[OSGeo-Discuss] Software Copyright ownership

Arnulf Christl seven at arnulf.us
Sun Dec 13 18:58:01 EST 2009

What do folks think about software Copyright ownership? OSGeo could 
suggest that project steering committees move the Copyright of their 
software under the hood of OSGeo as GeoTools and others already did. In 
some cases the respective project steering committees might not be able 
to do such a thing because they do not own it in the first place. Is 
that a good situation?

To my knowledge (this needs verification) Apache has all its projects 
under their own license and owns the copyright for the code. Very 
straightforward. Outside of Open Source in the standards arena Google 
has given the Copyright of KML to the OGC - which is good. In 
OpenStreetMap not doing this has resulted in arguably unresolvable 
licensing problems.

Let me predict that the "user community" (remember 2005/11) will 
probably favor such an approach (and with big lamento) and that current 
Copyright owners of code and trademarks might be rather more reluctant.

A recent example that shows what problems can be caused by not clearly 
separating Copyright, business ownership and trademarks is MySQL. The 
company "MySQL AB" operated the project "MySQL" and sold the product 
"MySQL" under a dual licensing schema. Now MySQL AB (the company) is 
owned by Oracle. Who owns the copyright of the project MySQL? And what 
happens to the trademarks?

I generally do not agree with Monty[1] (twittered by James Fee) and 
believe that he has other motivations and should have taken preventive 
measures up front to avoid what is happening right now. But whatever the 
outcome of this fight it for sure has been damaging to the project.

In a response/comment from Groklaw (twittered by Paul Ramsey):

"And on what legal basis would anyone have authority to change the 
license, other than the copyright holder? Are you seriously suggesting 
that a regulatory body decide the license instead of the copyright 
owner? What a reckless idea."

My private opinion on this issue is pretty clear: Move your Copyright to 
OSGeo - all of it including trademarks, logos and designs. That is what 
OSGeo is there for. Get it out of corporate reach, it is none of their 
business (great analogy, hehe). Is their any advantage of keeping the 
Copyright under a private property?

What I get back from corporate users of Open Source software these days 
is the same, they would rather have the Copyright sit with a (real) 
non-profit like OSGeo than anything else.

Just a last note: This thread might grow large (these soft topics where 
everybody seems to be expert are abominable). Please do not use IANAL in 
any post, just argue straight forward to your point.

/me slowly walks off for cover

Best regards,

[1] http://monty-says.blogspot.com/2009/12/help-saving-mysql.html

Arnulf Christl

Exploring Space, Time and Mind

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