contribution agreements for open source projects

John Cowan cowan at
Thu Sep 24 04:15:02 UTC 2009

Alex Russell scripsit:

> Nearly every Foundation that requires them that I've seen posts them.  
> Apache, Eclipse, etc., etc.

I seem to be out of date.  FSF doesn't, or at least didn't the last time
I looked.

> >My personal view is that asking your contributors to license their
> >stuff under the existing project license is plenty,
> That's pretty cavalier.

Why?  Asking a contributor to sign a special agreement is saying that
you want them to grant *you* more rights than they are granting to
everyone else.  If you license your stuff under the GPL without a dual
license, and I send you a patch also under the GPL, you have nothing to
complain about.  If your business model depends on dual-licensing, you may
indeed want extra rights, which I may or may not be inclined to give you.

> >unless you are a
> >mega-project and actually expect to fend off lawsuits.
> ...or if you expect any of your users to. Ever.

Again, I don't understand that.

Actually, I should have spoken not of fending off lawsuits but of
prosecuting them or threatening to do so, which is harder if there are
multiple copyright holders.  The FSF wants copyright ownership so it
can make such threats effectively in pursuit of its special goals.
The Linux kernel, OTOH, has no contributor agreements (though it does
track who contributed what) and a multitude of copyright owners.
This is thought to be a strength.

Work hard,                                      John Cowan
play hard,                                      cowan at
die young,                            
rot quickly.

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