More On The CodePlex Foundation

0 comments suggest edit

In my last post, I presented a general overview of the CodePlex foundation and talked a bit about what it means to the .NET OSS developer, admittedly without much in the way of details. I plan to fix some of that in this post.

Before I continue, I encourage you to read Scott Bellware’s great analysis of the CodePlex foundation which covers some of the points I planned to make (making my life easier). It’s a must-read to better understand the potential and opportunity presented by the foundation.

There’s one particular point he makes which I’d like to expound upon.

The CodePlex Foundation will bring influential open source projects under its auspices. The details aren’t clear yet, but it’s reasonable to assume that the foundation will support its projects the way that other software foundations support their projects, with protection for these projects as they are used in corporate and commercial contexts and who knows, maybe even some financial support will be part of the deal.

I talked to Bill Staples recently and he pointed out that The Apache Foundation is one source (among many) of inspiration for the CodePlex Foundation. If you go to the Apache FAQ, you’ll find the answer to the following question, “How does the ASF help its projects?” (emphasis mine)

As a corporate entity, the Apache Software Foundation is able to be a party to contracts, such as for technical services or guarantee-bonds for conferences. It can also accept donations on behalf of its projects, clarifying the associated tax issues, and create additional self-funded services via community-building activities, such as Apache-related T-shirts and user conferences.

In addition, the Foundation provides a framework for limiting the legal exposure of individual volunteers while they work on behalf of one of the ASF projects. In the past, these volunteers have been personally vulnerable to lawsuits, whether legitimate or frivolous, which impaired many activities that might have significantly improved contributions to the projects and benefited our users.

The first paragraph is what I alluded to in my last post, and this is something that the CodePlex Foundation would like to do in the long run, but as I mentioned before, it all depends on the level of participation and sponsorship funding. In an ideal world, the foundation would be able to add some level of funding of projects to this list of benefits for a member project.

The second paragraph is something that the CodePlex Foundation definitely wants to do right off the bat.

This is great news for those of us hosting open source projects. It’s generally not a worry for many small .NET open source projects, but the risk is always there that if a project starts to get noticed, some company may come along and sue the project owner for patent infringement etc. Typical projects may not have any money to go after, but I can imagine a commercial company going after a competing OSS product simply to shutter it.

Assigning your project’s copyright to the CodePlex Foundation would afford some level of legal protection against this sort of thing, similar to the way it works with the Apache Foundation.

One nice thing about the CodePlex Foundation is you have the option to assign copyright to the foundation or license your code to the foundation. I’m not a lawyer so I don’t understand if one provides more legal protection than the other. Honestly, once the foundation starts accepting projects at large, I would want to assign Subtext’s copyright over so that my name doesn’t appear as the big red bulls-eye in the Subtext copyright notice! ;)

And if you’re wondering, “am I losing control over my project by assigning copyright over”you are not. As I wrote in my post Who Owns The Copyright For An Open Source Project (part of my series called the Developer’s Guide To Copyright Law) you’d be assigning it under the open source license of your choice (yes, the CodePlex Foundation is more or less license agnostic. It doesn’t require a specific license to join), which always gives you the freedom to fork it should the foundation suddenly be overtaken by evil Ninjas.

As I said before, many of these details are still being hashed out and I’m guessing some of them won’t be finalized until the final board of directors is in place. But in the meanwhile, I think understanding the sources of inspiration for this new foundation will help provide insight into the direction it may take.

I hope this provides more concrete details than my last post.

Found a typo or error? Suggest an edit! If accepted, your contribution is listed automatically here.

Comments

avatar

18 responses

  1. Avatar for Ayende Rahien
    Ayende Rahien September 13th, 2009

    Phil,
    You most probably cannot transfer ownership to the CPF.
    While you can transfer ownership for anything that _you_ wrote, you are based on the .Text code base, so you would need the author permission as well.
    Then you would need permission from each and every one of the committers, everyone who ever committed a patch, etc.
    In most real projects, ownership assignment just isn't possible.

