Hi Mark!

Mark Wielaard <m...@klomp.org> skribis:

> On Wed, Dec 18, 2019 at 03:33:20PM +0100, Ludovic Courtès wrote:


>> I think copyleft is a “salient feature” of GNU, compared to many other
>> free software projects, and indeed, GNU has its own licenses for that
>> purpose.  So to me, copyleft has its place in the social contract,
>> rather than in a separate policy.  We still need to leave room for the
>> rare exceptions (Speex, ncurses), but there should be a clear stance in
>> favor of copyleft licenses IMO.
>> WDYT?
> I agree. But it feels like we can describe this more concise without
> having the explain the exact policy we are following. For example
> could we just state here: "The GNU Project prefers to distribute
> software under /copyleft licenses/, designed to ensure that users'
> freedoms cannot be strip off."?

I think such a document has to be self-contained, and that’s why I think
it’s good to concisely define copyleft and its intent here.

Outsiders reading the document may not know what “copyleft” means; yet
we want them to have a good grasp of what we’re trying to achieve.


>> > What are other policies that would/should follow from the social
>> > issues? Or should maybe be in the contract itself?
>> >
>> > For example one core policy seems to be that we prefer the copyright to
>> > be held individuals or the FSF (instead of being held by corporations)
>> > so that the user freedoms are actually upheld when copyleft is used.
>> I don’t think there’s such a policy right now, is there?
> There certainly is for various (older?) GNU projects. At least all
> that I contribute to have such a policy. It is explained here:
> https://www.gnu.org/licenses/why-assign.html
> And the FSF itself has a larger explanation here:
> https://www.fsf.org/bulletin/2014/spring/copyright-assignment-at-the-fsf

I’m aware of this, but it is a policy for copyright assignment to the
FSF; it’s not a policy to avoid copyright “held by corporations”.  The
motivation stated in why-assign.html is that assignment allows the FSF
“to enforce the GPL most effectively” and doesn’t mention corporations.

> The reason I want to call this out is because when you don't have a
> policy to keep copyright with the actual developers or assigned to a
> foundation that comes up for user freedom you might accidentially
> loose a way to defend user freedom for GNU software.
> If you pretend that who holds the copyrights is no big deal then, for
> "popular" projects, you might slowly but surely see that the
> copyrights will be held by corporations employing the developers. This
> is a problem because corporations in general don't have any incentive
> to defend user freedom. They don't want to upset their partners and
> customers when they don't pass through the freedoms required by the
> license. And they will just ignore the issue. It isn't that companies
> are evil, it is just that they don't care (it isn't in their business
> interest to care). But that also means they are often more than happy
> to move the responsibility (assign the copyright) so that the issue is
> out of their hands (companies do like a level playing field).

I don’t believe “corporate takeover” is a realistic threat, at least not
in the majority of cases.  In my view, there are two situations:

  1. Projects with many stakeholders, including companies.  In those
     situations, a company may hold parts of the copyright, but it’d
     have to rewrite the whole project to really “take it over”.  That’s
     practically impossible and useless.

  2. Projects developed in-house by a company and “open sourced” (sic).
     Those projects may be free software but are, for all practical
     purposes, under the control of a single company from the start.

That’s why I don’t think corporate takeover, among all the threats to
user freedom, deserves a special mention in the social contract.

Regarding the pros and cons of copyright assignment, we could discuss at
length.  :-)  However, regardless of what we think of copyright
assignment, I believe the social contract should be positioned at a
higher level.  IOW, I view copyright assignment as a policy issue, and
not as a defining principle.  (Note that currently copyright assignment
is not mandated for new packages, and in practice only a fraction of GNU
packages require it.)

>> > Is that something that should be in the social contract? Does it
>> > follow from what is in it now? Or should we add something to make the
>> > (abstract) idea clear? (e.g. The GNU Project prefers policies that
>> > encourage and enable developers to actively defend the users'
>> > Freedom.)
>> I think it’s implicit that project policies cannot contradict the
>> higher-level goals set forth by the social contract.
> But does the current text of the social contract really sufficiently
> clear that we will try to actively defend user's freedoms? For example
> by the above policy.

I think it does.  What modification would you suggest to make that

Thanks for your feedback!


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