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

Matthew East mdke at ubuntu.com
Tue Jan 19 13:05:23 GMT 2010

On Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 10:57 PM, Elliot Murphy <elliot at canonical.com> wrote:
> On Sat, Jan 16, 2010 at 9:29 AM, Matthew East <mdke at ubuntu.com> wrote:
>> 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.
> The difference is that they are projects that Canonical employees have
> written, Canonical has copyright on 100% of those programs and wants
> to maintain that.

Thanks Elliot for the email and for the explanation, which takes my
understanding a little further (although I wonder whether it's really
the case that all those programs started off with copyright vesting in
Canonical in circumstances where plenty of community contributors have
contributed to a lot of them - hence my question about how much this
requirement is enforced for Ubuntu projects).

However what I'd really like to be able to understand is *why*
Canonical wants to maintain 100% copyright in these projects. What the
faq page currently says is:

"Canonical both uses and distributes software around the world. We
need to make sure we are legally entitled to do so with contributed
code, in a way that will hold up everywhere."

But that doesn't go too far - the whole point of free software is that
we have the right to use and redistribute the software subject to the
terms of the relevant license. If that doesn't hold up around the
world, we are already in trouble. That was the point of my confusion
above: why should Canonical need different rights in respect of
update-manager (for example) than it has in respect of mailman, apt,
GNOME and so on (which it also uses and distributes around the world)?
Is the message that Canonical needs to be able to use and redistribute
the software *without* respecting the terms of the relevant license,
or that it reserves the right to change the license?

Perhaps there is an explanation, but at the moment I don't feel that
it's well documented. I also think that it's deserving of discussion
in the Ubuntu community because open participation is one of the key
principles of our project and this is something that could affect
participation in core components of the project and the perception of
the project in the free software community, as is demonstrated by
Bradley's post.

Matthew East
gnupg pub 1024D/0E6B06FF

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