ZDNet article - why attribution matters

John-Sugar john at sugarcrm.com
Mon Nov 27 23:28:52 UTC 2006


I took a couple of days off from email last week so I’m just now providing
our perspective in the talkback forum. I thought David’s recent ZDNet
article gave fair coverage to this important issue. For the record though,
there are far more projects adopting attribution clauses then the select few
David calls out. I hope my response below will shed one more view point on
why attribution benefits vs. hurts great open source projects. 

John Roberts


News Discussion: Are SugarCRM, Socialtext, Zimbra, Scalix and others abusing
the term "open source?" 

TalkBack  24 of 24:

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Attribution, why it matters
I thought your article was very good based on the complexity of this issue.
Below is my perspective as someone who felt compelled to add an attribution
clause to our license in late 2004. I think we were the first to add this
clause to the MPL. It appears now that almost every open source project with
significant engineering salaries are also seeing attribution as a small
request in return for writing and open source licensing their code – all of
which is hard work. In fact almost every new open source project feels
compelled to protect their identity in some way, not necessarily for
monetary reasons though. I do find it very interesting that most folks who
seem to take issue with this attribution provisions are ‘individuals’ who do
not write any code themselves (but yet who seem to love the creative commons
attribution license). 

Backgrounder, I did not initially want to add the attribution clause at all.
Fact is you can only work for free for so many months, and I and my two
co-founders, Clint and Jacob all had pregnant wives at the time when we
first decided to resign from our jobs at E.piphnay and founded the SugarCRM
project and initially worked for free. We have been very upfront, I think,
in calling ourselves ‘commercial open source’ – it’s even a part of our
logo. Why? Because we do not want to try and fool anyone that writing
software full time is free. 

The fact is there is a very ugly side to open source redistribution. There
are plenty of hosting providers, SI’s, etc… that look at open source
licensed software as ‘free’ software for them to go and ‘sell’. They take no
issue with removing all identifying marks off the software and will even go
so far as to violate the open source licenses and remove copyright
statements. We were finding ourselves in this position in late 2004 after
putting in another intense effort to ship a new release of Sugar. These
folks were simply lifting our identifying marks and ‘pretending to the
world’ that they wrote software that they indeed had not. They also had no
intention at all of adding to the SugarCRM project since that showed they
weren’t the original authors of the software. 

What is interesting is that these folks all use the argument that ‘they are
pure open source coders’ – which is only the case for maybe 2% to 3% of
them. For those folks who are actually writing code that takes the project
forward, I do agree that we would all be better off without the attribution
clause. But…for the 98% of folks that are just looking for more free
software to sell or host – yes, the attribution clause does piss them off.
Because the last thing they want is for the end user to think that they did
not write the code themselves. I’ve been amazed how such a small clause
could become such an effective deterrent. As an example, you write a book
(software) and open source license it. You allow folks to rename the title
and author on the cover. And that’s all they change. This is an every day
reality, and it’s not fair. But authors can use the creative commons
attribution license, one of the most widely utilized licenses on the planet
but OSI does not have a similar provision.

Our implementation, specifically the sugar attribution clause, only points
to www.sugarforge.org. You can not buy anything on this site, so it is in no
way advertising. If you want more free open source extensions or to start
participating yourself, click the link. Ultimately this is not an issue for
a self appointed group to decide for the rest of us. Open source code is a
voluntary movement, if folks do not like the clause, they don’t have to use
the software. I do think it is important that end users do understand the
revenue stream (funding) of the code base. I’ve found our most hardened
Sugar Open Source users are our most vocal Sugar Professional advocates.
Why? Because the more successful SugarCRM is, the more open source code we
will write and the more resources we can invest in our open source sites. 

Lastly, I do think though, taking a bunch of other folk’s code, say >50% at
a minimum and adding an attribution clause is not a good use of the clause.
The only reason we felt it was ok to add it was because we wrote the Sugar
Open Source code base from scratch. Any additional libraries we may use are
fully attributed in the about box of the software. Attribution goes both

John Roberts

Posted by: john-sugar    Posted on: 11/27/06 




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