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Re: Emacs contributions, C and Lisp

From: Stephen J. Turnbull
Subject: Re: Emacs contributions, C and Lisp
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:15:38 +0900

Aside to Richard: the last 3 paragraphs may be of use to you/the
FSF/the movement.

Michal Nazarewicz writes:

 > There are people who would argue that this kind of paperwork is in fact
 > unneeded.  I admit it has merit, and I understand why lawyers want it,
 > but it's not at all clear that it is worth creating this burden.

Doesn't matter, because it is clear to RMS as well as the formal Emacs
maintainers.  (I suspect clarity on this matter is a prerequisite for
Emacs maintainership, but either way, there's an actual consensus
among Those Who Decide -- only if the lawyers change their minds would
this change, but our arguments won't affect the lawyers' advice.)

Also, you should note that you're bucking the tide here.  I believe
that Linus has conceded that assignments can be helpful, and many
projects such as Python require a contributor agreement, which is just
as much paperwork, even if it doesn't require giving up copyright.
The number of successful projects that require paperwork in some form
is growing.

 > SFC for example runs its GPL Compliance Project for Linux
 > Developers representing just a small fraction of Linux copyright
 > holders.

Good for them!  Here's hoping the fraction gets larger!

 > Even GNU does not require copyright assignment to all its projects.

GNU includes a lot of things that are not GNU products.  RMS's
penchant for abbreviation notwithstanding, the proper name of most GNU
distributions is "GNU/BSD/TeX/X11/Linux/Perl/..., oh screw it, My Name
Is Legion".  Because all GNU distributions include such "borrowed"
components (see the GNU Manifesto), requiring assignments is difficult
in practice, except on a project by project basis.

 > I may be wrong in my assessment, I'm not a lawyer after all, but I
 > bet *majority* of developers, myself included, see CA as an
 > unneeded burden.

So what?  The GNU Emacs project sees it as necessary to protect their
distribution of Emacs.  As David points out that doesn't stop you from
distributing Emacs including your code, or just your code, yourself.

 > And individuals are not even the hardest part.  I became a
 > maintainer of auto-dim-other-buffers.el[1].  I would love to have
 > it in GNU ELPA, but frankly, I won't even bother asking other
 > contributors of to the project to sign a CA

Why not?  All they can do is say "No".  You don't have to push it
hard, but asking is easy.

I think that it should be easier to make the assignment than it
currently is, but that's another matter.

 > And we did not even start with the fact that some people oppose CAs
 > as a matter of principle.

So what?  Whenever my principles come into conflict with yours, I have
to act in accordance with my own principles, no?  Of course I should
respect you for acting in accordance with yours.  If we can't
cooperate for that reason it's a shame, but life is like that.  The
alternative is the Crusades (or jihad, if you prefer).

N.B.  It's hard for me to understand the "in principle" part.  For all
practical purposes your code remains your code; you are free to do
anything with it that you were free to do before.  The ownership
transfer is *necessary* to protect *your* right to do anything you
like with that code.  Under U.S. law, at least, it is not possible to
license somebody else to administer your copyright unless that license
is exclusive, which means you can't do anything else with the code for
the term of that license.  What the FSF copyright assignment does is
to assume ownership, then grant you a *nonexclusive* license to do
*anything* you want with your code, including relicensing it as a
proprietary product.

Ie, just as the GPL is legal judo turning copyright *itself* on its
head, the FSF copyright assignment is legal judo turning copyright
*ownership* on its head.

I can understand not assigning code that doesn't depend on copyleft
code, or where you believe you might be able to get an appropriate
license from the owner of the copyleft code.  But not assigning code
that is derivative of Emacs ... where's the principle in that?
"What's mine is mine, and I'm not giving it up"?  Unless you are very
rich, rich enough to live off interest, you have to give something up
to live: your work, or the products of that work.

P.S. to Richard: I don't recall seeing this argument expressed before.
Maybe it's new?  Either way, I hereby dedicate the previous three
paragraphs of this message, beginning with "N.B.", to the public
domain -- if it's useful to you, feel free.  If your lawyers want
paperwork, let me know.  Or you can do a clean-room reimplementation. :-)

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