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Re: Why not contribute? (to GCC)

Basile Starynkevitch <> writes:

> In my own perception, the legal status of GCC is *not* the GPL. I
> would be very satisfied if GCC was "only" GPLv3+ (like Linux kernel is
> only GPLv2+). But GCC is not only GPLv3, it is in practice FSF
> copyrighted, with (for big organizations like my employer) *unlimited*
> liability for the code they have written (the lawyers at my
> organization tried to explain me that if I legally do bad things, the
> entire French state could be crushed.. by e.g. a patent litigation
> between Dark Vador & the FSF; perhaps there is some trick to avoid
> that but I did not understood it; I do stay skeptical, because I never
> coded important enough code that would matter a lot to
> others. Remember that I am not a lawyer, and I might have understood
> all wrong. And most of my GCC code don't interest a lot of people.). I
> repeat, what is scary to lawyers is the "*unlimited* liability" words
> of the copyright transfer to FSF. [If the legal documents specified a
> very large, but limited amount, like US$100M, I would imagine lawyers
> would perceive the FSF copyright transfer form differently]

The lawyers you spoke with are mistaken.  Many large companies with
lots of lawyers have signed copyright disclaimers with the FSF, and
they certainly would not have done that in the face of unlimited
liability.  Even companies in France have signed the disclaimer.

There have been issues in the past with the language disclaiming
patent rights for contributions to gcc.  The FSF was, eventually,
flexible enough on this language to permit, e.g., Google to sign the
disclaimer.  I don't know what language they are asking people to sign
to start with, but it can be adjusted.

That said, I do very much agree that the process of assigning or
disclaiming copyright is an onerous and troublesome one, and it
definitely handicaps people who would otherwise wish to contribute.
But I agree that with Manuel that some sort of copyright disclaimer is
absolutely necessary.  Past history shows us clearly that the absence
of a paperwork trail can bring significant trouble.

> I am only scared about the reaction of the community - i.e. cultural
> issues. Working a lot on some code and having it rejected by some
> folks I never met in a few seconds is -for me- very uneasy.  The
> coding typesetting rules (which I don't understand; I won't be able to
> formalize them), the spelling & language conventions, the strong
> language of patch rejections [i.e. words like "this patch is crap"],
> all this is still scary to me. Remember, I am not a native English
> speaker.

I have to agree that any gcc maintainer who would use language like
"this patch is crap" is acting wholly inappropriately and is harming
the project.  We must not speak that way to potential contributors.
It's wholly inappropriate even if the patch really is crap.  There are
many polite ways to say "no."

> I also never understood what would happen if I had a brain illness to
> the point of submitting illegal patches (I have no idea if such things
> could exist; I am supposing today that if I wrote every character of
> every patch I am submitting to GCC they cannot be illegal.),

The liability for the action would land on you rather than on the
FSF.  That is what matters for the future of the gcc project.

> or what
> would happen if the FSF or RMS decided to make all GCC code base
> proprietary (my limited understanding is that RMS or the FSF could
> relicense GCC under a non-GPL compatible license).

This turns out not to be the case.  The language of the copyright
assignment says clearly that that is not permitted.

> Could a foreign
> goverment worker (I am nearly that, employed by a French government
> owned institution) crash the economy of his entire country by some
> single GCC patch?

No, of course not.

> I believe that no, but I cannot prove it or just
> explain it. In principle, the "unlimited liability" words [in the
> transfer of copyright to FSF] make me think that it could be possible,
> but I don't understand how.

There is no unlimited liability in the copyright assignment, either in
words or in action.

> Could a GCC patch submission start a world
> war?



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