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[libreplanet-discuss] GitHub's Plan to Let Employees Keep Side-Projects

From: Michael Pagan
Subject: [libreplanet-discuss] GitHub's Plan to Let Employees Keep Side-Projects
Date: Thu, 23 Mar 2017 22:21:41 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/24.5 (gnu/linux)

An [interesting article][0] was posted online yesterday about GitHub's
initiative which allows it's employees to contribute free software to
the software sharing community, in such a way that employees won't feel
the risk of a company (i.e. GitHub, and whoever adopts this new or
similar agreement) taking ownership of their code.


I receive email from, which is how I found out about this.
This article is not about [ContractPatch][1], but GitHub's BEIPA seems
eerily similar in terms of purpose, so I thought it would be worth
sharing here to get the conversation started and to add new opinions.


So, right off the bat: "Good initiative, bad judgment."  BEIPA is short
for "Balanced Employee IP Agreement".  I like the concept, but not the
name.  Richard Stallman (RMS) has written and spoken voluminously about
the confusing propaganda term known as IP (Intellectual Property).

I remember RMS stating that the purpose of this term is to clump several
unrelated laws together in order to introduce confusion into a
conversation, and that whenever someone uses this term: No one truly
understands the specifics of the law that is being discussed, because
the law itself has not been identified yet.  It could be Copyright law,
Patent law, Trademark law, etc., but until the person talking about IP
has specified which one, confusion abounds.

The GNU Project maintains a list of words to avoid and IP [is listed][2]
as one of them for good reason.  Most, if not all, software developers
release their software under a copyright license-- not a trademark
license or a patent license.  Knowing this, wouldn't it be a better
idea for GitHub to rename BEIPA to BECA (Balanced Employee Copyright
Agreement) or something similar, like: FECA (Free Employee Copyright
Agreement)?  I'm just throwing names around and I'm sure these acronyms
are already taken, but the idea is: Be less general; be more specific.


The current agreement attempts to cover various different laws which may
affect an employee, so without using the term "copyright", perhaps even
SELFIDA (Shared Employee Liberties For Initiating Development Agreement)
could be an acceptable name for such an agreement.  The name clarifies
the purpose behind the agreement.  I replace the term "property" with
"liberties", since our rights are what some companies are truly after.
You can't even begin or initiate development without software freedom,
let alone to continue development and collaboration within a community.
I felt like the term "balanced" was too vague, so I used "shared"
instead; besides, that *is* what we do in a community: We share.

In essence, by signing the agreement, the employee is now "free" to work
on his projects without the risk of losing his work to the company.  The
article states that without such an agreement, "your employer can claim
ownership of the intellectual property that is your app or service."
This statement could be rewritten as: "your employer can claim ownership
of the copyright of your program"; left out the word "service", since it
relates to [SASS][3] (Service as a Software Substitute) hence spreading
propaganda (i.e. software developers write software, not services).


That said... I admire GitHub's efforts to not only create such a unique
agreement that allows free software developers the freedom to continue
to create and contribute to free software, but also GitHub's ingenious
idea of publishing this [agreement as a repository][4] on GitHub itself
(never mind that GitHub [is not an ethical code-hosting site][5] yet; I
opted to view it with EWW, the Emacs Web Wowser, for now), and under a
CC0 (Creative Commons Zero Universal) license so that other companies
could use it in freedom.


As a side-note: There shall be no flame wars.  For those who may argue
that GitHub *is* an ethical code-hosting site, despite the above GNU
criteria link, I submit this message to you (please think critically):

You use their nonfree JavaScript to use important features on the site.
Do you consider the idea of a free software developer running nonfree
code in order to look at free code... strange?  To be ethical, GitHub
must respect our freedom.  It has a bug; a pull request should be made.

I mentioned GitHub's word choice of "IP" in BEIPA and their use of
nonfree JavaScript in general, because I've noticed that whenever an
organization (usually an "open source" booster) adopts the same
propaganda as proprietary software companies, they also adopt the same
values, too.  For instance, it is well known that proprietary software
developers and "open source" boosters value convenience and popularity
over freedom and privacy; sometimes, they will even admit to it!

Running GNU/Linux?  Run the following command right now inside GNU Bash:
    lynx -dump $repo | grep 'docx.*add convenience'

The output that you would receive from the above command seems to
suggest that GitHub considers DOCX, a nonfree file format, to be a
"convenient" file format.  Is this the same reason why their JavaScript
is also nonfree, because it is convenient?  We need freedom-respecting
file formats, not convenient-to-use-while-trampling-over-our-freedom
file formats.

GitHub's description of the repository is: "GitHub's employee IP
agreement, open sourced and reusable".  The DOCX version of the
agreement, however, does not respect computer user freedom, because it
is a binary file requiring the use of a nonfree program; PDF, in stark
contrast, can be opened using free software.  It's conversion from a
Markdown file is besides the point, you know.  Ironic that GitHub would
support this nonfree file format, despite [our logic and consensus][6]
(i.e. the fact that Open Document Format exists implies our consensus).


Some may wish to have it removed, but I think a smarter decision would
be to replace it with a text file, containing a message similar to:

"DOCX is a nonfree file format and is useless in a free society.  If you
wish to view our employee agreement which supports software freedom,
creativity, and collaboration within a company, then please view the ODT
(OpenDocument Text) version located here <...>, which-- by the way-- is
readable by Microsoft Word, and especially free word-processors."
Please note that GitHub has already published an ODT version of BEIPA,
hence my suggestion is reasonable and trivial to implement.

Anyway, I digress.  Despite some of GitHub's flaws, I really like the
effort that they are putting into allowing other companies a way to show
their employees that they respect their freedom-- ON and OFF the clock.
I believe that if other companies adopt this agreement, that the
agreement itself will be like a "seed"-- a freedom seed-- that will
eventually take root and spread to other departments within the company,
other branches, other divisions, and soon... other companies and
organizations entirely.  This prospect alone is exciting for me!

Not to mention, what better way do we have to let our employers know
that we care about this, then by mentioning that other companies are
already adopting agreements that respect computer user freedom; GitHub,
possibly being the first (correct me if I'm wrong).  Such an agreement
could even be used as leverage during salary negotiations; trading a
higher salary for an additional perk, instead (e.g. a signed agreement
for the employee to keep their copyrights).  That asking for too much?

I believe that anyone who brings such an agreement with them to a salary
negotiation meeting, final job interview, or any special meeting
designed to bring innovative ideas to further software development, has
the potential to plant a seed for software freedom, possibly ushering in
30 more years of freedom under the aegis of GNU and you if we all do it!

Perhaps other companies will follow suit, and not just tech companies.
Any thoughts?


I'm CC'ing the libreplanet-discuss list, because I think it would be a
great idea if ContractPatch and similar initiatives are discussed, or at
least mentioned, at this upcoming LibrePlanet this Saturday and Sunday.

I know it is in alpha at this stage, but maybe the benefits and merit
behind the implementation of such an agreement could be discussed.
Maybe even a lightning talk, if their is no time to discuss at length.
Someone should dissect the legal code and find out if it is an ethical
agreement or if it needs some more work.  Not everyone at the conference
uses mailing lists, which is why I'm bringing this up.  I know this is
short notice, but this news was literally published just this week.

Semper Fidelis
Michael Pagan (pegzmasta) [71B46D72]
B942 AD12 82B1 6D14 27A0  86AE 119E 451E 71B4 6D72
Free Software Hacker, <>

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