[Nagiosplug-devel] Antwort: Re: Antwort: Re: Contributing patches and retaining copyright

Andreas Ericsson ae at op5.se
Wed May 6 16:23:30 CEST 2009

Alain Williams wrote:
> On Wed, May 06, 2009 at 02:35:34PM +0200, Sascha.Runschke at gfkl.com wrote:
>>> If you have contributed some code to the project, we thank you and 
>>> we make sure you (and/or your company) get credit. But in reality, 
>>> the team take on the responsibility to make sure that the code 
>>> continues to work correctly. Not just at commit time, but forever. 
> With a responsive owner then you can submit patches back to him.
> If/when he abandons it - you fork your copy/version.
>> Well, the above FAQ entry does not mention a single word about
>> "ease of maintainance of code", but instead it's all about those
>> GPL fanatics and their lawyers. While I like the GPL, I do not
>> like the fanatism some of the "open source evangalists" come
>> around like. No offense here against anyone involved in this
>> discussion - I do have some special people of the GPL public
>> in mind, but I don't like calling names.
>>> I think this continued responsibility should be reflected in the 
>>> ownership of the code.
>>> The upshot for you (and/or your company) is that you no longer 
>>> maintain that code anymore - that has to be worth something!
>> I don't think that continued responsibility has _anything_ to do
>> with ownership - at least not with GPLed code.
> Well, almost.
> If someone owns they code they can change the license into something else
> if they wish. The code that was GPLed cannot be taken away, ie you can't
> stop anyone using/distributing/... it up to the point that the license
> changed. However: once the license changed (perhaps to something not open)
> and development continued then users have a choice:
> 1) continue using the code up to when the license changed, live with any bugs
> 2) use the post license change code for the extra goodies and perhaps pay a fee
>    to the owner, if required
> 3) fork the code (as of license change) and develop in parallel, perhaps emulate
>    the festures in (2).
> This is why code with multiple owners is best ... it prevents someone doing (2).

Not necessarily. In a court of law, copyright holders must show that their
contribution is not insignificant. A one-line fix from me to net-snmp gives
me absolutely zero right to decide over the license of the project. Also,
if a large enough majority of the contributors (and contributors here is
counted by number of contributed lines of code), the license can be changed
without even asking the remaining programmers, so long as they didn't write
a significant part of the project as a whole.

With the plugins project, I doubt this is a real problem, because:
a) The plugins are free-standing programs, so a license-change could
   just drop the plugins where copyright isn't owned by the plugin team.
b) Contributions to already existing plugins can very, very rarely be
   considered "significant contributions", unless they drastically alter
   how the plugin works.

> If (and this is a thought experiment, not an accusation/...) Von Toon/Nagios
> Enterprises/... were to be bought by <insert large nasty company name> then
> the Nagios community would be better protected by multiple copyright.

Certainly, but you may rest assured that forks would rise like mushrooms if
that happened ;-)

> What might be considered is dual ownership: this would set out what the various
> parties could do with the code. I would not feel happy if code that I had
> contributed for free were now proprietary & being used to make someone else a profit.

Right. So you could make the nagios plugin team leasees of your code for
zero money, which gives them the right to defend the plugin project as a
whole in a court of law, but does not give them right to re-license it.

There's trouble with paperwork for doing that though, and it works
differently in different countries which, I believe, is why EFF offers
the advice of having a single copyright owner. Actually though, the EFF
advices that copyright is signed over to them, which is something I've
never felt very comfortable with.

Ah well. The horrors of law mustn't penetrate the fun of hacking imo.
I stay well away from even Ally McBeal unless I'm thoroughly protected
by a thick coating of alcohol ;-)

Andreas Ericsson                   andreas.ericsson at op5.se
OP5 AB                             www.op5.se
Tel: +46 8-230225                  Fax: +46 8-230231

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