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Panel on Copyright Assignment

Schedule info
Time slot: 
6 August 18:10 - 19:00

The panel will cover a controversial topic of recent discussion: whether or not projects and companies should require that developers assign their copyrights in order to contribute to the project. Projects are currently all over the map, with some nonprofit organizations and some companies requiring assignment, others completely opposed, and still others with unique assignment requirements. There is currently an effort headed by Canonical under the name 'Harmony' to bring some clarity in the situation. Harmony attempts to do this by creating standardized versions of documents for copyright assignment. Each of those would offer clear options, a bit like the Creative Commons licenses work.

Critics of mandatory copyright assignment consider it to introduce unnecessary paperwork and say that it can severely limit a project's growth, since an entity or organization gets more rights than the general public. Some claim it is unfair as some copyright assignment options allow a single entity to 'close' the code while others cannot.

Proponents point to extra legal protection, the ability to relicense the software both for supporting revenue models and for relicensing software for other issues such as license compatibility. Several companies have built thriving businesses around copyright assignment and suggest that this practice is a necessary condition for their investment and success.

Some companies and projects have chosen not to require copyright assignment for contributions in any way. Assignment agreements may also have patent provisions, which further complicates the analysis. KDE makes copyright assignment optional, and recommends the Fiduciary Licensing Agreement, as written by the FSFE (and based on the FSF assignment agreement), for that purpose, while the GNOME Foundation has published a policy itemizing which types of assignments are acceptable for inclusion with GNOME.

Our panel includes three of the main voices from the copyright assignment discussions:

Mark Shuttleworth, a proponent of copyright assignment, is the entrepreneur behind Canonical and Ubuntu. Unity and other Canonical projects require copyright assignment. As mentioned above, Mark initiated Project Harmony to provide a much improved, more standardized version of agreements in this area to help accelerate both individual and corporate review of these documents, and increase confidence in signing them. Mark brings a wealth of business and community understanding to the topic, and has written extensively about it.

Michael Meeks, an opponent of Copyright Assignment, works at Novell. Michael was involved in the project. He has been one of the core developers instrumental in the creation of LibreOffice, based on the OOo codebase. LibreOffice forked because, among other reasons, the copyright assignment required. Prior to working at Novell, Michael was at Ximian, which employed a dual licensing model.

Bradley Kuhn, Executive Director of the Software Freedom Conservancy and Director of the Free Software Foundation, deems copyright assignment acceptable though often not ideal; in particular he holds assignment to beacceptable if the assignee is a trusted nonprofit organization. Prior to working at the Conservancy, Bradley worked for the Software Freedom Law Center and before that was the Executive Director of the Free Software Foundation.

The panel will be moderated by Karen Sandler, the GNOME Foundation's Executive Director, who was previously the General Counsel of the Software Freedom Law Center.

The panel should appeal to everybody who is involved in free and open source software, whether hacker, community manager, other kind of contributor, or even business manager or lawyer.