Re: Copyright issues re Debian website

From: Jimmy Kaplowitz <jimmy(at)spi-inc(dot)org>
To: Bruce Perens <bruce(at)perens(dot)com>
Cc: spi-general(at)lists(dot)spi-inc(dot)org, Ian Jackson <ijackson(at)chiark(dot)greenend(dot)org(dot)uk>
Subject: Re: Copyright issues re Debian website
Date: 2008-03-07 17:41:46
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On Thu, Mar 06, 2008 at 07:55:37AM -0800, Bruce Perens wrote:
> Ian Jackson wrote:
> > It describes a problem very similar that that of the Debian
> > website copyright (we don't know exactly who the copyright holders
> > are, can't contact them, and wish to make what would be an infringing
> > use).
> It would indeed be improper to use the procedure that I outlined in the
> case of the conventional orphan copyright holder, Open Source projects
> are different because of the collective nature of the work. The process
> I outlined was suggested some years ago by Larry Rosen, who is an attorney.

At least with regard to relicensing of open source projects, Sun's
lawyers seem to have come to the same conclusion as I did regarding the
need to contact every single contributor and get everyone to agree:

"Consolidated copyright of code also allows for the possibility of
relicensing the whole code base should that become desirable. When
starting an open source project, the choice of license is intended to be
permanent, but the experience of the past few years is that the ability
to relicense a project is a useful tool in meeting challenges to free
and open source software (and especially challenges from the proprietary
software market), and not having that flexibility may be a drawback.
Without aggregated copyright, every single contributor must be contacted
and unanimity reached in order to relicense a code base, or parts of the
code must be reimplemented. This is true for all but the most
permissively-licensed open source projects."

This page is a FAQ about a legal IP agreement offered by Sun, so
presumably it was written by their lawyers as generally applicable legal
information. Also, based on the Mozilla project
(which has always had lawyers involved given how it grew out of Netscape
and drafted its own software license) seemed to come to the same
conclusion during their relicensing process. I still won't claim to be a
lawyer or to be proferring specific legal advice as applied to a
particular set of facts and circumstances, but this confirms what every
lawyer-written source and almost all other sources has said as far as
I've seen.

- Jimmy Kaplowitz


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