On Fri, Apr 5, 2013 at 3:14 PM, Robin Winning <robin.winn...@cyaninc.com> wrote:
> Hi All,
> I am a contracts manager at software company, and in addition to doing
> contracts, I now find myself reviewing the licenses associated with the open
> source packages my company has acquired. I have become quite familiar with
> the GPL/LGPL/AGPL suite of licenses, as well as the other, permissive
> licenses: MIT, BSD, etc. Here's my question: quite frequently, the
> programmer makes the Free Software Foundation the copyright holder, but then
> attaches a license that is not in the GPL family. Is that a valid
> combination?
> In the case of "ncurses," I was able to research and determine that when
> they assigned their copyright to the Free Software Foundation, the FSF gave
> ncurses a special carve-out allowing them to use a permissive license.
> However, all the rest of the open source packages I have come across that
> assert "Copyright Free Software Foundation" but are accompanied by non-GPL
> licenses do not seem to have that sort of special arrangement.
> Maybe I'm overthinking this, but it seems contradictory to me, and I don't
> know how to characterize the license in terms of permissive or restrictive.
> Thank you,
> Robin

I would suggest that you contact the FSF with the question, and a
specific list of developers, projects, and licenses.  The FSF is
pretty good about keeping records of actual copyright assignments to
them, and can verify which of those they own copyright to, and what
license(s) they are under.  If the copyright has been properly
assigned to the FSF, it is under whatever license the FSF says, no
matter what the developer thinks.

In most of these cases the developer probably has just borrowed a
copyright statement from someone else and has not assigned copyright.
At that point, how far deep in the rabbit hole do you want to go?  The
programmer almost certainly wrote the software in question, and there
is a good chance that the programmer is the copyright holder.  In that
case their license goes, no matter who they think owns that copyright.
 However depending on the location that the programmer lives, the
details of their employment contract, etc, there is a real possibility
that the work is a work for hire and is technically owned by a company
that likely has no idea that said software exists, or that they have a
legal claim to it.  This situation is surprisingly common, and almost
never causes anyone problems.  If it does cause problems, I've never
heard of anything happening to anyone other than the unlucky
programmer beyond being told that the copyright is not what you
thought it was, could you please stop using it.  In the bizarre case
where someone wanted to pursue it farther, you've got a pretty solid
defense for past infringements because you were going on your
reasonable belief about the license based on what you were told.

I have been told in the past that the FSF is very aware of this
potential can of worms, and that is why they keep careful records to
make sure that they actually own the copyrights that they think they

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