On assignment as it relates to enforcement
Posted Dec 20, 2012 22:21 UTC (Thu) by bkuhn
Parent article: GnuTLS, copyright assignment, and GNU project governance
I'm the only person in the world who is involved with both Software Freedom Conservancy and the FSF, and I've also likely spent more time on GPL enforcement than anyone on the planet, so I feel I have some authority to speak on that subject.
The article is correct wherein it says that Conservancy's GPL compliance work has shown that enforcement is possible in a multi-copyright-held project. I do that every single day. But, there is no question that the work is easier if the non-profit that seeks to enforce holds an overwhelming majority of the copyrights.
Basically, those of us who enforce in the USA used to think that the curve between “copyrights held” to “ease of enforcement” was exponential — in that it got exponentially easier to enforce the more copyright you had. In fact, I think my work has shown that the graph is probably linear. Each few lines of copyrighted code that's assigned makes it that much easier to enforce. Here's why:
Simply put, the GPL violation defending lawyers have gotten more obsessed than ever with delay tactics. They try to raise every spurious issue they can think of to delay you, distract you, or otherwise try to avoid bringing their client into compliance with the terms of GPL. If you don't hold all the copyrights, they'll focus on that issue. For example, I had an executive of a large computer maker tell me that his lawyers say
copyright infringement claims are legally invalid unless you hold a majority of the copyrights. This is completely asinine and clearly incorrect in the USA, but violators make these arguments all the time. As another example: I was once deposed in a court case for 8 hours about the topic whether or not BusyBox's configuration files magically made Erik Andersen's copyrights fail to appear in the binary work. That's a spurious argument that I spent 8 hours refuting, yet the violator's lawyer again brought it up in the Court as a defense that we had to refute.
In that sort of climate, I don't blame my fellow FSF Directors from being skeptical about ending copyright assignment. You can guess, and I've said publicly, that I think FSF should take my Conservancy enforcement work into account, and they are. But, when I am asked:
Isn't it easier to enforce when you have all the copyrights?, my answer has to be:
Yes, it's easier. It's a trade-off; there's no question. My personal position is probably obvious on this, since I have written often about preferring multi-copyright held projects myself, but even I admit to being annoyed by the downsides from time to time.
I wish the culture of violator-defending lawyers would change. I wish enforcing the GPL weren't so difficult. It's a bleak situation out there, and I talked about this in my interview on GPL enforcement with The H this week. But, I know that both FSF and Conservancy have one thing in common: both organizations are working hard to uphold the GPL through compliance and enforcement activity. No other non-profits in the world are doing that.
(Note, as I said in my interview The H, gpl-violations.org isn't a non-profit organization; it's just Harald Welte and a group of volunteers. Harald does good work, but he's also posted on lwn and elsewhere to note he's been busy on other important projects and not involved as much with enforcement lately.)
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