Not all contributor agreements are created equal
Posted May 13, 2011 2:23 UTC (Fri) by rickmoen
In reply to: Not all contributor agreements are created equal
Parent article: Ubuntu developer summit
What's the point of keeping the copyright of a handful of lines of code?
You ask that as if doing so created a problem. In my experience (in the general case), it doesn't. Bugfix patches traditionally don't even include an author-credit comment line, so the codebase maintainer cannot be even said to be burdened by an overflowing credits list. So, no, it doesn't 'complicate matters for everybody'. In fact, it doesn't require anybody to do anything they're not already doing by default.
The codebase maintainer's only burden, actually, is to avoid injuring the property interests of the various copyright holders, who might otherwise sue if they can prove 'actual damages' from copyright infringement, which for all practical purposes can happen only by purporting to adopt a new licence grossly out of step with the existing one.
And that raises the more important question: Why is the codebase maintainer seeking copyright assignments? There's really only the one, obvious reason: The maintainer wants the option to use other people's property in ways they might not consent to, e.g., in proprietary forks, and wishes to avert that problem through complete ownership.
Strictly speaking, by the way, the author of a bugfix patch might not even gain copyright title at all. Copyright arises only from works with 'some minimal degree of creativity' (see Feist Publications decision). Code that is purely functional or for compatibility with existing interfaces thus might not be copyright-eligible (something only a judge could decide). More important, alleged owners of unregistered copyright over a very small contribution would seldom have much in the way of available remedies.
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