  2. Avatar for Scott Bellware
    Scott Bellware September 13th, 2009

    Ayende,
    If a contributor to an open source project keeps ownership of the copyright of their contribution, then permission will have to be granted by the contributor.
    If an open source project's license allows for copyright of all contributions to remain the property of the contributor, then the project itself would be at great risk. Copyright owners could force the project to remove their contributions at will.
    That said, an open source project community should feel good about transferring the ownership of project's copyright to an intermediary like The Apache Foundation, The Eclipse Foundation, The CodePlex Foundation, among others.

  3. Avatar for alberto
    alberto September 13th, 2009

    "If an open source project's license allows for copyright of all contributions to remain the property of the contributor, then the project itself would be at great risk. Copyright owners could force the project to remove their contributions at will."
    That's not true.

  4. Avatar for Eyston
    Eyston September 13th, 2009

    It is one thing to give license over to FSF or Apache -- they have a huge library. You contribute code / license and it becomes part of this ecosystem.
    Giving license over to a group with no history or established identity just seems weird.

  5. Avatar for Eyston
    Eyston September 13th, 2009

    "If an open source project's license allows for copyright of all contributions to remain the property of the contributor, then the project itself would be at great risk. Copyright owners could force the project to remove their contributions at will."
    This is completely false. OSS wouldn't work at all if this was the case.

  6. Avatar for Haacked
    Haacked September 13th, 2009

    @Ayende, With Subtext, I have non-exclusive copyright assignment in writing for most of the code (though not all). I would have to talk to Scott Watermasysk to get assignment of existing .TEXT code.
    The good news is I've re-written around 25 - 40% of the code. If I couldn't get full assignment, I'd simply re-write the rest of the code.
    I personally think non-exclusive copyright assignment is in the best interest of an OSS project. I'm not worried about a copyright holder withdrawing the code. After all, even if they don't assign copyright, they have licensed the code to the project under the OSS license, so AFAIK, they can't revoke the license retroactively. However, they can make it impossible to re-license the code under a new license and really hinder the ability for a project to make such decision that may be in the best interest of the project.
    Non-exclusive copyright assignment also protects the contributor, while still allowing them to use the submitted code in any other project in any way they see fit.

  7. Avatar for Eyston
    Eyston September 13th, 2009

    Also, Eclipse Foundation, Apache Foundation, you see a pattern with those two? You had an product deployed and developed by several vendors with a proven track record before a foundation was born. It wasn't like the Apache Foundation was founded and then the guy who wrote httpd was like 'hey lets give it to this cool foundation'.
    CodePlex is much more field of dreams style. I'm not sure if there is an equivalent to that?

  8. Avatar for Fabio Maulo
    Fabio Maulo September 13th, 2009

    @Scott
    Especially when a prj does not have any kind of copyright, no?

  9. Avatar for Eyston
    Eyston September 13th, 2009

    My first comment should say copyright, not license (Give/Giving license -> Give/Giving copyright). I'm an idiot. A significant point of this discussion is the difference between the two :)

  10. Avatar for Joe Brinkman
    Joe Brinkman September 13th, 2009

    @Eyston - Actually, DotNetNuke has operated like the CodePlex Foundation since around 2004/2005 when we started accepting project contributions. Since our inception we have required copyright assignment for all contributions.
    Quite honestly, there will be some people who are hesitant to contribute in the beginning, but over time I expect that people will come to see that with people like Phil, Rob, Scott, Shaun, Miguel and others involved from the beginning that it is not just a bunch of stuffed shirt lawyer types involved.
    The founding group of advisors and board members are people who are passionate about Open Source and who have long track records of work in the Open Source space. Even if you did not trust Microsoft, I think you can trust the group of Advisors and Board members as many of them have been strong advocates for Open Source over the past several years. They are not a group of individuals who would stand around and allow Microsoft to do anything to undermine OSS principles.

