Subject: Re: Implicit copyright assignment? (was Re: Who holds the copyright?)
From: Stan Shebs <>
Date: 18 Nov 1999 11:09:42 -0800 (Bradley M. Kuhn) writes:

> Brian Behlendorf wrote:
> > On Wed, 17 Nov 1999, Russell Nelson wrote:
> > > [1] Anything, that is, with a small enough set of copyright holders to
> > > actually *agree* to change a license.
> > I would hope that if it ever went to court, the courts would find that
> > when someone submits a patch to the copyright owners, absent any other
> > legal contract, there'd be an implied contract granting copyright.  But
> > who knows.
> This seems pretty problematic to me, though.  It could be that the main
> developer decides to proprietarize and thus taking away the work of of the
> free software developers.

Indeed, that is exactly what happened when MIT sold Macsyma rights to
Symbolics, and all those MIT Lisp hackers, including one Richard
Stallman, discovered that they didn't have any rights over code that
they had written.  So this is not a hypothetical situation.  (Not all
bad though, since it catalyzed the formation of GNU... :-) )

What could happen with Linux is something similar to the process of
freeing up BSD - somebody asserts ownership of a piece of the kernel,
there is much panicking and running around and general FUD, somebody
else writes a unencumbered substitute, the panicking subsides. :-)

I'll bet a dollar that there is at least 1 page of code in the Linux
system that is somehow owned by Microsoft - we just don't know which

> I think it's better if folks, when patching, give a copyright assignment to
> the primary developer.  Then, there's no ambiguity, and everyone knows
> what's going on.
> Baring that, folks should add their name to copyright.
> (Of course, I am one of those radical folks who believes free software works
>  best if a trusted non-profit (like the FSF) holds the copyright. :)

Amen.  Copyright assignment is a slightly paranoid policy, but wise,
given what we know about the large dinosaurs wandering over the
software landscape...