Subject: Re: OT: Using collective-work copyright to upgrade from GPL v2 to v3
From: "Chris Travers" <chris.travers@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2007 09:56:27 -0700
Mon, 10 Sep 2007 09:56:27 -0700
THis is mostly to share my thoughts as a project leader (we have 6) for
LedgerSMB.

On 9/10/07, Donovan Hawkins <hawkins@cephira.com> wrote:
>
> On Sun, 9 Sep 2007, Rick Moen wrote:
>
> > Quoting Donovan Hawkins (hawkins@cephira.com):
> >
> >> What other injury does the "GPL partisan" suffer besides the
> ideological?
> >
> > Economic.  Continued issuance of a copyleft licence prevents, for good
> > or ill, third parties from creating proprietary forks in competition.
>
> If the contributor is your typical open-source developer then they aren't
> making money off the project in the first place. There is no actual
> monetary loss in going from 5 million users to 500 users if you charged
> $0 for each copy.


Furthermore, depending on which losers you lose, that might or might not
cause monetary loss in terms of support contracts to any of the
contributors.


If the contributor is a company or someone making money off distribution
> or support then you might be right, but then they might suffer actual
> losses when you switch to GPL v3 too if they depend on the "loopholes" of
> GPL v2. Chris Travers gave a good example of Tivo as a potential
> contributor to the Linux kernel, but I concede that it is probably not a
> common occurance.



In general, the issue is that when you go through a license change with
substantive legal differences, you change the rules of the game.  This will
favor some people and hurt others.  Furthermore these are big changes, and
it is a good idea to keep them to the minimum.

Furthermore, ideological issues can easily spill over into substantial
monetary and opportunity costs for those involved.  Bad press to the project
can financially hurt copyright owners, and that might open the way for real
monetary damages.  Furthermore, if a project were to undergo a viable fork,
then the userbase of the original "and with a new and improved license"
poject might drop, and this could cause a drop in current or future revenue
for the contributors..

My only point here is that taking the project to GPL v3 is not as
> risk-free as you make it seem.
>
>
> >> ...if you aren't willing to take the risk then why should the project
> >> leader?
> >
> > I can turn that around and ask why should the project leader take the
> > risk of not using the licence that best protects the interests of
> > his/her contributors.
>
> That is a strawman...the alternative is to get permission from your
> contributors, not stick with an inferior license. That is a reasonable
> price to pay for covering your ass, and the fact that your contributors
> will appreciate the respect is a bonus.



Ok. here is where I would draw the line for LedgerSMB:

1)  Only change licensing terms when the benefits to the specific project
are clear and necessary.
2)  Contact everyone who has made substantial contributions and get their
feedback on it.  Ask if anyone has a better idea.

I would suggest doing this even where one is upgrading a license in an
allowed way (for example, GPL2 or later to GPL3 or later).  Obviously the
more immediately necessary the license change is, the more substantial a
contribution has to be made for getting the feedback in the case that this
is allowed by the license.

This does not mean you track down every patch that has ever been made.  It
means that you track those patches which are one-off bug fixes from those
which are habitual bug-fix contributors and those who make larger
contributions.

> However, the merits of my analysis, or yours, do not hinge on whether I
> > (or you) are willing to volunteer to stake our personal savings to make
> > good random strangers' misfortune that they argue resulted from
> > variously implementing our recommendations.
>
> It acknowledges that there is at least some risk involved in following
> your advice, which justifies the choice of a project leader to secure
> permissions from his contributors as insurance.



There are possible risks which can turn into financial risks.  I would be
afraid less of what one is allowed to do under the law and what is *really*
good for a project.


>> You chose to remove the quote from you that I was replying to. If
> >> you'll take the time to look at it, you'll see I was replying to
> >> whether or not it was ethical.
> >
> > If you'll bother to read my reply, you'll note that I rejected that
> > line of rhetoric explicitly, as well, and stated my reason why.
>
> If you mean the same post, the only thing I see is your "non sequitur"
> comment directed towards another related point I made. In a previous post
> you used the strawman I pointed out above to claim it was not ethical to
> remain under the inferior license. If I've missed another mention then
> please correct me.
>
> Obviously neither of us can logically prove what is ethical.



