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15 March 2011 @ 12:49 pm
Copyright assignment is killing the “free” in free software  

A few weeks ago, at work, we were looking for a solution to a tricky printing problem: how to manage, in a centralized infrastructure, a large number of locations, worstations and printers?

One of the consultants working for us came up with a great idea. With only a 20-line patch to CUPS, workstations would be able to find which printers are on the same location. 20 lines of code, instead of a complex virtualisation solution? This is exactly the kind of reasons why we use free software: when there’s something wrong, you can fix it. When you need something more, you can code it.

Now, many others could benefit of such an improvement, and we don’t want to maintain a forked version of CUPS, so we forwarded it upstream, who looked interested. But upstream now being Apple, they requested a stupid copyright assignment agreement.

I will leave to the reader’s imagination the complexity of getting such a document signed in a Fortune 500 company with no business with Apple. This will, of course, not happen - and if the decision was mine, the answer would have been a clear “No.” No, because I want to improve free software, not to contribute to Apple’s proprietary version. No, because copyleft is about giving as much as you take.

How many contributions are being left out of CUPS because of this stupid copyright assignment? It looks to me that such software is doomed to remain crippled as long as companies like Apple are in charge of their maintenance.

There is free software. And there is free software by Apple. And Oracle. And Canonical.

 
 
 
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 12:19 pm (UTC)
if it matters enough make a fork
if this matters enough make a fork. i am sure for something as widely used as CUPS there must be many patches floating around. maybe something like libreoffice could spring out of it. maybe openprinting people would be interested.

dont tools like git, and hosting sites like github and launchpad make it quite easy to follow an upstream project with a few patches added. maybe someone could make a hosting site specifically for non-copyright assigned patches that upstreams wont accept.
mirabilosmirabilos [mirsolutions.de] on March 15th, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
Re: if it matters enough make a fork
I think that forking would hurt, unless there’s exactly *one* outside of Apple. (Yuck. While I don’t use cups, my co-developer does, and tells me that Apple’s version only talks to Apple’s version of it, and uses cups from The MirPorts Framework on his Macintosh instead of Apple’s version…) I think there would be a niche for some “trusted” organisation (or consortium of such organisations) that have a history of not demanding copyright assignment, for management of such forks. Do some publicity too – so others jump on that train instead of forking or not contributing back. Entry barrier should be low, for example when porting applications you don’t want to register a hundred bugzilla accounts, but just submit to a mailing list WITHOUT subscription (or something like Debian’s BTS) feels nice. Maybe Debian could drive such a thing (or SPI even). Not the FSF or FSFE, they have a history of copyright assignments and tend to focus on projects under an FSF licence. No idea what other projects would be eligible (but asking the various BSDs wouldn’t be a bad idea, FreeBSD and NetBSD both have foundations behind them, OpenBSD wouldn’t be a good idea in the management part but probably for code contribution).
Re: if it matters enough make a fork - (Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
rhonda [launchpad.net] on March 15th, 2011 12:46 pm (UTC)
And there is GNU
The irony is that the GNU project also does follow that path and requests copyright assignment notes. Actually that's what hinders me to contribute to GNU software because in Austrian legislation there is no such a thing as handing over authorship to someone else.
np237np237 on March 15th, 2011 01:00 pm (UTC)
Re: And there is GNU
I agree that the FSF’s copyright assignment policy is insane, but it is much less detrimental since it is a not-for-profit.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
Re: And there is GNU
Actually that's what hinders me to contribute to GNU software because in Austrian legislation there is no such a thing as handing over authorship to someone else.


If this is true, please contact assign@gnu.org (and cc rms@gnu.org) and explain them so. Hopefully, they will have a workaround such that you can contribute.

Perhaps not the copyright assignment of GNU itself, but the current process is awful, and the worst part of it is that the FSF doesn't realize how much it is hurting the GNU project. Please let them know that it is preventing you to contribute.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 09:48 pm (UTC)
Re: And there is GNU
"in Austrian legislation there is no such a thing as handing over authorship to someone else."

Please recheck. If you meant literally, of course there isn't, as there isn't anywhere else in the world: if you made something, you made it and nobody can say otherwise.

If you meant (as I suspect) that you can't pass away the unexclusive rights (which, basically, means authorship) allow me to heavily doubt it. For once it would make impossible to develop software in Austria, since the copyright of the works you develop would belong to you, not your employer.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
Re: And there is GNU
http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/assigning-copyright
chrisjrob.wordpress.com on March 15th, 2011 12:56 pm (UTC)
Difficulty of forking
There's a vast history of failed forks, probably good projects in their own right, but without the community behind them they just go nowhere. Libreoffice was different, it had the support of the vast majority of the major contributors.

That said, I would imagine a company like Redhat could do it, perhaps in conjunction with other major distros.

I really do wish Canonical would learn from Redhat's success and do away with copyright assignment - thank heavens for Debian and Fedora.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
Is it time to consider a cups foundation.
This is the solution. Is there enough resources to create a foundation.

libraoffice solution fix the openoffice issue that way.
Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 15th, 2011 05:35 pm (UTC)
Two Options
Either accept copyright assignment issues, or expect very few companies to open source their code.

Which one is worse for open source is entirely your opinion. I know which one I believe, however.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Two Options
A small handful of companies require copyright assignment for specific projects. Far more companies work with Open Source and don't require copyright assignment at all.
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 15th, 2011 06:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - (Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 15th, 2011 11:37 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - np237 on March 16th, 2011 08:06 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 16th, 2011 11:06 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - np237 on March 16th, 2011 11:09 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 16th, 2011 11:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - np237 on March 16th, 2011 01:07 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 16th, 2011 01:34 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - np237 on March 16th, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - (Anonymous) on March 17th, 2011 03:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - np237 on March 17th, 2011 07:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
Re: Two Options - Adam Skutt [google.com] on March 19th, 2011 02:33 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
Dealing with unfriendly upstreams
(I am saying the following mostly for others --- I assume Joss knows it already. :)) Please do at least submit the patch to the Debian BTS. Till Kamppeter helps out with Debian and upstream cups maintenance and might know what to do with it.

Honestly, that is how forks like go-oo (which became libreoffice) arise in the first place --- downstreams (usually distros) have to fend for themselves and eventually combine forces to avoid some wasted time.
(Anonymous) on March 15th, 2011 11:38 pm (UTC)
Apple and free software... in the same sentence? that must be a joke for sure.
I'm sure that Apple would be quite sad to ''kill free software''.
(Anonymous) on March 16th, 2011 01:03 pm (UTC)
GNUspool ?
I doubt it helps, as it's unlikely that one is going to abandon a complicated CUPS setup on the strength of avoiding a small patch, but there is a GNU print spooler, called GNUspool, that might be worth a look. (I helped the author package it for Debian, which is why I know about it :-) )

Cheers, Phil.
(Anonymous) on September 26th, 2011 06:42 pm (UTC)
Thought I would comment and say neat theme, did you make it for yourself? It’s really awesome!