Too Much Power?

In InfoWorld this week, I’ve reprised my views about contributor agreements. The trigger for this was seeing Oracle erroneously change the license for the MySQL man pages from GPL to something nasty. Once they were told, they fixed the error (which had been public for two months), but the fact their build system even has an option for proprietary relicensing that can be accidentally enabled is cause for thought.

Why can they do that? Contributor agreements have given them ownership of all the copyrights, including for things they didn’t make. With those copyrights comes the power to change the license without asking anyone (even by accident).  In an age of OpenStack, Eclipse and Apache, why should we still have important open source projects under the control of unaccountable entities?

3 Responses

  1. As much as I agree with your estaminet, I must acknowledge it’s probably us who changed and not the environment or global circumstances.

    The groups (companies) who put contributors agreements in place haven’t changed much, nor their reasons to require them. In my understanding, it isn’t that these reasons don’t apply any longer [1], it has to do with us having a different perspective now (probably along with a different agenda).

    IMHO, the balance is on implementing a copyright share approach (as in the SCA) backed up by a open, neutral and accountable entity (a foundation?).


    • I do think that we’ve collectively evolved. My proposal would be for each community to re-evaluate its approach each time a change point arises, such as a corporate acquisition. Existing communities can probably live with what they have inherited; I have great suspicion of any new community or new project overlord who requires copyright assignment.

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