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Re: Copyright and License Guidelines

On Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 4:32 PM, Russ Allbery <rra@debian.org> wrote:
> You're saying that the majority of free software in existence is illegal,
> since practically everyone outside the FSF and similar large organizations
> does this.  Even the Linux kernel does this.  Perl itself does this; there
> is code and text written by me in SDBM_File, Porting/Contract, and

Just because everyone is doing something, doesn't make it correct. As
mentioned, there are plenty of projects using CLAs to provide
additional clarity vis-a-vis ownership of contributions. But two
issues are at play here:

1. Software and copyright law have not historically played well. If I
wrote a poem to put in your book, there is no question that I retain
copyright over my work. But since copyright was not designed for
software, it is no wonder that it is not compatible with the way
software works. Whether software should even be copyrightable is
another matter altogether.

2. We are trusting that upstream has the correct copyright information.

>    Perl is Copyright (C) 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000,
>    2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 by Larry Wall and
>    others.  All rights reserved.

Sure, but do you see who "others" are? The "correct" thing to do is
extract copyright information from the AUTHORS file:

> You're making an extraordinary claim that I think requires extraordinary
> proof.

Not at all. My claims come from the Berne Convention for the
Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (whether or not software
falls under the umbrella of the Berne Convention's protection is
beyond the scope of this discussion. I am not certain it does.)

>From the fantastic summary of the Berne Convention (section 1b):

"Such protection must not be conditional upon compliance with any
formality (principle of “automatic” protection)"

As I understand it, this is the clause that means: you have copyright
over anything you write automatically. You don't need to formally
declare a copyright statement in order to hold copyright over what you
write. Contrariwise, if you do not formally surrender your copyright
(and note that even this is a gray area, as some countries do not
allow authors to surrender their rights), then you retain copyright on
your work.

Going back to my earlier example... If I publish some poetry, without
attribution and without a copyright statement, the Berne Convention
holds that I still have protection over my work. If you then take my
poem and put it in some anthology, I can sue you because I did not
give you permission to do so (you had no license to do that).

Now, the question of whether adding some code constitutes the same
thing as "poetry" is the real crux of this argument, and is, as I
mentioned, way beyond the scope of this discussion.



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