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Re: A GNU “social contract”?


From: Mark Wielaard
Subject: Re: A GNU “social contract”?
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 2019 15:19:48 +0100

Hi Ludo,

(It looks like your message never made it to the list, so quoting a bit
more extensively to make sure everything you wrote is also in this
message.)

On Fri, 2019-12-20 at 12:28 +0100, Ludovic Courtès wrote:
> Mark Wielaard <address@hidden> skribis:
> > I agree. But it feels like we can describe this more concise
> > without
> > having the explain the exact policy we are following. For example
> > could we just state here: "The GNU Project prefers to distribute
> > software under /copyleft licenses/, designed to ensure that users'
> > freedoms cannot be strip off."?
> 
> I think such a document has to be self-contained, and that’s why I think
> it’s good to concisely define copyleft and its intent here.
> 
> Outsiders reading the document may not know what “copyleft” means; yet
> we want them to have a good grasp of what we’re trying to achieve.
> 
> WDYT?

Agreed. But I think I didn't explain very well what my concrete
suggestion was. So this is what I am actually suggesting:

Replace this text:

   Unless the GNU Project deems that a different choice furthers the
   advancement of free software, all software written by the GNU
   Project is distributed under /copyleft licenses/, designed to ensure
   that developers cannot strip off users' freedom from GNU software.

   With this:

   The GNU Project prefers policies that encourage and enable
   developers to actively defend users' Freedom. Which includes
   distributing GNU software under /copyleft licenses/, designed to
   ensure that users' freedoms cannot be strip off.

   This leaves off when/how we precisely define these policies (when not
   to use copyleft, or LGPL or some exception, and when to require
   copyright assignment/bundling or not). But does make clear that the
   first priority is defending user freedom.

   > > > I don’t think there’s such a policy right now, is there?
> > 
> > There certainly is for various (older?) GNU projects. At least all
> > that I contribute to have such a policy. It is explained here:
> > https://www.gnu.org/licenses/why-assign.html
> > And the FSF itself has a larger explanation here:
> > https://www.fsf.org/bulletin/2014/spring/copyright-assignment-at-the-fsf
> 
> I’m aware of this, but it is a policy for copyright assignment to the
> FSF; it’s not a policy to avoid copyright “held by corporations”.  The
> motivation stated in why-assign.html is that assignment allows the FSF
> “to enforce the GPL most effectively” and doesn’t mention corporations.

Right, but the point is to be able to enforce defending user freedoms
effectively. And leaving copyrights with corporations instead of the
actual developers or the FSF makes it so we cannot effectively do that.

> > The reason I want to call this out is because when you don't have a
> > policy to keep copyright with the actual developers or assigned to a
> > foundation that comes up for user freedom you might accidentially
> > loose a way to defend user freedom for GNU software.
> > 
> > If you pretend that who holds the copyrights is no big deal then, for
> > "popular" projects, you might slowly but surely see that the
> > copyrights will be held by corporations employing the developers. This
> > is a problem because corporations in general don't have any incentive
> > to defend user freedom. They don't want to upset their partners and
> > customers when they don't pass through the freedoms required by the
> > license. And they will just ignore the issue. It isn't that companies
> > are evil, it is just that they don't care (it isn't in their business
> > interest to care). But that also means they are often more than happy
> > to move the responsibility (assign the copyright) so that the issue is
> > out of their hands (companies do like a level playing field).
> 
> I don’t believe “corporate takeover” is a realistic threat, at least not
> in the majority of cases.

I don't think we should call this "corporate takeover". It is about
using copyleft effectively. I believe as GNU project we should not just
say we use copyleft, but also be willing to actually use/enforce it to
defend user freedom when necessary. Companies might not be against user
freedom, nor be against copyleft to ensure it. But they are not setup
to actually defend user freedom. So the threat isn't a takeover by one
specific corporation. But that by leaving copyright with (multiple)
corporations instead of the active developers or the FSF means we
cannot effectively use copyleft as a tool to defend user freedom.

>   In my view, there are two situations:
> 
>   1. Projects with many stakeholders, including companies.  In those
>      situations, a company may hold parts of the copyright, but it’d
>      have to rewrite the whole project to really “take it over”.  That’s
>      practically impossible and useless.
> 
>   2. Projects developed in-house by a company and “open sourced” (sic).
>      Those projects may be free software but are, for all practical
>      purposes, under the control of a single company from the start.
> 
> That’s why I don’t think corporate takeover, among all the threats to
> user freedom, deserves a special mention in the social contract.
> 
> Regarding the pros and cons of copyright assignment, we could discuss at
> length.  :-)  However, regardless of what we think of copyright
> assignment, I believe the social contract should be positioned at a
> higher level.  IOW, I view copyright assignment as a policy issue, and
> not as a defining principle.  (Note that currently copyright assignment
> is not mandated for new packages, and in practice only a fraction of GNU
> packages require it.)

I believe using a copyleft license (and which one), and having a
strategy to effectively use it to defend user freedom are both policy
issues. The defining principle is that we favor policies (using
copyleft licensing) and strategies (keep copyright with the active
developer/FSF that will enforce copyleft) that maximize user freedom.

> > > > Is that something that should be in the social contract? Does it
> > > > follow from what is in it now? Or should we add something to make the
> > > > (abstract) idea clear? (e.g. The GNU Project prefers policies that
> > > > encourage and enable developers to actively defend the users'
> > > > Freedom.)
> > > 
> > > I think it’s implicit that project policies cannot contradict the
> > > higher-level goals set forth by the social contract.
> > 
> > But does the current text of the social contract really sufficiently
> > clear that we will try to actively defend user's freedoms? For example
> > by the above policy.
> 
> I think it does.  What modification would you suggest to make that
> clearer?

See above.

Cheers,

Mark



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