Ubuntu copyright assignment (was Re: Bradley Kuhn on switching back from Ubuntu to Debian)

Matthew East mdke at ubuntu.com
Sat Jan 16 14:29:20 GMT 2010


On Fri, Jan 15, 2010 at 9:52 PM, Matt Zimmerman <mdz at ubuntu.com> wrote:
> I came across this today and thought it might be of interest to folks here:
> http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2010/01/14/ubuntu-debian.html
>> Canonical has become too aggressive with community-unfriendly copyright
>> assignment policies. Copyright assignment on Free Software can be put to
>> good uses. However, most for-profit corporations design their copyright
>> assignment process primarily to circumvent the company's potential
>> copyleft obligations; Canonical's copyright assignment is sadly typical in
>> that regard. Even worse, Canonical's management has become increasingly
>> more aggressive in pressuring the community into accepting such copyright
>> assignment policies as a fait accompli. (I'll likely write more on this
>> issue this year, but in the meantime, my “Open Core” Is the New Shareware,
>> Michael Meeks' Thoughts on Copyright Assignment, Dave Neary's Copyright
>> assignment and other barriers to entry, and this LWN article are all good
>> “further reading” resources.)

This has brought up a subject that I've been meaning to raise myself
for some time. According to this page [1], any contribution to a
Canonical sponsored project requires the contributor to assign
copyright by signing the relevant agreement.

[1] http://www.canonical.com/contributors

The list on that page sets out a number of Ubuntu specific projects
including jockey, apport, jockey, ufw, update-manager,
software-properties, software-store, ubiquity, and UNR, etc all of
which get a lot of community contributions.

I don't know to what extent that is enforced because I haven't made
any substantial contributions to any of these projects. I've done a
few small patches to things like documentation or string errors and
wasn't asked to assign the copyright in that material, even according
to that page, I should have been. I'd be very interested to hear
whether this is enforced as a matter of course for community
contributors who make more substantial contributions to these
projects. I've seen on the Installer Team pages that the copyright
assignment is mentioned.

I'm not aware of any discussion having taken place before the
requirement was imposed. There is also no explanation of how one
defines a project which should appear in that list - packages like
ubuntu-artwork and ubuntu-docs aren't there and Ubuntu package patches
are not included. Also, the justification on the faq page [2] doesn't
seem to make a compelling case, or at least it is not detailed enough
to explain it to me. I find it hard to see why contributions to the
individual Ubuntu projects listed on that page are any different to
contributions to other Ubuntu packages that aren't listed on the page.

It seems to me that there are a few negative points about the
requirement, assuming it to be enforced. First, it gives the
impression that Ubuntu is a project which Canonical owns, rather than
a project in its own right, which Canonical contributes heavily to in
terms of resources. That is an important distinction to my mind.
Second, copyright assignment is a well known barrier to entry for the
reasons set out in the articles which Bradley has linked to, in
particular because it requires positive action and time investment in
order to contribute a quick patch, but also because some people may
wish to keep the copyright in material they submit.

I'm personally a bit uncomfortable about that situation and would like
to prompt some discussion of it, with a view to any ultimate decision
being taken by the relevant Ubuntu governance board (either the TB, CC
or both together).

I've taken the liberty of copying Bradley in directly for any further
thoughts he has as Matt suggested (Bradley if you are not happy with
that, please let me know).

Matthew East
gnupg pub 1024D/0E6B06FF

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