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Re: [DotGNU]Copyright waivers for developers?

From: Norbert Bollow
Subject: Re: [DotGNU]Copyright waivers for developers?
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2001 13:31:37 +0200

Bill White <address@hidden> wrote about the need to get
copyright waivers from employers:

> > > > Is this likely to be a feature of DotGNU?  I don't see how the
> > > > dotgnu project can succeed if you require all your developers to
> > > > choose between contributing and being employed.

I replied:

> > There's always the option of being self-employed, or starting a
> > self-corporation and employing yourself.

Bill White replied:

> I don't think it matters.  If you are associated in any way, either
> as a consultant, a student or an employee, with any organization
> not the FSF you have to have a copyright waiver for your work to
> appear in FSF projects.

It'll depend on what the relevant laws and employment contracts
say.  Some countries have laws which effectively make it
impossible for an employee to legally write Free Software
unless the employer either explicitly agrees or disclaims
copyright.  If we're not careful about this, then it would be
possible for Microsoft to buy a couple of companies that happen
to employ key contributors to DotGNU, and very quickly after
that DotGNU would no longer be Free Software.  Not good.

If your employment contract is not subject to that kind of law,
you still need to check what the actual contract says.  There
are employment contracts that have a similar effect.

I'm not aware of any similar legal problems for students or
consultants,  but anyone who has concerns about this is invited
to contact address@hidden with specifics of the situation,
and we will make sure that a competent lawyer looks into the

> I take it from your comments that the copyright waivers will
> be required.

Well, if DotGNU is successful, then we will certainly get some
attention of the unpleasant kind from Microsoft, eventually.
We expect that Microsoft will bring a lawsuit or two against, Inc.  So things must be set up so that we
can win those lawsuits.  Also, and perhaps even more
importantly, we must set up things so that Microsoft cannot sue
individual contributors.  Copyright waivers will be required in
all situations where it is otherwise not possible to set up
these legal precautions.

If you would like to make significant contributions, but you
find that your employer does not want to disclaim copyright,
then it may still be possible to find a specific solution for
your particular situation.

> I'm willing to take the risk that my employer will not sue me
> individually.

Are you also willing to take the risk that Microsoft might sue
you personally for a billion dollars in damages because your
contributions to DotGNU allegedly infringe on some patent that
you had never heard about?

> My employer supports free sw - our customers depend on it, and
> we have to use it.

Therefore I think that it'll probably be possible to find some
kind of solution that will be acceptable to your employer and
also to our lawyers.

> People in my company have contributed to the Linux kernel,
> which requires no such copyright.

Sure.  But unlike the Linux kernel, DotGNU may become a direct
threat to Microsoft.  Our lawyers tell us that we need to be
more careful than even the FSF normally is.

> There ought to be some way that somebody could
> contribute pieces on their own hook, and let the user
> or the installer program incorporate them.

You can do that of course, but then your work will never be part
of the official DotGNU distributions, and you'll be on your own
with respect to attracting a user base, providing support, etc.

Greetings, Norbert.

A member of FreeDevelopers and the DotGNU Steering Committee:
Norbert Bollow, Weidlistr.18, CH-8624 Gruet   (near Zurich, Switzerland)
Tel +41 1 972 20 59       Fax +41 1 972 20 69
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