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Re: Copyright/Distribution questions (Emacs/Orgmode)

From: W. Greenhouse
Subject: Re: Copyright/Distribution questions (Emacs/Orgmode)
Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2013 00:57:59 +0000
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/24.2 (gnu/linux)

"Stephen J. Turnbull" <address@hidden> writes:

> Richard Stallman writes:
>  > Our normal future assignment contract covers all changes to Emacs.
>  > Whether it is considered a "contribution" or a "fork" is not a
>  > criterion.
> I think you should ask your lawyer about that.  As far as I can see,
> my 10 line program that calls into Emacs has just as much right to
> consider itself "The Work" that happens to link to "code from" Emacs
> as Emacs has to consider my program "a change to Emacs."  Do you
> really think the FSF owns copyright to my init file, not to mention
> the init files of every contributor with a future assignment on file?

Your 10 line program likely does not pass the de minimis threshold to be
copyrightable in the first place, but that aside, I don't think a court
would have any problem recognizing it as not a "change to Emacs," if
it's not distributed with something calling itself Emacs.  Your initfile
would be "an original work of authorship," not a "change to Emacs"--even
though it's not usable or useful without an Emacs to run it on.

Jambunathan's work is not really in the same category.  My understanding
is that he'd already assigned copyright on his work in Org (and his
patches elsewhere in Emacs) to the FSF, and now wanted to "withdraw his
pleasure" at that assignment--i.e. to withdraw specific things that he'd
already committed to Org so that they'd revert to being joint works,
their copyright unenforceable (or, rather, not easily enforceable) in
the US without his consent.  He seems to have known exactly what he was
doing and calculated the maneuver for the chaos it would generate.

> Remember, as far as copyright is concerned, Emacs doesn't exist except
> as a specific collection of copies of a body of expressive content.
> Which copy of Emacs are you claiming Jambunathan modified?  That's a
> rhetorical question, of course, but I don't see an easy way to answer
> it to support a claim of "it's assigned as soon as you write it".  I
> stipulate that it should be easy to show that he modified code with
> copyright held by the FSF -- but was that part of Emacs?  Assume for
> the sake of argument that at the time the permissions notice said
> "This program is part of Org-mode."

Jambunathan modified a repository of software the authors of which
(himself included) assigned their copyright to the FSF, and,
specifically, he worked on files which identified themselves as a "part of
GNU Emacs."

Org has, independently, a policy that contributors of any hacks of more
than about 10 or 20 lines assign copyright to the FSF (for "core"
libraries, anyway--not for snippets posted on the worg and for stuff in
contrib/ which is not distributed with Emacs).

> It seems to me that the only easy way to assert your claim is to get
> the author to stipulate that it is a modification of Emacs.

Which the files in Org do.  Everything in Org's core contains "This
file is a part of GNU Emacs."


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