Subject: Re: Open Source and Contributor Agreements
From: Simon Phipps <>
Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005 02:13:46 +0000
Sun, 27 Nov 2005 02:13:46 +0000
Hi David,

I think you're confusing licensing with governance here.

On Nov 26, 2005, at 05:36, 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).

No, "contributors" is the wrong word here. I think it would be better  
to say all developers have equal rights to use and derive works from  
source code.

> - 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, absolutely not. All developers, individually or aggregated in  
communities, have the right to decide what processes their  
development will follow. That may well include not accepting any  
input from others, or deciding that input from others will only be  
accepted when certain processes are followed. Rules of governance  
like this are orthogonal to licensing. Open source licensing ensures  
that, if you don't agree with the processes a given developer or  
group of developers follows, you remain free to do it your way  
instead of theirs.

> - 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, the practice of self-determination is fundamental to the freedom  
of developers. The "right to fork" also includes the "right to not  
fork" :-)

> - 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. Where a contributor agreement is part of the process a group of  
developers follows to be assured of the integrity of the code they  
use, clarity and simplicity is greatly preferred. I am just reviewing  
a revised agreement for use wherever Sun is a project steward, in  
response to input from various developers that the agreement we've  
used until now needed improvement.

> - 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.

My view is that contributor agreements are firmly the domain of  
project governance and have no place in software licenses.

> Is this accurate?
> -david

Those are my views and not necessarily Sun's. Hope that helps.


["application/pkcs7-signature" not shown]