[License-discuss] exploring the attachment between the author and the code

Gil Yehuda gyehuda at verizonmedia.com
Fri Feb 28 20:03:23 UTC 2020

A mid-conversation thank you to those who have contributed so far.
Nicholas, you are bringing excellent clarifications, especially around the
parameters of copyright. Others shared really nice ideas about they see
sharing. But I also run into people who relate to code differently, and
that's the curiosity. e.g. code assigned to an employer vs. how employees
feel about their work product (and assert how they'd want it used). In
those cases the legality of rights (assigned to a company) may be at odds
with the feeling of the code author.

Sure, one could dismiss this and say "then don't work for a company" but
I'm not looking to solve a particular problem, but to explore the range in
which people feel attached to their code and to where their code goes. I'm
purposely framing this to be about feelings and away from rights since I
think it may help understanding the different ways in which people feel
ownership of their work and how it relates to their views on licenses.
Sean, your "kids" analogy is very helpful as it can explain quite the range
of relationships people have with their code.

I hope to hear, thanks.

Gil Yehuda: I help with external technology engagement

>From the Open Source Program Office
<https://developer.yahoo.com/opensource/docs/> at Yahoo --> Oath - ->
Verizon Media

On Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 1:55 PM Nicholas Matthew Neft Weinstock <
nweinsto at qti.qualcomm.com> wrote:

> ** Although I am a practicing attorney, this should not be viewed as legal
> advice.  I am only providing my own thoughts on the subject for the purpose
> of participating in discussion of a topic that I find interesting. Also,
> note that the law is much deeper than the points I'm touching upon here.
> Seek your own legal counsel to be safe. **
> Hi Gil,
> You touch on a few excellent and interesting topics that have both
> emotional and legal implications.  I want to address some of the legal ones.
> You distinguish between the idea and the expression of the idea.
> The quadratic formula is the idea.  ax^2 + bx + c = 0.  The three
> different implementations are distinct expressions of the idea.
> Copyright law is focused on creative expression.  In software, if there is
> any creative expression, it would be in the implementation of the idea.
> However, this brings up a second topic you (indirectly) touch upon.
> Copyright only protects creative expression, it does not protect things
> that are purely functional.
> Is implementation of this idea creative, or is it purely functional?
> For a while, courts looked for functionality.  They reasoned that if it's
> functional, it can't be creative.
> More recently, and especially with software, they flip the question
> around.  Is there any creativity, something that would distinguish one
> implementation from another based on particular choices?
> The two examples you referenced are very different implementations of the
> same idea.  Different programming languages, one uses C++ Classes.
> Different ways of organizing the data, different variable types, different
> error checking.  This suggests that there is creative expression in each
> implementation.  So each implementation would be Copyrightable.
> Next, you suggest that you would create your own implementation.  This has
> the potential to get quite tricky.
> If you only look at the bare formula and write your implementation, it's
> clear that you created the implementation, you are the owner.  You can
> distribute it under whatever license you want.
> BUT, what if you had looked at implementation A before writing yours?
> If you copied some creative elements of implementation A, you are creating
> a derivative work.  You need a valid license for implementation A that
> allows you to create a derivative work.  Then you would own the copyright
> in whatever additional creative elements you added, but not the underlying
> part you took from implementation A.  And since implementation A is under
> GPLv3, your license to create and distribute derivative works is
> conditioned on your distributing the resulting work under GPLv3.  If you
> distribute under a different license, you lose your license to A.
> Finally, getting to the question about subsequent modifications.  This
> combines the previous topics.
> If the subsequent modifications have their own creative expression, they
> would be independently copyrightable by whomever created those
> modifications.  As maintainer, you would be responsible to make sure that
> the contribution is compatible with your license.  This is where things
> like DCO or CLAs can help maintainers, to provide some assurance regarding
> the origin and rights to the contribution they are receiving.
> With small changes, that's not always very clear.  If someone is fixing a
> typo, is that creative expression?  What if they are changing variable
> types for purely functional reasons (e.g., int to long)?  What about
> changing variable names to facilitate readability?  What about
> beautification, such as normalizing indentations?  What about adding
> comments to explain a function?
> With larger changes, it can be easier to see the creative expression in
> these modifications.  Think about adding entirely new files, or rearranging
> an implementation to add functions instead of being purely inline.
> So to me, something like the "grandfather's axe" question becomes very
> interesting.  Even if every line of code that you wrote eventually gets
> replaced, is it possible that the creative expression in your initial
> implementation could still be lingering in the structure, sequencing, or
> organization of the implementation?  Or, conversely, is it possible that
> the implementation still has your code, but it has been so spliced and
> reformatted and polished that the subsequent contributions have effectively
> replaced all of your creative expression?
> One last point: I'm only talking about Copyrights.  I'm not touching on
> Patents because mathematical formulae aren't patentable, so it's not
> relevant to this question.
> -Nick Weinstock
> From: License-discuss <license-discuss-bounces at lists.opensource.org> On
> Behalf Of Gil Yehuda via License-discuss
> Sent: Friday, February 28, 2020 8:16 AM
> To: Gil Yehuda via License-discuss <license-discuss at lists.opensource.org>
> Cc: Gil Yehuda <gyehuda at verizonmedia.com>
> Subject: [License-discuss] exploring the attachment between the author and
> the code
> I'm exploring the psychological relationship between the author of a work,
> and the work. i.e. parsing the phrase "my open source code" and would like
> your thoughts.
> Assume I need an algorithm, say the quadratic formula.
> https://github.com/spilos/Equasion-Solver is promising and is licensed
> under GPLv3.
> https://github.com/jasonwynn10/Past-Console-Projects/tree/master/quadratic%20equasion
> is also promising, and is released to the public domain under the
> Unlicense. Option C: I write my own code and publish it under a license of
> my choice.
> Obvious differences (language, licenses, amount of work involved in
> incorporating it into my larger solution) are apparent. Less obvious to
> everyone but me is that Option C is "my" code, and I feel an attachment to
> it. When I license it, I'm declaring terms on how I want you to use 'my'
> code. Thus I'm exploring the idea of "my code" with this group, since it
> informs my license choice.
> 1. When I use open source code in my solution, I still feel that my
> solution is mine (even though others wrote some of it).
> 2. When my code is used by others, I don't feel less attached to my code.
> It still feels mine.
> 3. When an open source community modifies my code, when is it no longer my
> code (grandfather's ax problem)?
> You see, I realize the quadratic formula is not mine. My coding is mine,
> but I'm just encoding someone else's solution, a solution discovered
> hundreds of years ago. I'm encoding it in a syntax someone else specified.
> My solution may be novel to me, but not to others. So what is it that
> attaches me to code such that I decide the terms under which you use it in
> your solution?
> Gil Yehuda: I help with external technology engagement
> From the https://developer.yahoo.com/opensource/docs/ at Yahoo --> Oath -
> -> Verizon Media
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