Why not contribute? (to GCC)

Mark Mielke mark@mark.mielke.cc
Mon Apr 26 00:28:00 GMT 2010

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. The difference is that the FSF "owns" the entire 
project. Does this affect liability in theory or in practice? You say 
no. I say it might. Consolidated ownership means an easy target for a 
greedy company and a lazy judge (neither of which are in poor 
abundance). Under such a model, this "easy target", if successfully sued 
and if damages are awarded, would pull up the copyright assignment 
agreement and hold me liable for the amount. Distributed ownership 
provides a difficult target and a less likely candidate for either a law 
suit in the first place, or a high $$$ amount once they figure out that 
they can only really sue me (and not a well funded organization). The 
ultimate in free, for me, is if every single person in the world 
contributed at least one line of code to the project, and retains 
ownership to their piece. Each person is then liable to each other 
person, and a true community owned project exists. Consolidated 
ownership can't do this.

The real reason for FSF copyright assignment is control. The FSF wants 
to control GCC. This presents a chore for potential contributors with 
very little value (if any) in return for their efforts. The published 
explanation (why-assign.html) states clearly that the FSF believes it is 
easier to defend the software and all derived software as being "free" 
(as defined by the FSF) using a consolidated ownership 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.

In some ways, I wish a group did fork GCC under GPL and drop the 
copyright assignment requirement. In other ways, this entire issue is 
just so minor to me that it isn't worth going beyond this thread. GCC 
works, but so do other compilers (Intel CC, LLVM, ...). GCC is 
distributed under the GPL, so if the FSF ever becomes a real problem (as 
opposed to merely having a political agenda), it can be forked at this 
later time.

All in all, pretty minor. GCC wants FSF copyright assignment and 
employer disclaimers? GCC will not have as many contributors. Your choice.

There are plenty of projects that we (lurkers / non contributors) can 
contribute to other projects that are not as mature and require more 
attention, or even other compilers (LLVM?).

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.


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