Friday, 2 January 2015

Re: [Ubuntu-bugcontrol] Please, consider reflecting on the Canonical Contributor Agreement

On 01/02/2015 07:37 AM, Scott Kitterman wrote:
> Fact is it's causing external groups to stay away from contributing to
> Canonical projects (which contributes to the tautology that the CLA is
> reasonable because Canonical is the primary/sole contributor). If you want a
> specific example, the CLA is the only reason SDDM is the KDM replacement in
> Plasma 5 and not LightDM.

Yes. Canonical is aware of this cost of doing business. Some people don't mind contributing in kind in return for all
the wonderful stuff they get for free from Canonical. Others are adamant that their entitlement to gratis product must
grant them additional benefits or they will boycott its use. Lots of different opinions. People do what they feel they

> Canonical is free to set the rules for contributions to its projects however
> it wants, but I think you misunderstand why there is a CLA. For Ubuntu (the
> Linux distribution) there's no CLA and it works fine.

I don't believe I do misunderstand why there is a CLA.

Ubuntu is a downstream user of Free software developed by Canonical: Ubuntu uses code released by Canonical projects
under the GPL. Bringing it up as an argument against an upstream project having a CLA for contributions is specious.

I think it's been well established why Canonical requires a CLA. A huge proportion of projects producing software
available in Ubuntu require a CLA (eg. Tomcat, Spam Assasin, Apache) or worse, a total copyright transfer (GNU libc, the
GCC toolchain, the runtime link-loader used to start all applications). Evidently few people object to CLAs in
general; what they seem to object to in the Canonical CLA is the clause licensing to Canonical of the original copyright
holder's right to license the work any way they wish, maybe even for a fee.

This thread started as a demand that that clause be removed. I have yet to see a clear and valid convincing argument
backing up that demand. Here's a summary of arguments I've seen so far.

Argument: I received software in Ubuntu under the GPL. It is wrong for Canonical to require a CLA before they accept
any change to the upstream project from which that code came.

Response: You received in Ubuntu under the GPL. The GPL entitles you to modify that software and distribute the
modifications to others, and requires the modified software to continue to be licensed under the GPL. There is nothing
in the Canonical CLA that prevents this. The CLA does not apply to downstream development, just as the GPL does not
apply to upstream development. There is no connection between the premise and the conclusion, therefor the argument is

Argument: A work of software is free and the code belongs to the world not to a group of individuals. Canonical can
not decide what it can do with the works it creates.

Response: Under copyright law the expression of software in the form of source code belongs to its authors. In fact,
the GPL relies on this copyright law to be effective. It would be great to live in an idealized society with communal
ownership of all things and from each according to their ability, to each strictly according to their needs but until
the revolution comes the premise is invalid and does not lead to the conclusion. The argument is invalid.

Argument: Trying to leverage an investment in software development to generate revenue is abusive.

Response: Still not clear on the reasoning behind this. Not clear on what the abuse is. Not clear on who the victim is.

Argument: Requiring a CLA means people who object to a CLA will not contribute.

Response: Unfortunately it's true. That is a cost of having a CLA. On the other hand, providing all this splendid
stuff for free has a definite cost. Without that clause in its CLA Canonical will likely go the way of every other
organization that has tried to create quality consumer products for free. We're trying something different, maybe it
will work this time. The argument is valid and clear, but not convincing.

Argument: The CLA grants more rights to Canonical than the contributor gets.

Response: No, it definitely does not. It grants to Canonical a clearly defined subset of the rights the contributor
has, yet the contributor keeps all his or her original rights. The contributor loses nothing save maybe the ability to
personally control what Canonical can do with its investment, and that's not a right but an unintended consequence that
the unethical can use to their advantage. The premise is invalid.

Argument: Canonical should not require the CLA for what it's doing because other people succeed with what they're doing
without a CLA.

Response: Other people are not doing the same thing as Canonical. The premise is not valid.

Argument: I want to use Canonical software and I don't approve of the Canonical CLA, so Canonical must change.

Response: That's nice, but it's a statement of personal preference, not a convincing argument.

Stephen M. Webb <[email protected]>

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