  11. Avatar for Ian Muir
    Ian Muir September 13th, 2009

    As a .NET developer whose been getting more involved with OSS, this is good news.
    For the most part, there aren't any open source .NET projects that even approach the size of either Eclipse or Apache. This makes it very difficult for a foundation that supports .NET developers to form based around a specific project or piece of software. Somebody needs to take the leap to form the foundation and others need to take a chance to trust that foundation. As far as I can tell, the guys at the Codeplex Foundation are putting themselves on the line by getting this ball rolling than I am as a developer helping them.

  12. Avatar for Eyston
    Eyston September 13th, 2009

    @Joe
    I'm not really talking issue of trust. The trust or ideology topics aren't all that interesting to me, but instead more the mechanics of things. I'm more than willing to take MS and CodePlex Foundation at face value. Actions are more important than speculating motives.
    Also, I'm not sure how DNN Foundation is like CodePlex. You created DNN Foundation for an existing successful project, yah? CodePlex is a Foundation without a cause right now.
    If you mean DNN is like CodePlex because you both require copyright assignment, I wasn't arguing that point. In fact FSF, Apache, etc are similar in that regard (as I understand). I don't have a problem with copyright assignment.
    It's more about copyright assignment to something that already has a lot of momentum. Someone has to get this thing going.
    @Phil
    I would like to know more about how copyright assignment protects contributors. Basically, protected from what? It can't and shouldn't legally protected me, a contributor, from copyright infringment, can it? I mean, that seems silly that contributing copyrighted code to CodePlex would indemnify me and put the burden on the Foundation. Also, I obviously can't assign CodePlex copyright for code I don't own the copyright too in the first place.
    A lot of foundations talk about this part, but I'm kind of confused.

  13. Avatar for Scott Watermasysk
    Scott Watermasysk September 13th, 2009

    Hey Phil,
    Ping me if you want to get this resolved. I really didn't get OSS at the time I did .Text so I only took code from a single contributer (Grant Carpenter). Clearing this up shouldn't be a big issue.
    -Scott

  14. Avatar for Scott Koon
    Scott Koon September 14th, 2009

    The fact that we have to think about this crap at all is why I hate what software development has become. :(

  15. Avatar for Daniel Hölbling
    Daniel Hölbling September 14th, 2009

    @Scott Koon:
    Oh I totally agree. This is the jungle and I'm starting to feel like the prey...
    On the topic: I believe the CPF has already succeeded in one very important thing: It made us all think about these issues and how they are not handled at the moment.
    Especially with the general shift towards NHibernate and Castle we are seeing lately, I believe it's important for these Projects to find out how to cater to the enterprise.
    Ayende's Business Support for NHibernate is a step into the right direction, but also getting these legal things out of the way is one major point in broad adoption of "best of breed" technology. And may the CPF fail, at least the general community had to think about that stuff.
    greetings Daniel

  16. Avatar for Daniel Hölbling
    Daniel Hölbling September 14th, 2009

    Oh, and I forgot(Sorry for double-posting)
    Will Microsoft maybe put the ASP.NET MVC Project onto the CPF?
    I mean it would make total sense to me. It's MSPL, and even if they don't accept outside contributions, they are still a OSS project that could be used as an example of how the CPF works.

  17. Avatar for Jack
    Jack September 14th, 2009

    "you have the option to assign copyright to the foundation or license your code to the foundation."
    it is very interesting, but i think it may result in some problems.

  18. Avatar for Copyright Attorney
    Copyright Attorney September 16th, 2009

    This is a very interesting concept. I am not sure about all of the information here. If you assign the copyright I don't know how you would be able to get it back as an assignment is transfering your ownership. If you license I can see termination. As far as protecting against infrigement by assignment one would have to examine the particulars of the assignment and in fact there would be at least one infringement. There also could be contributory infringment issues.