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Future code ownership
- From: Jonathan Larmour <jifl at jifvik dot org>
- To: eCos Maintainers <ecos-maintainers at sources dot redhat dot com>
- Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002 15:52:23 +0000
- Subject: 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.
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
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. <http://www.spi-inc.org/> 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
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.
 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