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Re: Sponsorship requirements and copyright files

Russ Allbery <rra@debian.org> writes:

> Ben Finney <ben+debian@benfinney.id.au> writes:
> > I am working from the assumption that we need, at least in
> > principle, to maintain an accurate knowledge of the copyright
> > status of the works we distribute in Debian. I base that
> > assumption on the necessity of that information when evaluating
> > claims (made against the Debian project) of copyright infringement
> > in those works.
> Why? Serious question -- as I say, I could be missing something.

I'm not sure what your “why” specifically refers to. I'll assume
it's entirely covered by your following paragraph.

> I can't imagine when the debian/copyright file would ever be useful
> in that respect. If someone actually threatens litigation, surely
> we'd have to look at the specific files and review the notices
> therein

Yes, and that necessity is entirely predictable when we begin
packaging the work, and while we maintain newer releases of that work.

> and outside of that, I don't see why it ever matters to us which
> named people or organizations hold the copyright on files as long as
> there's a clear license. But maybe I'm having a failure of
> imagination?

The point is that, since we can predict the need for this information,
we have the choice of assuming the information is there when we
distribute and never looking for it until the need arises in the face
of such a threat, or looking for it in advance of distribution and
hence in advance of exposure to that threat. I think it's clear that
the latter option is preferable.

On that basis, it would be foolish having *already* checked carefully
that the copyright status is accurately known to then discard that
information rather than recording it in a single documented location
for others to verify.

The only alternatives that seems to be on offer are either not
checking the copyright information is accurate before distributing, or
not recording what we learn in that check for later verification that
the check was done at all. I argue that both of those are inferior to
doing the check before distributing, and recording the result of that
check in a single documented location.

> > If ignorance of the copyright status of a work were a valid
> > defense, that would certainly obviate the burden for a distributor
> > to actively maintain accurate copyright status knowledge in the
> > works they distribute. I don't think that's true, though.
> I don't really follow the logic. Copyright notices are pretty much
> irrelevant for copyright claims, at least in Berne countries, so far
> as I understand it.

Yes. That only leads to the ludicrous, but entirely real, situation
that we are in: it is incumbent on any distributor of a work to
establish that they have license to do what they're doing from the
copyright holders, which necessarily means knowing who *are* the
copyright holders in the work.

> What matters is knowledge of the license the work is released under.

Which necessitates knowledge of who is empowered to grant that
license: i.e. the full set of copyright holders in the work.

Collecting copyright notices isn't a requirement under copyright law:
works that are copyright-restricted continue to be so with or without
the notice. But unless we have the information typically contained in
such notices, we are operating completely in the dark as to who is
empowered to restrict distribution or grant it.

 \          “It is well to remember that the entire universe, with one |
  `\   trifling exception, is composed of others.” —John Andrew Holmes |
_o__)                                                                  |
Ben Finney

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