Discussion:
Which is better, assignment of rights, or licensing rights? (Tentacles of Evil Test)
(too old to reply)
Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
2018-10-17 15:06:58 UTC
Permalink
I was reviewing the tests that Paul Tagliamonte pointed me to in the "RE: What are the tests? was: RE: [Non-DoD Source] Re: MongoDB Server Side Public License, Version 1 (SSPL v1)" thread, and it got me to thinking about the IP rights, and the Tentacles of Evil Test. All of the Free licenses I know of are exactly that; licenses of rights. However, I know that some companies really want assignments of rights. I can see arguments going both ways. The upside of assigning rights means that if there are conflicting licenses, then lawyers can normalize the entire package to a single license. It is also possible to change the license if a hole is found in one. The downside is that Evil Corp. can arbitrarily change the terms of the license for the complete package, rather than just the portions that they own, potentially preventing contributors from continuing work on material that they developed and contributed.

In my personal view, I think that Debian should lean towards licenses, and discourage assignments where possible; that ensures that if someone is a bad actor, then there will still be a chance to fork the code and continue open development as all the good actors will still have the necessary ownership over the parts that they contributed.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Cem Karan
Florian Weimer
2018-10-17 19:23:02 UTC
Permalink
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
In my personal view, I think that Debian should lean towards licenses,
and discourage assignments where possible; that ensures that if
someone is a bad actor, then there will still be a chance to fork the
code and continue open development as all the good actors will still
have the necessary ownership over the parts that they contributed.
I think what you call “assignments” is about contributions to
upstream. This does not directly affect what Debian ships (unless a
software license stipulates that any change is automatically licensed
(assigned?) to the original developer). It is a personal decision of
each Debian/upstream contributor. I assume that this is the reason
why it rarely comes up on debian-legal.

In practice, I see zero benefit from assignment. One of the largest
holders of assignments uses different licenses for programs and
documentation, so you cannot generate API documentation from doctext
strings, and they do not respond at all to relicensing requests when
there's an obvious mistake and the wrong license is used for a source
file. That's two cases where assignments should greately simplify
matters, but that's not what happens in my experience.
Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
2018-10-17 19:53:33 UTC
Permalink
Post by Florian Weimer
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
In my personal view, I think that Debian should lean towards licenses,
and discourage assignments where possible; that ensures that if
someone is a bad actor, then there will still be a chance to fork the
code and continue open development as all the good actors will still
have the necessary ownership over the parts that they contributed.
I think what you call “assignments” is about contributions to
upstream. This does not directly affect what Debian ships (unless a
software license stipulates that any change is automatically licensed
(assigned?) to the original developer). It is a personal decision of
each Debian/upstream contributor. I assume that this is the reason
why it rarely comes up on debian-legal.
In practice, I see zero benefit from assignment. One of the largest
holders of assignments uses different licenses for programs and
documentation, so you cannot generate API documentation from doctext
strings, and they do not respond at all to relicensing requests when
there's an obvious mistake and the wrong license is used for a source
file. That's two cases where assignments should greately simplify
matters, but that's not what happens in my experience.
When I use the term "assignment", I mean that the original copyright/IP owner
gives the ownership of the IP to some other entity. The problem is that the
new owner can choose new licensing terms as they fit, as the IP is now their
property. Choosing licensing means that there are many, many different actors
working together; if one arbitrarily changes the license terms for what they
own, it has no effect on the parts that they don't own. For example, if you
and I are working on a project together, I can choose to change the license on
the portions of the code that I own[1], but this has no effect on your
property, which makes it pointless for me to try to change the license as I
can't take over what you own. However, if you had assigned the IP rights in
what you developed to me, I could choose the license that material is
redistributed under[2], potentially sending you a cease & desist letter when
you try to redistribute material you generated.

The big advantage of licensing is that it requires the collusion of all of the
owners to change the license; if there is only one owner (Evil Corp), they can
change the license arbitrarily.

Thanks,
Cem Karan

[1] Good OSS licenses ensure that it is impossible to retroactively revoke any
permissions granted, so material that is already out there should stay out
there.

