Assigning copyright

John Cowan jcowan at
Thu Feb 22 16:30:09 UTC 2001

David Johnson wrote:

> I now have in my possession a contributed piece of code with an emailed 
> agreement to assign the copyright to me (since there is no umbrella 
> organization to assign it to). The pragmatic part of me says that this is the 
> legally sensible thing to do,

It was.

If the code base is under the GNU GPL, I have heard it suggested that
assigning copyright to the FSF is sensible (even without their
consent), since they have lawyers and a vested interest in defending
the GPL.

I don't know what view the FSF takes of this idea.

> while the idealistic side says that it was 
> incredibly presumptious even to ask.

I'm confused.  Do you suspect that it is presumptuous to ask for a
copyright assignment (it isn't), or that it was presumptuous for
your contributor to offer one?

> Was this the legal/ethical thing to do? 

Yes.  The fact that your contributor freely consented to it
shows that.

> And now that it's done, how does it actually get implemented? Do I refer to 
> the contributor/author as a contributor or an author? yada yada yada

Absent a contract, the law is silent on this.  Hacker ethics demand that
you preserve credit for the contributor in the final product.  Whether
you consider your contributor to be a co-author is a matter of taste,
and probably should depend on how substantial the contribution is.

Ya done good, kid.
There is / one art             || John Cowan <jcowan at>
no more / no less              ||
to do / all things             ||
with art- / lessness           \\ -- Piet Hein

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