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Re: copyright and incorporating code from mailing list posts

From: David Kastrup
Subject: Re: copyright and incorporating code from mailing list posts
Date: Thu, 24 Aug 2006 20:54:31 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.11 (Gnus v5.11) Emacs/22.0.50 (gnu/linux) writes:

> If you're running a free software project, and a contributor posts a
> few lines of code, or a patch, to the public mailing list
> (implicitly expecting you to feel free to incorporate the posted
> code into the project), it would seem reasonable for a project
> copyright holder (one who's doing the commit) to simply splice the
> code into the project code without modifying any copyright notices.

No, it wouldn't.

> I assume that all committers on a given project put their names in
> the license header of the files that they modify.


> What's the policy on this for GNU projects? A large number of folks
> must post patches, suggestions, bug fixes, and misc lines of code to
> the ML's all the time, right?

For important GNU projects (like Emacs or GCC), copyright needs to get
assigned in writing (this includes a disclaimer of any employer to the
rights of the software) to the Free Software Foundation.  For trivial
contributions (ballpark figure: up to 15 lines of creative content),
no assignment is required since the change can be considered of not
sufficient creative level.  However, the contributor still gets
recorded in the ChangeLog files along with the change, and the change
is marked "tiny change".  If the total of 15 lines for a contributor
gets exceeded at some time, no further contributions are accepted
without a previous copyright assignment to the FSF.

In all cases, the author of a contribution gets recorded in the
ChangeLog files.

> Seems to me that, in the final analysis, the point is to protect
> your project from someone coming forward saying, "Hey, you're using
> my copyrighted code in your project without my express permission!"
> and the headaches that might follow from dealing with such an
> individual.  I'd guess that happening is unlikely considering the
> person posted it to the ML in the first place.
> Any official GNU docs or position on this subject?

Copyrights have to be tracked.  Where the project is important, no
nontrivial contributions will get accepted without a previous
copyright assignment in writing.  In very rare exceptions, a written
disclaimer about copyright assertion will be accepted instead.  In
that case, the copyright holder is retained in the copyright notices,
and the FSF does not have the power to process against a breach of
copyright on the respective code sessions.  So this is really reserved
to exceptional cases.

David Kastrup, Kriemhildstr. 15, 44793 Bochum

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