contribution agreements for open source projects

Alex Russell alex at
Thu Sep 24 04:26:46 UTC 2009

On Sep 23, 2009, at 9:15 PM, John Cowan wrote:

> 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 I seem to be out of date.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.

The FSF shouldn't need them. Everything they do (more or less) is  
GPL'd. CLA's make sense in an environment where your license doesn't  
handle patent concerns and may be ambiguous about provenance (like BSD).

>>> 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.

And if your project is BSD-licensed and you *don't* do this, it's  
unclear that you actually have the rights required to even make the  
code available under the stated license.

> 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.

...which it historically hasn't even done, even when there are clear  
GPL violations. Their request for copyright assignment seems both  
bogus and self-serving. A GPL license, however, seems appropriate for  
lots of projects.


> 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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