Sunday, 4 January 2015

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

On Friday, January 02, 2015 16:38:13 Marc Deslauriers wrote:
> On 2015-01-02 04:09 PM, Scott Kitterman wrote:
> > On Friday, January 02, 2015 01:45:48 PM Stephen M. Webb wrote:
> > ...
> >
> >> 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.
> >
> > ...
> >
> > Snipped the rest, since it doesn't, IMO, need further discussion.
> >
> > Here you're wrong. If Canonical releases GPL code, the GPL constrains
> > what I can do with that code. Since Canonical is the copyright owner,
> > they are not constrained. If I contribute code under the CLA, Canonical
> > is not constrained to the GPL like I am regarding the code in that
> > project. They have the same rights over my code as if they had written
> > it.
> Exactly, so as a contributor, you can't remove rights that Canonical already
> has over the code they've developed.

Of course not and the lack of the CLA doesn't do that. In fact, Canonical
threw away code from external contributors that declined to sign the original
copyright assignment (which was replaced by the current CLA) and rewrote it
themselves. That claim doesn't make any sense.

> If there was no CLA, you could prevent Canonical from relicensing the
> software to something possibly even better or free-er than the GPL in the
> future.

That's true, but the primary objection I've seen to the CLA is that it permits
proprietary relicensing. If that were removed, I for one would find it much
more reasonable.

> > It doesn't matter for you, since your contributions are a work made for
> > hire and Canonical owns it regardless, but for people in the broader
> > community who are doing this for free in the interest of improving free
> > software the distinction matters a lot.
> I don't understand this. How does giving Canonical the right to relicense
> your contribution conflict with the goal of improving free software? This
> only matters to people who exclusively contribute to GPL licensed projects,
> right? I mean, if you contribute to something BSD or MIT licensed, you're
> basically allowing anyone to make it proprietary. Do BSD and MIT licensed
> projects conflict with your goal of improving free software?
> I do agree that if you're a contributor who exclusively contributes to GPL
> licensed projects, you may have an issue with Canonical relicensing your
> code. In which case, just don't sign the CLA and fork the project, like the
> GPL allows you to do.

I've heard this argument before and I think it's logically unsound. If the
projects in question were BSD/MIT licensed, then it would be right on target,
but they aren't.

The issue that I've seen most people complain about (and what I think is an
issue myself) is the imbalance between outbound rights from contributors and
outbound rights from Canonical.

> Honestly, I can probably count on my fingers the number of people who had an
> actual desire to contribute to Canonical projects but were prevented by the
> CLA. If this was as big an issue as some Canonical competitors have made it
> out to be, all Canonical's software would already be forked in various PPAs
> and repositories.

SDDM basically exists because of the CLA (at least it's being used in KDE
because of it). Canonical projects like Appmenu-Qt (I think that's the right
one) had contributors from non-Ubuntu KDE contributors before the copyright
assignment/CLA policies were instituted.

Maintaining a fork is a lot of work. Generally people aren't going to fork,
they're just going to use something else that it's easier to contribute to.
In the one case I'm familiar with, forking LightDM instead of using the
substantially less mature SDDM was never even considered.

As far as I know, much of what Canonical produces isn't even packaged outside
Ubuntu, so I don't think there's a great deal of demand that would lead to

I don't know how much of a problem Canonical's competitors claim the CLA is.
I can point to specific instances of it being problematic in the areas of the
project I'm involved in.

> > I get that it doesn't matter to you, but that doesn't make it invalid. I
> > know a lot of reasonable people at Canonical that believe that the
> > broader community shouldn't be so concerned about the CLA as it is today
> > (which is - for the record - a vast improvement on the first iteration),
> > but many people are.
> >
> > I guess if I look at your reply as meaning Canonical funded projects
> > aren't
> > really free software projects, just corporate software development that
> > happens to be done largely in the open and that currently has free
> > licensing, I can see the point, but I hope that's not the way I should be
> > looking at what Canonical is doing.
> Canonical projects are free software projects. Perhaps you have some special
> definition of free that excludes CLAs.

No, of course not. I'm struggling to make sense of Stephen's original
response and it seemed to make sense from that perspective. Qt (for example)
is clearly now a free software project and it has a CLA. There are others as

Scott K

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