[ECOS] Are copyright assignments detrimental to eCos?

Alex Schuilenburg alexs@ecoscentric.com
Mon Apr 7 12:18:00 GMT 2008

Jiri Gaisler wrote on 2008-04-04 17:51:
> Alex Schuilenburg wrote:
>> Anyway, forking is not in our interest, never mind the community's. 
>> We want the benefits that contributions to eCos bring, as does 
>> everyone else. eCosPro is not a fork, it is a superset of eCos.  See  
>> http://www.ecoscentric.com/ecos/ecospro.shtml
>> What you seem to be suggesting is that you want everyone else *but* 
>> eCosCentric to benefit from your potential contribution.
> What I am saying is that I want everyone to benefit from our 
> contribution,
> *and* from potential derivate work in form of bug fixes. Just like the
> linux kernel. Everyone sees the same kernel code, while applications and
> drivers can be proprietary if desired. It seems to me that insisting on
> FSF copyright transfer blocks this in some way. 
You are incorrect. Speak to the FSF or a copyright and licensing lawyer 
if you don't believe me. Copyright assignment in this case has nothing 
to do with what you suggest.  The copyright assignment of eCos to the 
FSF is all about protection of the code and guaranteeing that it remains 
free to all.

I don't know of *any* free open source software license that does what 
you suggest. Free Open Source licenses may force you to make the changes 
to the source code available (GPL and derivatives), but I now of none 
that force you to contribute or publish changes.

And just to give a totally hypothetical example: if all your code and 
changes are GPL+ex, there is nothing legally stopping any commercial 
organisation which legally obtains your source code from integrating 
these changes into their own source code base, add their own 
fixes/improvements and then distributing these changes as part of their 
*own* eCos distribution - as long as the license remains the same(ish - 
for the nitpickers ;-). In fact some companies make a living doing 
exactly this with other free open source projects. Of course these 
companies could not contribute your code to the FSF, since they do not 
own the copyright, but they could contribute their changes (not that the 
changes would IMHO be accepted into eCos anoncvs because the changes 
would apply to code that does not exist, so pretty pointless). These 
companies could also not prevent *you* from taking this contribution to 
eCos anoncvs and integrating it into *your* own distribution either.

I would also just like to point out that you also *cannot* then 
integrate any changes that have been published under the GPL or GPL+ex 
and integrate those changes into a non-GPL distribution.  e.g. 
Improvements to dual licensed code (e.g. GPL and a proprietary license) 
that are published under the GPL license cannot then be brought into the 
proprietary license without making all that code GPL as well (unless of 
course you held the copyright of the improved code). Think back to what 
used to happen when eCos copyright was held by Red Hat and licensed 
under the RHEPL - Red Hat could take *your* RHEPL contributions and 
relicense them under a proprietary commercial license. Ever wonder why 
eCos was relicensed under GPL+ex and the copyright contributed to the FSF?

And FAOD, *every* copyright contribution made to eCosCentric while the 
switch of eCos copyright from Red Hat to the FSF was happening has been 
contributed to the FSF, just as we said we would, and has *never* been 
published under any license other than GPL+ex nor been released as part 
of eCosPro *before* being integrated into eCos anoncvs.

> We are still maintaining
> our own ecos fork (superset), but I would rather see everything merged
> to anoncvs. But I respect the policy of the anoncvs maintainers and
> eCoscentric, so we will keep it as is for them time being.

If you claim superset rather than branch, I assume you must also be 
doing regular internal merges with anoncvs to allow your users to 
benefit from any fixes and improvements that go into the main eCos 
anoncvs source base? Do users of your own port have to contribute the 
copyright of changes or improvements to your code to you as well (to 
maintain the legal status and protection of copyright that eCos 
currently enjoys), and where are the changes published?

These are all questions you need to think about when keeping your own 
eCos tree.

Anyway, nobody is trying to force you to contribute here. I am just 
trying to show you some of the benefits contributions can make to your 
users, the community as well as yourself. Your changes and improvements 
are yours to do with as you see fit, subject to licensing of course ;-)

-- Alex Schuilenburg

Managing Director/CEO                                eCosCentric Limited
Tel:  +44 1223 245571                     Barnwell House, Barnwell Drive
Fax:  +44 1223 248712                             Cambridge, CB5 8UU, UK
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