Subject: Re: Open Source and Contributor Agreements
From: Brian C <>
Date: Fri, 25 Nov 2005 23:18:14 -0800

That's so inaccurate it makes it appear you are trying to deliberately 

If you're sincere, then answers are interspersed below:

David Barrett wrote:
> Still seeking closure on this.  Can anyone confirm or deny the following 
> reasoning:
> - Open source has an unstated principle that all contributors are equal; 
> nobody has any greater or lesser rights to the source than anyone else 
> (copyright excluded).

With the big proviso "copyright excluded" (and patent) this probably is 
a principle of open source. However, it's hardly unstated. I'd say the 
open source definition points 5, 6, and 7 are all directed at this.

> - Groups who maintain a branch of an open project but restrict "commit" 
> privileges to those who grant extra rights that group -- even with the 
> best intentions -- are fundamentally subverting the openness of the 
> project.

No. In fact, it's somewhat irresponsible to allow all comers to have 
commit privileges. For an open source project to protect itself, to 
enforce its own license, and to ensure it can obey the law, projects 
should generally be advised to only allow commit privileges to those who 
have either entered into a contributor agreement with the project or 
granted the project a clear license to the code (along with some other 

> - This anti-open practice is grudgingly tolerated due to its prevalance 
> among some of the most respected, influential, and long-lived open 
> source projects.

No. It's grudgingly tolerated because this is how copyright law works 
right now. The realities of the legal system open source projects find 
themselves in demand that they deal with these issues.

> - However, this tolerance is contigent upon the contributor agreement 
> being cumbersome, thereby ensuring nobody accidentally trades away 
> rights that a "true" open source project withholds.

No. This is so munged its hard to reply to accurately. Contributor 
agreements should be as far from cumbersome as possible. However, if 
that agreement is to include an assignment of (C), then the law 
currently requires a signed writing, which is invariably more cumbersome 
than clicking "I agree". It's also true that while ease-of-use is a 
desirable trait in any such process, ensuring that contributors 
understand their rights and understand what they are agreeing to is also 
equally important.

> - Because an opt-out contributor agreement integrated into the license 
> is too easy, it's too likely to cause people to accidentally give rights 
> to the maintainer, and thus too anti-open to be approved by the OSI.

Only the OSI board can say what will and won't be approved by them, but 
again this seems so far off as to be hard to reply to accurately. If the 
contributor agreement is to include a (C) assignment, then the law in 
the U.S. wouldn't even permit it to be part of a mere license that 
wasn't a signed writing. If it contains a specific license-back to a 
specified individual or group then it probably discriminates against 
everyone else.