A blog for the enterprise open source community
Copyrights and wrongsMatthew Aslett, February 8, 2010 @ 11:16 am ET
One of the issues I have with the Free Software approach is that advocates have habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when discussing issues that they see as in any way negative to free software.
Having read the original interview with Mark, and then Bradley’s response, it is pretty clear that the two have very different perspectives on copyright assignment: Mark is speaking from the perspective of a commercial business, Bradley form that of a non-profit foundation.
The two entities have very different reasons for enforcing copyright assignment policies, and Bradley is right to point out that a potential contributor should approach a copyright assignment policy from a commercial entity with a great degree of caution.
However, the ultimate reason for enforcing copyright assignment is about control. From a vendor’s perspective the desire for control is often to produce closed versions of the code. From the FSF’s perspective the desire for control is about keeping the code, and derivatives of it, open.
However, the fact that the FSF “promises to never proprietarize its versions of the software assigned to it”, does not support Bradley’s assertion that Mark “wants to confuse us about copyright assignment so we just start signing away our software”.
This claim is especially problematic given that Mark appeared (and it must be said we are reliant on the reporting of his statements to understand what he meant by them) to be attempting to reduce confusion around copyright assignments by, if possible, introducing some sort of standardization.
This is a suggestion that deserves more consideration. However, Bradley is so busy protecting the FSF from being maligned by Mark that he completely ignores the point raised by Mark – that copyright assignment policies are confusing, complex, and potentially problematic.
As the iTWire report demonstrates, the issue of copyright assignment is not just one that impacts contributions by individual developers (which is a common way of looking at it) but also of contributions from employees of Canonical to projects led by the likes of MySQL, Zope, Novell, Red Hat, Intel and others.
As previously noted, Oracle’s acquisition of Sun, and with it MySQL, has highlighted the issue of copyright control in encouraging/restricting community development in vendor-led development projects and providing acquirers with the potential to close an open source project.
Clearly, the issue is not as problematic for non-profit foundation-led projects, but the issue of copyright assignment needs more thoughtful assessment than a response that amounts to “non-profit=good, for-profit=bad”.
For more considered analysis of the issue of copyright assignment see:
Dave Neary: Copyright assignment and other barriers to entry
CAOS Theory: On the importance of copyright assignment
Daniel Chalef: OSBC, Community Engagement and Contributor Agreements
Michael Meeks: Some thoughts on Copyright Assignment
Tarus Balog: More on Copyright Assignment
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