Third dimension of the open source incline is copyright

Third dimension of the open source incline is copyright

Summary: A programmer who assigns copyright to a corporate entity may be no better off than an unpaid employee for a proprietary project.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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One of the earliest think pieces I did here was the Open Source Incline.

The idea was that the more equal your license made a project sponsor and the contributor, the more contributions you might generate.

Later I updated this concept with the Open Source Development Incline.

I suggested that the nature of the sponsor has an impact on contributions, regardless of license. True community-driven projects had an advantage over corporate-run projects.

What Simon Phipps' latest did for me was put in perspective the third dimension of the open source incline idea.

That dimension is copyright.

Whether copyright is assigned to a project, and under what terms, is an increasingly important question for code contributors.

At ApacheCon I learned, for instance, that Apache doesn't require it be assigned copyright on contributions at all. At the other end of the incline are those which, as Phipps notes, have contributor agreements that actively discourage outside participation.

This question becomes increasingly important when we look at the Oracle suit against Google over Java.

It's not just a patent complaint. Oracle says Google violated its copyrights as well, and this may be one of the strongest aspects of Oracle's case.

However, it brings the question of copyrights to the fore. Many contributions were made to Java, to Sun, by independent programmers who were pressured to assign their copyright to Sun, under what amounted to a verbal promise that everything would work out.

Well, everything did not work out. Oracle now seeks to use those copyrights as legal weapons, in order to maintain control of the underlying software.

In this view, a programmer who assigns copyright to a corporate entity becomes no better than an unpaid employee for a proprietary project. They could, in theory, be denied access to the code they wrote, depending entirely on the whim of the company they assigned it to (or the company which buys that company, etc.)

This whole issue obviously puts projects like Apache, which don't require copyright assignment, in a better position vis a vis corporate projects licensed under the GPL.

And my guess is it will get a lot of programmers demanding their own copyrights in the future.

Topic: Open Source

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6 comments
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  • Very good point. MySQL was the same way, with ONLY MySQL able to sell

    versions to be linked with proprietary code. Now, all of this is coming back to haunt us since Oracle was able to buy them.
    DonnieBoy
    • GPL FUD

      @DonnieBoy haunt us!? Err, MySQL is *just* as free as it ever was. You can fork it under the GPL and code to your hearts content. However, you'll not be able to dual license it. Ah, you don't *want* others to see your code? Sure, if you want to release a, presumably, commercial version and not distribute the code, then, yeah, can't do that under the GPL.
      THUFIR.HAWAT
  • Re: About that copyright - and the java case

    Of course in the case of java and the JSR's - the situation is a bit more complex - the various entities involved *are* able to retract their material when the speclead makes a material change.

    The JSPA, see chapter 4D, says that if the "Spec Lead for an Expert Group .... makes significant changes to the terms and conditions .. then You may ... withdraw any copyright or patent licenses" (Edited for brevity).

    So it is not the best of examples,

    Thanks,

    Dw.
    dirkx
    • RE: Third dimension of the open source incline is copyright

      @dirkx I don't look at fine print, and demanding that someone do it or "take what's coming to me" is, in my view, a scam.

      But I accept your point as written. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: Third dimension of the open source incline is copyright

    I think the situation Oracle Google is not a good reference, as it has many other aspects.

    The motivation for a programmer to submit may code differ, but helping the project forwards is a good one.
    It is still a bad idea to spread the copyright over many party. It make things as changing the license unworkable.

    The best solution in my view is that the copyright goes to a non profit organization who has the same interests in mind as the submitter of the code at the moment he submitted.
    bezoeker
  • RE: Third dimension of the open source incline is copyright

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