[ECOS] Are copyright assignments detrimental to eCos?

Markus Schaber schabi@logix-tt.com
Thu Apr 3 09:38:00 GMT 2008

Hi, Jonathan,

Jonathan Larmour <jifl@eCosCentric.com> wrote:

> Øyvind Harboe wrote:

> > Clearly copyright assignments slow things down.
> > 
> > Why copyright assignments at this point?
> > 
> > Is it an anachronism?
> Legal protection.

I understand this point, but in some legislations, a full copyright
assignment is not possible legally.

Additionally, our company has the policy that any substantial
contribution must be copy-lefted, so no-one else can make closed-source

Copyright assignment creates a single point of failure against
closed-source derivates, weakening the copyleft. 

Spread Copyright protects against such a single point of failure. A nice
example were the latest tries to buyout linux - it is impossible to get
all the licenses of some thousand independent contributors. 

But imagine someone undermining/bribing the FSF[1], he can then legally
relicense all those GNU software which requires copyright assignment.

And RedHat specifically says that "other licenses" for eCos are
available, so any RedHat sales droid is officially aiming to be bribed
to relicense the code.

> Therefore in most cases, it is not the employee's choice whether to
> contribute something - they don't own it to begin with. Many OSS projects
> are treading on thin legal ice because they are accepting stuff
> willy-nilly. They could have problems if just one employer turns round and
> says "Hey, that's our code!". If you're lucky you can get away with
> removing the code, rather than having to pay damages, although the latter
> is a legal option.

Copyright assignment is not necessary to solve this problem, an
company official signing that the contributions are licensed under the
eCos License is enough for that.

> Single ownership also sorts out GPL license enforcement. Breaking the
> license on a large amount of eCos code is easy to enforce; but how about
> when someone copies just bits and pieces. Functions here and there, but
> breaks the GPL and doesn't distribute source. You need to be able to know
> who specifically owns the copyright to those *specific* pieces of code, and
> it is the authors of that code, and no-one else, who have to enforce the
> license. No-one else can do it on their behalf. The FSF will of course
> happily enforce the GPL for us.

I'm sure that the "right to enforce" could be transferred without
transferring the right to relicense, but IANAL.

> > Why should *all* of eCos require copyright assignments?
> All contributions at any rate.

Really small contributions (obvious typo fixes etc.) aren't
copyrightable in most legislations, so no assignment should be


[1] Yes, I know that this is impossible, at least as long as Richard M.
Stallman leads the FSF. But we all know that every "good" institution
can turn bad after some decades, when the founders get replaced by the
next and 3rd generations.

Markus Schaber | Logical Tracking&Tracing International AG
Dipl. Inf.     | Software Development GIS

Fight against software patents in Europe! www.ffii.org

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