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Re: Why not contribute? (to GCC)

On 26/04/2010 01:12, Mark Mielke wrote:
> On 04/25/2010 06:27 PM, Richard Kenner wrote:
>>> I couldn't see somebody suing me (my bank account hovers pretty low 
>>> most of the time). Companies are not going to sue nobodies such as 
>>> myself because there is no money in it. So, in practice, is there a 
>>> difference or not?
>> No, because then the FSF wouldn't sue you EITHER!  There's NO DIFFERENCE
>> in theory or in practice as to your liability whether there's an
>> assignment or not and whether it's GCC or some other project.
> Obviously there is a difference, otherwise FSF wouldn't be requesting 
> copyright assignment.

  There is a difference between requesting assignment and not doing so, but it
is to do with things other than liability.

> The real reason for FSF copyright assignment is control. The FSF wants to
> control GCC.

  Yes.  Specifically, they want to be able to enforce the GPL.  Since only the
copyright holder can license code to anyone, whether under GPL or whatever
terms, FSF has to hold the copyright, or it can't sue anyone who breaches the
GPL, and therefore cannot enforce it.

> mode. I don't see how this benefits me in any way. If I'm giving software
> that I write to the community for "free", why do I care what they will do
> with it? If I control how they can use it - it's not free. It's limited
> use.

  You're only looking at it from one side, that of an author.  The benefits of
the GPL are primarily to users.  Since all us authors are also users of
software, we should weigh up the inconveniences against the benefits.

  There is value for me, as a user, in the existence of free software that
can't be restricted by proprietary acts of "enclosure".  The GPL is
unashamedly a political strategy with a goal that can be seen to benefit all,
even without your needing to agree with the political stance: that goal is to
create a commons, and to make it impossible for there ever to be a tragedy of
that commons.  Whether you agree about the value (social or financial) or
likelihood of success of the exercise or not, you still benefit from that
commons, under pretty much any philosophical or political stance except for
the most extreme "everything is a zero-sum game and therefore anything that
benefits anyone except me is a harm to me" viewpoints.  Or so I think, anyway.

  So, why should you care what others will do with it?  Enlightened
self-interest.   You and others both benefit from the common wealth of free
software, therefore both you and others should, in theory, not want anyone to
try and hoard those benefits to themselves, because that's how tragedies of
commons arise.  This is what can happen with the proprietarisation of open
source software, the GPL is a way to avoid that from happening by caring about
what others do with it, hence you should care what others do with it.  You
release your software to the world because you hope people will benefit from
it, for the same reason you should continue to care what happens to it afterward.

> Referring to the people and employees who have gone through the copyright
> assigment and employer disclaimers in the past and saying ("they didn't
> have a problem signing") isn't evidence that the process is practical,
> efficient, or acceptable. These people probably just felt they had no other
> choice. If given the option of NOT doing this process, I'm sure most of
> them would happily have chosen option B.

  (Heh.  Making arbitrary claims about how many people you suppose or not
would make a certain choice or not and what their motives were or were not is
even more spurious than using ancedotal evidence, no?  It's a bit like saying
"although there is no evidence from their behaviour because they did something
else, I nonetheless assert that all these people secretly agree with me",
isn't it?)

  I do think there's a lot of confusion though, because throughout this
discussion there has been a lot of conflation between the *assignment* and the
*disclaimer*, and I'm not sure how anyone could have a problem with the
_assignment_ that was in any way connected to their employer.

  In my experience, the assignment process is simple and trivial: you email
the FSF, receive some paper documents through the snail within a couple of
weeks at the most, but if you're lucky it can be as little as a few days; you
sign them and shove them back in the post, job done.  Sometimes it takes
longer, paperwork is the kind of thing that goes missing and sometimes the FSF
office is understaffed and snowed in with work and it can take weeks, but it
basically doesn't require any significant effort on your point.  The vital
point that I think is missed when these two separate processes get conflated is:

  *Your employer has nothing to do with this process and no say nor interest
in nor right to involvement in it.*

  The assignment is a personal agreement between you as an individual and the
FSF, you agree to assign them your copyrights - not your employers'.  This
part of it can be done regardless of any subsequent discussion between you and
your employers about what they claim to be their copyright and what yours,
because your position is trivially that this obviously only applies to stuff
you do validly have the copyright of, and not to anything that belongs to them.

  Once they are sure that they aren't going to either lose anything that is
theirs, nor expose themselves or the firm to any kind of liability or expense
or obligation, management become vastly more amenable to persuading them to
sign the disclaimer; by formally disavowing ownership of the patches you
submit, you tell them, all they are promising is not to claim ownership of
stuff that isn't theirs and they don't even want anyway, and in so doing, you
point out to them, this *guarantees* that there will be no come-back on them
regardless what you get up to in your spare time.  At that point, they're
usually *keen* to sign.

  I think it is possible that some of the people who have (or have had)
trouble with the process with their employers, would find it easier if they
realised that the assignment was something they can do without anyone's
permission regardless of the terms of their employment, and subsequently
present as a fait accompli, and that at that point it then actually
facilitates getting the disclaimer from the employer, which is the only part
they have to be involved in.


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