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Re: Copyright/Distribution questions (Emacs/Orgmode)

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: Copyright/Distribution questions (Emacs/Orgmode)
Date: Tue, 12 Mar 2013 11:33:11 +0900

Subhan Tindall writes:

 > Ah, I may see your error here Jambunathan.  Copyright becomes attached
 > to a work the moment in time it is created (at least in the US),

In any jurisdiction implementing the Berne Convention.

 > and publication has no bearing on it's existence or assignment.
 > The assignment of rights for "changes and enhancements to the
 > program " <insert progname here> covers the rights to created
 > material from *the moment the code is written*,

No, that's false.  Copyright law knows nothing of whether the material
was written "to be part of", or even contains parts of, Emacs[1], and
therefore a generic assignment cannot cover code until it is
contributed *to* Emacs, explicitly by the author inserting a "part of
Emacs" statement, explicitly by substituting the FSF for himself in
the copyright notice, or (perhaps, I'm not sure what would happen if
you maintained your own copyright notice in this case) implicitly by
committing it personally to a repository of code (not necessarily a
VCS, but any archive) that is considered "part of Emacs."  (You are
correct in that distribution of the code or presence in "the official"
Emacs repo are not necessary, of course.)

For example, the FSF has no claim on my ~/.xemacs/init.el, though it
contains generic enhancements to XEmacs (the code base for which my
assignment was explicitly designated) that I will probably contribute
in the future.

On the contrary, I could write an accounting program in 6502
assembler, send appropriate documentation to the FSF copyright clerk
indicating that I consider it to be part of (my version of ;-) XEmacs,
and my assignment for that program would take effect.

I don't claim that either of these extreme examples is at all similar
to the cases of ox-html and ox-odt.

 > A similar situation is a work made for hire.

Yes, it is similar to a work made for hire in that the scope of the
work for hire is specified, either in a standalone contract, or by
order of your employer.

Jambunathan is claiming that he has not yet designated this work as
within the scope of Emacs, but he may be ignorant of the legal
implications of committing code to certain repositories.  On the other
hand, a court might construe his ignorance to mean that no intent to
contribute was present.  I think that's strained; at the present time
org-mode code is "tracked" to be included in Emacs and I suppose he
knew that when he committed.  But AFAIK -- IANAL/TINLA -- a court
*might* be sympathetic to him.

 > For example, I work on many programs for my employer.  As part of
 > my contract, all copyright for that work is ceded to my employer.

Correct in the U.S., I believe, but that is an employment contract,
and a quite different matter, because it covers *your professional
activities* and the product *of those activities* (in some cases, 24
hours a day whether on premises or not).  An assignment of Emacs code,
extant and to be written, to the FSF is *not* an employment contract.
It is merely a convenient way to perform an indefinite number of
assignments with one signature (at least, that's what my lawyer told

[1]  Of course the "parts of Emacs" are presumably copyright FSF, *but
the changes and enhancements are not* (yet).

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