Why not contribute? (to GCC)

Mark Mielke mark@mark.mielke.cc
Sun Apr 25 22:16:00 GMT 2010


On 04/25/2010 05:49 PM, Richard Kenner wrote:
>> So how much liability is required for somebody to accept in order to be
>> allowed to contribute to GCC?
>>      
> This was answered already.  It's the same for EVERY software project
> (not unique to GCC): if I steal somebody's copyrighted material and
> "contribute" it to a software project, I am liable for the FULL EXTENT
> of damages that my action caused.  This is true whether I sign an
> "assignment" document or not.
>    

Yep - but that's my point. "Full extent" without any number listed is 
effectively unlimited liability.

I saw people trying to suggest unlimited = infinity and that it will not 
be infinity, therefore it is not unlimited - but this just sounds like a 
wording game. One poster tried to argue that it was limited by 
describing that it was only 3 times some unspecified amount. But they 
missed that unspecified is unlimited. 3 times unspecified = 3 times 
unlimited = unlimited.

The fact is, it is unlimited liability because no limit has been set.

Whether this is unique to copyright assignment vs the more common shared 
ownership model? It's a good point that in either case, the liability 
may exist. This is where it becomes a bit complicated to me. As a "for 
example", I could see somebody suing the FSF because it is a funded 
organization that can be easily listed as "the defendant", whereas an 
open source project with hundreds of committers each with individual 
assignments for the parts they contributed, would be very difficult to 
list as "the defendant", so they would have to target the people 
involved with the specific patch - or "me". 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? I think there is. 
With the assignment comes responsibility - except the FSF is explicitly 
requiring unlimited liability indemnity from the author, so they are 
accepting responsibility for the value, but not accepting responsibility 
for the risk. I can see why the FSF would want this - but I cannot see 
why I would want this. What's in it for me?

Honestly, this discussion has resurrected my concerns about the FSF in 
general. And since I don't really want to argue about this here, I think 
I'll cut it off by just repeating that there are a lot of GPL / BSD / 
etc. projects out there that don't seem to have the problems that are 
being predicted. The only one I see of any value is the ability to 
change the license in the future, without my explicit consent. Honestly, 
I'm a bit concerned about having my code be distributed under a 
different license without my explicit consent, especially as my 
definition of free does not match the definition of free provided by the 
FSF.

Cheers,
mark



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