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Future code ownership

I think it's crunch time. We've been hmmming and hahing and we have to bite the bullet. We've been having discussions in the background with various people (you can probably guess), but with just one exception (see below) these have now come to nought. We must go it alone.

Us maintainers have to make a collective decision as to the future of eCos copyright assignments. Some people, including certainly a number of us maintainers, are unhappy with continuing with Red Hat as the holder for future assignments. Obviously nothing can change with the existing copyright - that's Red Hat's. But if we opted for a new additional copyright holder, we would no longer need to worry about the owner being someone who no longer has eCos's interests at heart.[1]

Some of us maintainers that have checked in code and disliked the RH aspect have checked in code with our own personal copyright. As maintainers that's not unreasonable, but it was done because of the informal agreement we made that we would assign it to the future copyright holder. But needless to say, we all therefore agree to assign to whoever we collectively decide. And to be clear, these are the people I definitely want buy-in from: Gary, Nick, Bart, Mark and Andrew, as well as myself of course, although other readers here are free to contribute. I would like to get a broad consensus if at all possible. We're not in a situation to deal with "votes", although if push comes to shove I suppose I'll have to act as a final arbiter in the case of an even split of opinion. Let's hope it doesn't happen :-).

What factors are needed in consideration of the best option: acceptability to the community; support by the future owner (if any) for eCos's Open Source interests; a "safe pair of hands" for any future owner; future viability of the owner; and potentially, the possibility of making eCos more acceptable to commercial companies by allowing licensing exceptions.

The latter option is contentious but I believe necessary and valuable. We want eCos to be as pervasive as possible, and there are a number of companies out there for home Open Source will _never_ be acceptable. We think it's dumb, and we can argue quite sensibly and logically why they are dumb and how they can make the burdens less onerous, but sometimes it just isn't possible. Trust me, companies, and especially large ones, can be this short-sighted.

But we can give them an option: a solution is to allow licence opt-outs, like Red Hat had been able to do by themselves up to earlier this year (but not after personal copyright from the maintainers got added of course). This would set us at a par with commercial OS vendors. But we can't compromise our integrity without a considerable pound of flesh. So we charge. The figures would probably depend per deal, but it could well be in the order of thousands of dollars. Maybe. Don't know. Haven't tried it :-). Unfortunately that money would have to be split with Red Hat, a commercial entity, but as Red Hat's role in eCos diminishes, so too is their leverage. It would be the eCos team driving such deals, not them.

What would happen to this money? It would absolutely be the case that such money must be put towards furthering the interests of eCos, the Open Source project. (Not giving the contributors/maintainers a salary - sorry guys ;-)). Whether it be test equipment, or funding important software development that may not happen any other way, it would be useful and IMHO is worth the effort.

So what are the options for the future:

1) No copyright assignments at all. This is like the Linux kernel. The admin overhead is reduced, as well as the hassle factor for contributors. However the ownership of the code is called into question, and there is a risk that code that is contributed may not be the copyright owners - think of the corporate disclaimer thing we have. Certainly the FSF are against it for these types of reasons, and they are the acknowledged experts in this field. Once this decision is made it can never be revoked. Definitely no potential licence revenue.

I personally do not favour this route at all.

2) Continuing with Red Hat. Some people disagree for the reasons stated before, and on ecos-discuss.

3) A commercial entity interested in picking up the eCos "banner", such as eCosCentric.

4) The FSF. I know I'm not alone in thinking the FSF can be too rabid sometimes, and sometimes there is too much personal intervention from the top. While an obvious candidate I don't see it being relevant, and we wouldn't really be a good fit into the GNU project anyway. Definitely no licence revenue option either.

5) A new not-for-profit organisation, e.g. "the eCos foundation". There is considerable difficulty for non-USers to set this up, and the process can take upwards of 6 months I believe. There may also be tedious obligations and overhead like accounts, board meetings, blah blah. Plus without any experience we may need lawyers, and therefore fees, etc. as well as any other charges for setting it up.

6) Software in the Public Interest, Inc. is a US not-for-profit organisation. <> Its goals are to advance open source. They are well known already as the copyright holders of many well known projects like Debian Linux, GNOME, LSB as well as owners of the Open Source marque, and so on. They are trusted. We have already taken the step of asking them in principle if they could accept eCos as a project, even with our funky licensing proposal outlined above. And as you can see from <> this was accepted.

Personally I favour this option. I think it is best for eCos as an Open Source project, and I would like to hope even Red Hat would be able to support it, as it would be in the long-term best interests of eCos. Besides if the licensing proposal does pay off, they would profit!

Note: I have no intention of forcing people with an existing Red Hat assignment to change. That's up to them, and I don't think it makes significant difference since Red Hat's copyright on a lot of the code is here to stay. However, I think it is in the best interests of the Open Source project for any significant contributions to be "moved" to the new system, and certainly this would become the requirement for new assignments.

Let the discussion commence. Please all do state your opinion, and also please do remember that as with FSF projects, the maintainer's role is a personal one, and people are here in their personal capacity, not in their roles as employees of particular companies.

[1] If that were true the eCos team would still be in Red Hat wouldn't it :-).
--[ "You can complain because roses have thorns, or you ]--
--[ can rejoice because thorns have roses." -Lincoln ]-- Opinions==mine

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