I disagree.  Ethics is the systematic philosophical pursuit of defining what
is Good.  I do agree with Rick that the project leaders need to take an
ethical duty to protect the contributors legally, etc.  This is good
practice.  However, I disagree that it is generally OK to change the license
without asking.  This can cause problems for a project.

(Ok, suppose I have a GPL 2+ project and the GPL3 is ruled to be copyright
misuse.  The safe thing to do is to change the work as a whole immediately
to GPL2 only and then open up discussions with contributors as to what to do
about it).

I believe that stability is a wonderful goal in society, in politics, in
software engineering, and in licensing.  Stability is a good thing because
it provides some degree of consistency and certainty, and avoids changes
which can result in unforeseen problems etc.  It also helps to build
confidence among the contributors.  This doesn't mean that sometimes change
isn't necessary, but the need for change needs to be weighted against the
good of stability.  Since Rick seems intent on giving out Legal Advice, I
will point out that, although IANAL, this attitude is very close to that
which leads to stare decisis.


I stand by my
> claim that changing to a license which is philosophically different
> without asking your contributors is unethical and will earn you their
> justified anger.



And hence, doing so without clear and unambiguous necessity is ethically
questionable.


I offer Linus Torvalds as an example of someone who
> appears to respect that ethic in his own project...his "benevolent
> dictatorship" recognizes the copyrights retained by the contributors and
> grants them rights that the law may or may not grant.
>
> I don't know of any other meaningful way to assert the existence of an
> ethic besides showing examples of the ethic in practice.



Well, I would define Good in open source software development to be:
1)  Harmony among contributors and community members (though constructive
tension is a form of harmony)
2)  Good pace of development
3)  Producing quality software
4)  Legal security of the project
5)  Growing userbase who appreciates the project and the community.

So the ethical question is how a license change affects the above criteria.
This would be fairly fact dependant, for example, the exact reasons for the
license change and the type of members in the community, a license change
has the potential to cause problems in every one of the above criteria,
hence unless it is a response to an even greater threat, I could not see it
as ethical.  If the threat is distant or only a potential issue, then
talking with the contributors to the extent possible will lessen the
problems and is therefore the ethical thing to do.

Best Wishes,
Chris Travers


THis is mostly to share my thoughts as a project leader (we have 6) for LedgerSMB.

On 9/10/07, Donovan Hawkins < hawkins@cephira.com> wrote:
On Sun, 9 Sep 2007, Rick Moen wrote:

> Quoting Donovan Hawkins ( hawkins@cephira.com):
>
>> What other injury does the "GPL partisan" suffer besides the ideological?
>
> Economic.  Continued issuance of a copyleft licence prevents, for good
> or ill, third parties from creating proprietary forks in competition.

If the contributor is your typical open-source developer then they aren't
making money off the project in the first place. There is no actual
monetary loss in going from 5 million users to 500 users if you charged
$0 for each copy.

Furthermore, depending on which losers you lose, that might or might not cause monetary loss in terms of support contracts to any of the contributors.
 

If the contributor is a company or someone making money off distribution
or support then you might be right, but then they might suffer actual
losses when you switch to GPL v3 too if they depend on the "loopholes" of
GPL v2. Chris Travers gave a good example of Tivo as a potential
contributor to the Linux kernel, but I concede that it is probably not a
common occurance.


In general, the issue is that when you go through a license change with substantive legal differences, you change the rules of the game.  This will favor some people and hurt others.  Furthermore these are big changes, and it is a good idea to keep them to the minimum.

Furthermore, ideological issues can easily spill over into substantial monetary and opportunity costs for those involved.  Bad press to the project can financially hurt copyright owners, and that might open the way for real monetary damages.  Furthermore, if a project were to undergo a viable fork, then the userbase of the original "and with a new and improved license" poject might drop, and this could cause a drop in current or future revenue for the contributors..

My only point here is that taking the project to GPL v3 is not as
risk-free as you make it seem.


