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Re: Contributor agreements and copyright assignment

Wouter Verhelst <wouter@debian.org> writes:
> On Sat, Dec 01, 2012 at 10:24:53AM +0100, Tollef Fog Heen wrote:
>> ]] Wouter Verhelst 
>> [...]

>>> Personally, I'm not comfortable signing off my copyright to the FSF,
>>> for the very same reason I'm not comfortable signing off copyright to
>>> Canonical: while both are led by a person whom so far hasn't show much
>>> reason for me to distrust them, it is also true that both leaders have
>>> an agenda that I don't completely trust or agree with.

>> The FSF is bound by its bylaws.

> So are most corporations.

Depending on how much you trust US law (and depending on the state in
which the non-profit is formed), there is a fairly substantial difference.
Board members of non-profits can be held personally legally liable to the
public for running the non-profit "in the public interest," and there is
some oversight by the state attorney general that the non-profit is really
being run according to its mission and bylaws.

This oversight essentially does not exist for even publicly-traded
corporations in the US, even though it's theoretically possible.  Short of
illegal activity or similar levels of active malfeasance, corporate
charters and bylaws are essentially meaningless.  And privately held
companies have even less oversight than that (they are, for example, not
even required to have any sort of bylaws).  I don't recall if Canonical is
publicly traded or not.

I'm mostly familiar with non-profit law in New York and I assume the FSF
is chartered in Massachusetts, so I'm not sure how much it carries over,
but the oversight in New York is actually quite substantial.

> Only in that they promise to keep your contributions free software.
> While that is okay in and of itself, the FSF bylaws don't specify what
> their idea of freedom entails, and indeed has on occasion proven that
> their idea of freedom is less strict than ours.

Certainly, no state attorney general is likely to get involved in this
sort of dispute.  The oversight would only happen with more egregious

Russ Allbery (rra@debian.org)               <http://www.eyrie.org/~eagle/>

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