[ECOS] Are copyright assignments detrimental to eCos?

Bart Veer bartv@ecoscentric.com
Thu Apr 3 18:46:00 GMT 2008

>>>>> "Markus" == Markus Schaber <schabi@logix-tt.com> writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, there is a theoretical risk that the FSF be taken over by some
evil empire or other. I do not know the full details of the FSF's
charter but I suspect it has built-in protection against that sort of
thing. Also, as part of the copyright assignment process the FSF
guarantees that the software will remain free. So even if there was a
hostile takeover, it would be legally rather difficult to turn any of
the assigned software proprietary or anything like that.

Spread copyright has its own risks. Suppose that the evil empire
instead "persuades" various politicians to pass some new software
copyright legislation which, as an unfortunate side effect, makes it
illegal to distribute GPL'd software. There is nothing unusual about
big companies lobbying for legislation, e.g. the music industry. In
this scenario, the FSF could tweak the GPL license for all assigned
code to work around the damaged legislation, to the best of the FSF's
lawyers abilities. Now consider a project with spread copyright like
the Linux kernel. It would be necessary to contact every contributor
and get them to agree to a licensing change. Any code where the
contributor could no longer be contacted, or refused to agree to the
change, would have to be taken out and possibly replaced. Until all
that had been sorted out nobody would be allowed to distribute the
Linux kernel.

OK, there would be legal challenges, workarounds like distributing the
kernel from another country with different laws, etc. Still, having a
central body holding the copyrights does make it a lot easier to
respond to such legal issues.


Bart Veer                                   eCos Configuration Architect
eCosCentric Limited    The eCos experts      http://www.ecoscentric.com/
Barnwell House, Barnwell Drive, Cambridge, UK.      Tel: +44 1223 245571
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