Planning for decades
Posted Mar 29, 2012 1:55 UTC (Thu) by jzbiciak
(✭ supporter ✭
In reply to: Planning for decades
Parent article: A turning point for GNU libc
Disallow anyone except the FSF, you mean. The FSF has very carefully set things up such that they trust themselves with unilateral action, but no one else.
Anyone who has released code under a "GPL version X or later" has left themselves open to whatever the FSF decides the next version of the GPL would say. If the FSF decided tomorrow that GPL v4 will read exactly as the 3-clause BSD license (minus references to UCB, of course), suddenly vast mountains of GPL software would be available under a BSD license (effectively) with no feedback or input from the software's authors.
If that's not unilateral, what is it? We only trust that the FSF wouldn't do that. They've earned it, but let's face it: They wield a fair bit of unilateral power here. The power above derives from their special status as the only source of future versions of the GPL.
But that isn't the issue at hand. Copyright assignment was. I'm getting there... So, assume the GPL is a fixed thing, and let's move on to copyright assignment.
When the FSF talks of "unilateral action" in a negative light, they mean by anyone but themselves. That doesn't mean that the FSF doesn't want to engage in unilateral actions. Their own reasons for copyright assignment page makes it plain that they want to be able to litigate unilaterally with respect to the software, and they can do that only if they own all the copyrights.
If there are multiple authors of a copyrighted work, successful enforcement depends on having the cooperation of all authors. In order to make sure that all of our copyrights can meet the recordkeeping and other requirements of registration, and in order to be able to enforce the GPL most effectively, FSF requires that each author of code incorporated in FSF projects provide a copyright assignment, and, where appropriate, a disclaimer of any work-for-hire ownership claims by the programmer's employer. That way we can be sure that all the code in FSF projects is free code, whose freedom we can most effectively protect . . . .
I read the highlighted "we" as meaning "the FSF and its legal team," not "the community at large." That sounds pretty unilateral to me.
So there you have it, two axes of unilaterality:
- Anyone who uses a "GPL version X or later" is automatically subject to whatever GPL license the FSF publishes in the future. They've opened themselves to that unilateral action.
- The FSF wants to be able to bring legal action with status and standing as "sole copyright holder" on behalf of software contributed to the FSF.
What the GPL effectively prevents is proprietary forks and unilateral action against a project by anyone else. Nobody else can release a new GPL license. And if folks assign their copyrights to FSF for FSF-maintained code, that grants no rights to anyone who isn't FSF.
How is it not clear that the FSF is in the cat bird seat here?
FWIW, I release all my software either under a GPL v2 (or GPL v2 and later) license, or I release it to the public domain if it's small enough to be inconsequential. I'm not against the GPL or the FSF. But, please understand that the FSF does have some special unilateral powers with respect to certain GPL uses, and for code submitted to an FSF-maintained project they ask for a few more unilateral powers.
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