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Re: Documenting FSF copyright assignment process

From: Konstantin Kharlamov
Subject: Re: Documenting FSF copyright assignment process
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2019 02:49:09 +0300

В Чт, апр 11, 2019 at 16:51, Eli Zaretskii <address@hidden> написал:
 Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2019 02:33:21 +0300
 From: Konstantin Kharlamov <address@hidden>
 Cc: Richard Stallman <address@hidden>

I recently went through the signing procedure, and one thing I didn't like which can be improved: the specific steps up to sending a mail to address@hidden are not documented. In my case I had to send a private mail to Eli asking for the assignment form, he sent it back to me along
 with further instructions; then I filled the form and sent it to

 This is a roundtrip that takes time for both maintainer and a user.

Don't worry about the maintainer's time.  It took me all of 10 sec to
respond with the form and the instructions for filling it.

Additionally, users are not even sure if what they're doing is correct, e.g. look at the last "assignment"-titled mail on this list, it starts with "I'm not sure if it's the right place to ask this". Yes, neither
 was I!

The only way I can understand this particular aspect of the issue is
by assuming that people don't read the section in the Emacs manual
where this is described, the one you quoted in your email, because
that section explicitly tells to ask on emacs-devel.

Not really. The section I quoted tells to ask any questions on emacs-devel, but not to ask for the form/instructions in there. When I read that section I'm getting stuck "What do I do now? Yeah, I can ask a question on emacs-devel, but that sounds silly, because sure somewhere here should be the steps for what to do now". So I'm reading the section over and over, then I start googling, reading through a bunch of irrelevant stuff on the internet… And only then, as I give up, I, depending on the level of frustration, do either of α) lay that aside to some distant future, or β) ask a non-confident question here about assignment.

I can understand why this could happen: our user manual, being such a
large document, it is not the best place to include this information
and hope that it will be easily discoverable there.  So I've included
that information near the beginning of CONTRIBUTE, which is about the
first document potential contributors should read before sending

It would really help if the emacs documentation about assignment¹ has either α) a paragraph with the form to be sent to address@hidden and
 according instructions, or β) if it has to be documented on another
site, e.g. FSF's, it would help to put a link to emacs documentation¹ after the words "Copyright assignment is a simple process." (and I hope that this would-be referred documentation includes α; preferrably with
 any legal notes — if there will be any — moved somewhere at the

If the FSF places the forms on some official site, and accompany them
with the necessary instructions about how to choose the correct one
(yes, there's more than one form), then I agree that we should
reference that place in our docs.  But I don't think it's right for us
to include the assignment form(s) in our docs, because we are not the
source of the document, and don't really have to understand all the
intricacies of the process, starting with how to choose the correct
form for each case.  (Gnulib does include the forms in its repository,
but I don't think this is TRT for any GNU project to do that.)

Although GNU Emacs indeed are not the source for form, however it is Emacs that has the mandatory requirement for the assignment. This means it is correct for Emacs to have it documented — one way or another.

I think having the information in CONTRIBUTE will make it much more
discoverable.  As for the time it takes to ask for the form and send
it in response, I don't see that as a significant issue.

Okay, maybe it's not an issue for you, because you're used to the mailing list, as well as to replies to assignment form inqueries.

But it is an issue for an arbitrary user who wants the form.

First of: there's no requirement for a contributor to be subscribed here, since patches go to debbugs site anyway. And a user may not know how to use a mailing list: does one have to subscribe? How to subscribe? What to do with dozens of mails from the list every day? Nowadays you can't reasonably expect arbitrary peoples to know how MLs work.

Second: a user may not be a native speaker, so composing a mail may take time for that alone reason. You can't expect a contributor to be a good speaker either, because they could be e.g. just a student who wants to improve the app they're using as part of their paper.

Third: sending to a -devel ML means asking real developers. This may be an overwhelming thought, making one to try to avoid that as much as possible. I'm telling that from my own past experience: though right now I'm comfortable (I work as a developer, I contributed to many projects, I just got used to being around developers), but it wasn't always true. Just 3-4 years ago I'd be really afraid, thinking "But assignment form doesn't sound like a development question, am I sure this is correct? Won't they make laugh of me?".

Fourth: sending to an ML means there's a bunch of people, and everyone gonna see your mail. If you have social communication problems, for example sociophobia, this is a demotivational factor.

Fifth: asking specifically for copyright assignment on ML feels like yelling "look everyone, I'm gonna contribute to Emacs!", whereas one may not even be sure about usefulness of planned contributions. One may just have some thoughts for improvements, but they may not pan out for one reason or another. I think this may demotivate anyone, doubly so if one has social communication problems.

And don't forget that the factors can be combined! Whereas the fix is dead easy: just make it clear how to get the form and instructions without any interaction.

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