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[DotGNU]Copyright assignment issues, particularly for Portable.NET

From: Bradley M. Kuhn
Subject: [DotGNU]Copyright assignment issues, particularly for Portable.NET
Date: Mon, 3 Jun 2002 17:43:22 -0400
User-agent: Mutt/1.3.28i

[ This message has been long delayed, and I apologize to Rhys and to the
  DotGNU hackers for that.  Rhys asked me about two or three weeks ago to
  send this, and I just got around to finishing it. ]

Rhys and I were talking about details of copyright assignment.  As is
noted in the HACKING files for Portable.NET, as a contributor you have
your choice of assigning the copyright to:

          Southern Storm Software, Pty Ltd.
          Free Software Foundation, Inc. (in the USA)
          FreeDevelopers, Inc. (once they have a legal entity in USA)

I've noticed that some folks had been putting "Copyright (C) 2002, Free
Software Foundation" in the files, but they have not actually assigned to
FSF formally.  I'd like to address that problem.

Of course, we (FSF) are glad that you are willing to assign copyright to
us.  However, please don't say "Copyright (C) YEAR ORGANIZATION" in the
file until the paperwork has been filled out that actually assigns
copyright to the ORGANIZATION in question.  Legally, the ORGANIZATION
can't hold copyright until you've signed a paper that says you give it to

For those who want to assign to FSF, we have a pretty simple process here.
Just write to Brian Youmans, our copyright assignment clerk, at
<address@hidden>.  Ask him for a copyright assignment form for the program
in question (e.g,. Portable.NET).  He'll talk you through the rest of the
process from there.

For any GNU program, you should Cc the maintainer when you write to
<address@hidden>.  For Portable.NET, please Cc Rhys, as he's the direct
maintainer of that program.

Now, there is also the question of when to commit the code to CVS--before
or after the assignment is done.  Often, on GNU projects, we wait to
commit the code until the assignment forms have been filled out.  DotGNU
is a special case, since we have multiple copyright holders.  Thus, it is
not a traditional "FSF-copyrighted" program.  Given that, I leave it to
Rhys, as the direct maintainer of Portable.NET, to decide how to handle
when to commit code.

There are two options that he can pick.  One is to wait to commit any
change until the assignment goes through.  (For FSF copyright assignments,
the copyright assignment section of explains how to track
assignments closely).  The other option is to accept commits before the
paper work is done.

If Rhys decides to do the latter--to commit code before copyright is
assigned--please be sure to put the name of the *actual* author in the
file until the copyright assignment process has been completed.  This is
very important, because we need to keep careful track of who the copyright
holder is (not only for defending the GPL, but also for registering
copyright, and for clarity of who should be involved any possible future
relicensing decisions).

When submitting a patch, always put your own name in as copyright holder
if you make a non-trivial (usually > 14 lines or so) change.  Someone can
go back in change the copyright holder to the ORGANIZATION once your
assignment papers are done.  (I bet that it would be helpful to Rhys if
you let him know when the work is completed and send a patch to change the
copyright holder name for him. ;)

BTW, I noticed a few people had put "FSF India" in the copyright notices
for Portable.NET.  FSF USA doesn't object outright to FSF India holding
some copyrights in Portable.NET; in fact, it might actually be a good
idea.  However, there should be a decision by the DotGNU Steering
Committee about whether or not we want to add another possible copyright
holder for the project.  FSF India and FSF are different legal entities,
so it isn't legally equivalent to say "Copyright FSF" and "Copyright FSF
India".  If we want to start the discussion about FSF India holding
copyright, it should probably start on the coreteam list.

Finally, I don't think that yet has a legal entity set
up to accept copyright assignment.  Thus, likely it is not possible to
assign copyright to them yet.  I noticed there are some files in
Portable.NET that are listed as copyrighted by
Probably that should be changed, for now, back to the author until
FreeDevelopers has its legal entity ready to accept copyright assignment.
Likewise, I ask that you change the "Copyright FSF" notices back to the
original author until the paper work is done.

I hope we can get the copyright matters sorted out on the Portable.NET
codebase.  I know this stuff is annoying to worry about when you'd rather
be hacking, but it's a reality of the legal system we all have to deal
with sometimes.

Likely this message will spark some discussion.  Please do Cc me directly
on the discussion, as I sadly don't have time to actively follow the
discussion lists.

Bradley M. Kuhn, Executive Director
Free Software Foundation     |  Phone: +1-617-542-5942
59 Temple Place, Suite 330   |  Fax:   +1-617-542-2652
Boston, MA 02111-1307  USA   |  Web:

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