>> ...if you aren't willing to take the risk then why should the project
>> leader?
>
> I can turn that around and ask why should the project leader take the
> risk of not using the licence that best protects the interests of
> his/her contributors.

That is a strawman...the alternative is to get permission from your
contributors, not stick with an inferior license. That is a reasonable
price to pay for covering your ass, and the fact that your contributors
will appreciate the respect is a bonus.


Ok. here is where I would draw the line for LedgerSMB:

1)  Only change licensing terms when the benefits to the specific project are clear and necessary.
2)  Contact everyone who has made substantial contributions and get their feedback on it.  Ask if anyone has a better idea.

I would suggest doing this even where one is upgrading a license in an allowed way (for example, GPL2 or later to GPL3 or later).  Obviously the more immediately necessary the license change is, the more substantial a contribution has to be made for getting the feedback in the case that this is allowed by the license.

This does not mean you track down every patch that has ever been made.  It means that you track those patches which are one-off bug fixes from those which are habitual bug-fix contributors and those who make larger contributions.

> However, the merits of my analysis, or yours, do not hinge on whether I
> (or you) are willing to volunteer to stake our personal savings to make
> good random strangers' misfortune that they argue resulted from
> variously implementing our recommendations.

It acknowledges that there is at least some risk involved in following
your advice, which justifies the choice of a project leader to secure
permissions from his contributors as insurance.


There are possible risks which can turn into financial risks.  I would be afraid less of what one is allowed to do under the law and what is *really* good for a project.
 

>> You chose to remove the quote from you that I was replying to. If
>> you'll take the time to look at it, you'll see I was replying to
>> whether or not it was ethical.
>
> If you'll bother to read my reply, you'll note that I rejected that
> line of rhetoric explicitly, as well, and stated my reason why.

If you mean the same post, the only thing I see is your "non sequitur"
comment directed towards another related point I made. In a previous post
you used the strawman I pointed out above to claim it was not ethical to
remain under the inferior license. If I've missed another mention then
please correct me.

Obviously neither of us can logically prove what is ethical.


I disagree.  Ethics is the systematic philosophical pursuit of defining what is Good.  I do agree with Rick that the project leaders need to take an ethical duty to protect the contributors legally, etc.  This is good practice.  However, I disagree that it is generally OK to change the license without asking.  This can cause problems for a project.

(Ok, suppose I have a GPL 2+ project and the GPL3 is ruled to be copyright misuse.  The safe thing to do is to change the work as a whole immediately to GPL2 only and then open up discussions with contributors as to what to do about it).

I believe that stability is a wonderful goal in society, in politics, in software engineering, and in licensing.  Stability is a good thing because it provides some degree of consistency and certainty, and avoids changes which can result in unforeseen problems etc.  It also helps to build confidence among the contributors.  This doesn't mean that sometimes change isn't necessary, but the need for change needs to be weighted against the good of stability.  Since Rick seems intent on giving out Legal Advice, I will point out that, although IANAL, this attitude is very close to that which leads to stare decisis.
 

I stand by my
claim that changing to a license which is philosophically different
without asking your contributors is unethical and will earn you their
justified anger.


And hence, doing so without clear and unambiguous necessity is ethically questionable.
 

I offer Linus Torvalds as an example of someone who
appears to respect that ethic in his own project...his "benevolent
dictatorship" recognizes the copyrights retained by the contributors and
grants them rights that the law may or may not grant.

I don't know of any other meaningful way to assert the existence of an
ethic besides showing examples of the ethic in practice.


Well, I would define Good in open source software development to be:
1)  Harmony among contributors and community members (though constructive tension is a form of harmony)
2)  Good pace of development
3)  Producing quality software
4)  Legal security of the project
5)  Growing userbase who appreciates the project and the community.

So the ethical question is how a license change affects the above criteria.  This would be fairly fact dependant, for example, the exact reasons for the license change and the type of members in the community, a license change has the potential to cause problems in every one of the above criteria, hence unless it is a response to an even greater threat, I could not see it as ethical.  If the threat is distant or only a potential issue, then talking with the contributors to the extent possible will lessen the problems and is therefore the ethical thing to do.

Best Wishes,
Chris Travers