Subject: Re: Ransom (long) (was: Mandatory donations...)
From: Stephen J. Turnbull <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: 16 Oct 2001 15:31:31 +0900

>>>>> "Adam" == Adam Theo <adamtheo@theoretic.com> writes:

    Adam> You mean use the FSF as a middle-man to verify and enforce
    Adam> the Ransom agreements? I think this would essentially be a
    Adam> good idea, although obviously details would have to be
    Adam> worked out.

That's out of context, but yes, I think that's a good idea.  And the
details probably aren't hard, you simply create a trust whose purpose
is to sign over the software on some specified date.  The FSF doesn't
even have to know it's part of your business strategy, AFAICT---
they'll accept any assignment.

Of course it would be impolite not to talk to them about it.  If this
took off, and generated profits for developers, it would impose an
administrative and possibly legal burden on the FSF.

    >> Yet there is controversy over the meaning of the "you can use
    >> your own code as you wish" clause.  I (and a lawyer formerly
    >> qualified at the California Bar in an unofficial opinion)
    >> believe that it is meaningless; the assignment means that all
    >> of the interesting uses are either already allowed by the GPL
    >> or reserved to the FSF.  But some people think they can base a
    >> dual licensing strategy on that clause.  I suspect that RMS's
    >> intent was that, but that if push comes to shove his lawyer
    >> will tell him that it contradicts the "all copies redistributed
    >> under the authority of the FSF will be free (after all, that is
    >> the poison pill that makes a Microsoft hostile takeover of the
    >> FSF unlikely ;-).

    Adam> Hmm... I don't know what you mean here, but am very
    Adam> interested in learning about this. Could you by chance
    Adam> explain the fundamentals of the issue, so I could know what
    Adam> to look into? Thank you.

It's kinda difficult to do research, since the FSF no longer publishes
the standard assignment papers last I heard.  To find out about the
"standard assignments" go to www.gnu.org and look up the instructions
for maintainers.  I've got a paper copy of my own stashed away
somewhere, but I don't know where to lay hands on an electronic one at
the moment.

The basic issue is a conversation that goes something like this:

Developer: I won't assign this; this widget would be useful in a
    proprietary project I'm working on, and an assignment would mean I
    would have to license that project under the GPL.

Advocate: That's not true.  The standard assignment allows you to use
    _your_ code any way you want.

Lawyer: Here "use" means "run".  Incorporating the code in a proprietary
    project requires a different license.  By definition of "copyright
    holder" the ability to relicense is reserved to the FSF.  But the
    FSF is not allowed to license under proprietary terms, by the
    conditions of the assignment itself, and presumably also its own
    covenants of incorporation.

This also means, by extension, that the FSF probably can't license
under non-Copyleft terms, because that could be interpreted as way to
avoid the strictures of the assignment and the covenant.

-- 
Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences     http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
              Don't ask how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.