[rms at gnu.org: Some problems on gnucash.org]

Derek Neighbors derek at gnue.org
Fri Aug 11 16:40:53 EDT 2006

On Aug 11, 2006, at 1:13 PM, Linas Vepstas wrote:

> On Thu, Aug 10, 2006 at 05:16:32PM -0400, Chris Shoemaker wrote:
>> Hi Linas,
>>         If we're talking about the same "standard" FSF assignment
>> form, it's designed to assign copyright of the entire existing
>> Work, not just future changes.  That's why they require that the
>> Assigner(s) be sole copyright holder(s) for the Work.  Was that
>> requirement met?
> I'm going to have trouble answering that, because that is not how
> I remember the assignments working.  The way I remember/understood it
> was that the assignment simply allows the assignee to claim copyright.
> The code is essentially forked at that time, with the original author
> retaining copyright in one forked branch, and asignee is allowed to
> claim copyright on the other. Insofar as these two copies are the
> same, the net effect is that the original author retains copyright,
> and FSF can claim copyright as well.  I do not remember any
> provisions for sole authorship.
> I am not a lawyer; the above is my recollection of what I thought
> I'd signed six years ago.

Your recollection is accurate.  The "assignment" of copyright is so  
that a single entity can defend the code in the event that the work  
needs protection.  That way individuals do not have to be hunted down  
and asked to do so.

The deal on assigning work to the FSF is that you as the individual  
that did the work still retain copyright over the work, but you have  
also given copyright to the Free Software Foundation as well.  The  
sole authorship stuff is prove that the person that is doing the  
assignment really has the right to do so.

Say I work for Foomatic, Corp and I signed a document on employment  
saying ALL code I write while employed at Foomatic, Corp belongs to  
Foomatic, Corp.  Then in my spare time I decide to start helping the  
OpenCash project.  They ask me to assign my work to Open Foundation.   
I gladly do so.  Problem is that I do not own the code I am writing  
Foomatic does.  Basically you have to acknowledge (via disclaimer)  
that no one else can make claims to your work before assign copyright  
to FSF.

>>         Robert Merkel claimed that no copyright had been assigned on
>> July 6, 2001.  (His last contribution was in May, 2001.)  Was that
>> true?
> I would have to dig through a file cabinet in the garage. Although
> different people signed these at different times, and some had to be
> nagged, I was under the impression that everyone signed them. But
> maybe not.

The Free Software Foundation also keeps these on file.

>>         More to the point, if the FSF had been assigned copyright to
>> all of GnuCash in 2000, why did you and others continue to mark files
>> as copyright held by yourselves?
> Because that is my understanding of how the assignment works.

Technically those others still also hold copyright so there is  
nothing inherently wrong with it.  However, it may have made more  
sense to put copyright of FSF.

>> The whole thing seems very messy,
>> especially since GnuCash has been actively developed since then by
>> developers that never signed an assignment contract.
> Why should this matter?

Im with Linas on how does that affect prior assignment.  It simply  
means that code added by these developers is not assigned and should  
GNUCash want to change its license or defend its copyright in court  
it would have to get the blessing of these individuals separately.

>>         I'm pretty confused by the implication that FSF became the
>> copyright holder for GnuCash in 2000,
> They would not be the sole copyright holder, they would be one among
> many. There are maybe 20 or 30 or more copyright holders, depending
> on how you wish to treat small patches.
The FSF likes to have small patches put in public domain so that  
there is no issue of copyright.  Anything large they prefer  
assignment.  In this case, of course, there was not assignment so it  
puts things in a messy state of dealing with each copyright holder  

> The only copyright concern I have is that I remember catching a  
> certain
> Gnumatic employee going through the files fairly systematically,
> removing older copyright notices, and placing thier name in instead.
> This is a major violation as far as I'm concerned.  I beleive I caught
> this early, and put a stop to it; I am not sure if all files were
> restored to thier original condition.  On the other hand, another
> employee, Rob Browning, systematically failed to add his name to
> the files he authored, even after being asked repeatedly to do so.
> Funny how that goes.

I strongly suggest that this project do copyright assignment.  If not  
with the FSF then form your own entity (foundation or whatever) and  
assign the copyright to that entity.  From a legal stand point having  
to wrangle 30 to 40 people to protect a copyright violation, change a  
license or any such thing is going to be a logistical nightmare.  I  
believe that MySQL found this out the hard way as have others.

At times even Red Hat, IBM assign copyright to FSF for reasons of  
protecting their works from exploitation.

Derek Neighbors

More information about the gnucash-devel mailing list