Copyright arrangements for a web project

Joshua D. Drake jd at
Thu Dec 12 15:28:25 UTC 2013

On 12/12/2013 06:44 AM, Ian Jackson wrote:
> (This is a bit off-topic for the Debian list; I hope people won't mind
> me asking opinions here though.)
> I'm being asked for advice on encouraging contributions by the people
> behind a couple of "community-ish" websites which I use regularly.
> There's a lot of work to be done to improve the attractiveness to
> contributors, and one of the things that needs fixing is the
> licensing.
> It's my view that a community software project ought to use a copyleft
> licence nowadays.  But two questions arise:
> * It would clearly be sensible to appoint a licence steward in the
>    GPLv3 sense.  If the current project leadership lack free software
>    credibility, could SPI serve as licence steward ?

What do you mean steward? If you are asking if we should guide them to 
use the GPLv3, I would vote against that. SPI (as a corporation) should 
not value what Free Software license over another.

If you are asking if we could be the entity that the license denotes as 
the licensor, I don't see a problem with that.

>    What instructions/directions would SPI take ?  The goal would have
>    to include the SPI Board making the value judgement, not just
>    deferring to the project's leadership - that is, the SPI Board would
>    make the decision itself in what it sees as the interests of the
>    project and the free software community.

I don't think this is a board decision. I think we should empower 
members within a committee to make those decisions.

> * Should the project give the licence steward the power to change the
>    public licence unilaterally in the future in ways other than just
>    upgrading to newer versions ?  I think the answer is probably "yes"
>    because the licensing landscape for web applications isn't settled
>    yet.  Is this a good idea and how should it be done ?

The licensor can not change the license unless the licensor also owns 
the copyright for contributions. Contributions are owned by their 
authors. Therefor this is a rather moot point, unless your idea is to 
require copyright assignment as well as license assignment ala FSF, 
Canonical, MySQL.

>    Ideally it would be good to avoid requiring copyright assignment to
>    the licence steward.  Can this be achieved by some text in the
>    standard licence rubric eg
>      This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or
>      modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as
>      published by the Free Software Foundation, version 3, or (at your
>      option) any other general public free software licence publicly
>      endorsed for PROJECT by Software in the Public Interest Inc
>      (i.e. SPI is a proxy as described in s14 of the GNU GPLv3 but SPI
>      is not limited to endorsing only future versions of the GNU GPL).

I think this re-defines the point of a license. What I read that to say 
is, if I want to use project X, I can use it as any license that project 
X likes or GPLv3. However, I am a BSD License advocate, if project X 
doesn't like BSD (even though it is a Free license), I can't use it? 
That is bogus. I would let the standard license terms stand on their own.

>    (Along presumably with some Signed-off-by system for contributions.)
> * Personally I'm an AGPLv3 proponent.  The system ought to be suitable
>    for AGPLv3 provided that its submodules are AGPLv3-compatible (and
>    if they aren't, then we can probably write a licence exception).
>    (The main program I'm thinking of here is a Ruby on Rails
>    application.)  What are people's feelings about AGPLv3 ?

It is a license. I don't have feelings about it one way or another. 
However, as I noted earlier. I do not think it is SPI's responsibility 
to prefer any Free license over another.


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