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Re: Why does the FSF need copyright *assignments*?

From: Bernd Jendrissek
Subject: Re: Why does the FSF need copyright *assignments*?
Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 14:35:18 +0200

On Mon, Jul 28, 2003 at 01:21:42PM +0200, Rui Miguel Seabra wrote:
> On Mon, 2003-07-28 at 10:54, Bernd Jendrissek wrote:
> > Why do GNU projects require copyright *assignments* to the FSF before
> > being able to accept contributions?

Thanks - I know I should have read the FAQ - a bit lazy!

> Why does the FSF require that contributors to FSF-copyrighted programs
> assign copyright to the FSF? If I hold copyright on a GPL'ed program,
> should I do this, too? If so, how?
>         Our lawyers have told us that to be in the best position to
>         enforce the GPL[1] in court against violators, we should keep
>         the copyright status of the program as simple as possible. We do
Granted, having one owner of copyright is an advantage.  But who owns the
*derived* work?  Is there really a notion in law about a contributor
owning only the SBN port of GCC, and the FSF *not* owning it, although the
port is included in its work?

(Note that "the SBN port" is just a fictional contribution.)

This is almost touching the dynamic-linking-as-derived-work question:
first of all you've got to have permission to make the derived work, but
then you also have to own the result in order to protect it.

Silly question: let's say Microsoft builds Excel on a GNU(/Linux/Hurd/...)
system, and links (dynamically) /usr/bin/excel with glibc.  Would MS then
not be able to prosecute "Internet pirates" due to not owning *all* of the
derived work (/usr/bin/excel + + libX11 etc.)?

>         this by asking each contributor to either assign the copyright
>         on his contribution to the FSF, or disclaim copyright on it and
>         thus put it in the public domain. 
>         We also ask individual contributors to get copyright disclaimers
>         from their employers (if any) so that we can be sure those
>         employers won't claim to own the contributions.
>         Of course, if all the contributors put their code in the public
>         domain, there is no copyright with which to enforce the GPL. So
>         we encourage people to assign copyright on large code
>         contributions, and only put small changes in the public domain.
>         If you want to make an effort to enforce the GPL on your
>         program, it is probably a good idea for you to follow a similar
>         policy. Please contact <> if you want more
>         information.
> [1] Why the FSF gets copyright assignments from contributors

Which is good, but I feel sad each time I see a presumably new contributor
on GNU project mailing lists with an obviously useful patch.  The response
that follows is often one of "send in the paperwork and in 4 years we'll
include your patch".  Many express frustration at this point, and I hope
they don't *all* give up.

Isn't there a way to *encourage* especially new contributors more?

-- - at last it even exists!

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