[2] Unless you were clever, and assigned the rights to using some contract
clauses that stipulated how the material could be distributed, etc.
Florian Weimer
2018-10-17 21:44:49 UTC
Permalink
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
When I use the term "assignment", I mean that the original
copyright/IP owner gives the ownership of the IP to some other
entity. The problem is that the new owner can choose new licensing
terms as they fit, as the IP is now their property. Choosing
licensing means that there are many, many different actors working
together; if one arbitrarily changes the license terms for what they
own, it has no effect on the parts that they don't own. For
example, if you and I are working on a project together, I can
choose to change the license on the portions of the code that I
own[1], but this has no effect on your property, which makes it
pointless for me to try to change the license as I can't take over
what you own. However, if you had assigned the IP rights in what
you developed to me, I could choose the license that material is
redistributed under[2], potentially sending you a cease & desist
letter when you try to redistribute material you generated.
The flip side is that without effective assignment, the copyright
situation becomes so murky that you are seriously limited in what you
can do with a work. We have enough experience today that suggests
that is generally not the case with free software licensing, despite
the highly informal nature of the arrangements. That outcome must not
have been obvious 20, 30 years ago, which may have prompted some
people to go after assignments historically.
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
[1] Good OSS licenses ensure that it is impossible to retroactively
revoke any permissions granted, so material that is already out
there should stay out there.
OSS licenses cannot circumvent applicable law. The EU is working on
giving authors new inalienable rights in this area, allowing them to
claim additional compensation.
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
[2] Unless you were clever, and assigned the rights to using some contract
clauses that stipulated how the material could be distributed, etc.
The FSF has such provisions in many of their assignment contracts.
Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
2018-10-18 14:49:36 UTC
Permalink
Post by Florian Weimer
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
When I use the term "assignment", I mean that the original
copyright/IP owner gives the ownership of the IP to some other
entity. The problem is that the new owner can choose new licensing
terms as they fit, as the IP is now their property. Choosing
licensing means that there are many, many different actors working
together; if one arbitrarily changes the license terms for what they
own, it has no effect on the parts that they don't own. For
example, if you and I are working on a project together, I can
choose to change the license on the portions of the code that I
own[1], but this has no effect on your property, which makes it
pointless for me to try to change the license as I can't take over
what you own. However, if you had assigned the IP rights in what
you developed to me, I could choose the license that material is
redistributed under[2], potentially sending you a cease & desist
letter when you try to redistribute material you generated.
The flip side is that without effective assignment, the copyright
situation becomes so murky that you are seriously limited in what you
can do with a work. We have enough experience today that suggests
that is generally not the case with free software licensing, despite
the highly informal nature of the arrangements. That outcome must not
have been obvious 20, 30 years ago, which may have prompted some
people to go after assignments historically.
I accept that it was a difficult question when OSS principles and licenses
were being developed, but I think things are clearer today than they were back
then (or at least, there is a lot of prior art that people will be relying on
going forwards). Given that, I'm suggesting that we should favor licensing
over assignment of rights. That's all.
Post by Florian Weimer
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
[1] Good OSS licenses ensure that it is impossible to retroactively
revoke any permissions granted, so material that is already out
there should stay out there.
OSS licenses cannot circumvent applicable law. The EU is working on
giving authors new inalienable rights in this area, allowing them to
claim additional compensation.
Absolutely true. I'm not an EU citizen and not familiar with the changes
being promulgated, can you briefly describe what the EU is planning?
Post by Florian Weimer
Post by Karan, Cem F CIV USARMY RDECOM ARL (US)
[2] Unless you were clever, and assigned the rights to using some contract
clauses that stipulated how the material could be distributed, etc.
The FSF has such provisions in many of their assignment contracts.
I know, and I'm glad that they do. However, I still prefer licensing over
assignments, simply because of what can happen if a copyright owner is subject
to the whims of a single government. Large projects tend to have contributers
from across the planet; even if one government decides to do something that
makes common OSS principles impossible to obey, they can only affect the
portions of the code that their citizens in their countries have contributed.
It would hurt a project, but wouldn't kill it, which means that it can survive
the attack.

Thanks,
Cem Karan

Continue reading on narkive:
Loading...