a copyrighted work, successful enforcement depends on having the cooperation of all authors.”
Meanwhile I am also reminded of the presentation given by Lawrence Rosen during the Eclipse Open Source Strategy Summit when he discussed the fact that it would be almost impossible for the Linux kernel to relicensed from the GNU GPLv2.
For vendors that dominate their own projects, Daniel also notes the importance of being able to provide indemnification for customers.
Some time ago I discussed with Marten Mickos the potential for Sun to encourage contributions to MySQL by changing its rules on copyright assignment given the diminishing importance of commercial license version in MySQL’s revenue mix and Marten pointed out that the main reason Sun would continue to require assignment was not to be able to relicense but to be in a position to stand behind the code (although the MySQL project did adopt the more flexible Sun Contributor Agreement, as referenced in the comments below).
Which isn’t to say that copyright assignment is essential for every project, but it does demonstrate that the assignment of copyright isn’t intrinsically linked to a vendor-dominated development project.
Also worth reading on this topic is Andrew Lampitt’s recent update on the Open-Core licensing definition in which he proposes two variants based on whether the copyright is controlled by a vendor or community and lists some of the benefits and risks to the vendor, customer and community, or each approach.
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