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Harmony Project Pushes Lawyers Off FOSS's Back 45

Posted by Soulskill
from the we're-getting-along-or-else dept.
Julie188 writes "Harmony is an effort that was begun and shepherded by Amanda Brock, the general counsel at Canonical. The intent was to create a small collection of consistently-worded contribution agreements (both licenses and assignments) for free and open source projects to use to reduce the friction such agreements can cause when they're encountered for the first time by corporate counsel unfamiliar with FOSS licensing. Version 1.0 of the documents have launched. As court cases involving software copyrights and patents continue to sprout forth, we don't have the liberty of ignoring the changes brought on by the law. Neither do we get to follow Dick the Butcher's suggestion in Henry the Sixth, and kill all the lawyers."
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Harmony Project Pushes Lawyers Off FOSS's Back

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 08, 2011 @05:38PM (#36699964)

    Neither do we get to follow Dick the Butcher's suggestion in Henry the Sixth, and kill all the lawyers.

    WRONG! It's just a matter of attitude and motivation. Don't set your goals too low!

  • Trouble at Harmony.

    There, I said it. Got that out of the way... now we can move on.

  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday July 08, 2011 @05:49PM (#36700064) Homepage Journal

    Having a standard set of contribution agreements does not push lawyers off of the backs of FOSS developers. It just helps them give up all of their rights for nothing, without the counsel of a lawyer who might tell them that's not a smart thing to do. Where is the covenant to developers in return for their contribution? There is none.

    I provided strategy for the contribution agreement for the project of very large company, on a project that is about to be presented to developers. The company covenants to the developer that they will keep their work on the project in Open Source for a period of several years, or will remove the contribution from the non-Open-Source version of the work.

    Another alternative is to pay the developer for their work.

    Signing your contribution over to a for-profit enterprise without any quid-pro-quo is just crazy. You're making yourself their unpaid employee.

    • by pthisis (27352)

      I think the idea is that if you work at company X who uses open source project Y, these agreements have a standard wording for contributing changes made back to project Y. It's to encourage corporations to contribute back--many places I've worked have been theoretically willing to do so, but didn't want to put in the legal time to figure out the details.

      You as an employee are doing the same work in either case, though if you do get things accepted back upstream it may save you a little maintenance work. A

      • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Friday July 08, 2011 @06:08PM (#36700216) Homepage Journal
        Even corporations should be concerned about the prospect of their work being taken private - the project being removed from Open Source and made commercial-only - shortly after their contribution. After all, corporations have to account to their stockholders, and a contribution that can go private quickly would indicate a lack of due diligence or poor negotiation, that could potentially result in lost money, time, and resources.
        • Even corporations should be concerned about the prospect of their work being taken private - the project being removed from Open Source and made commercial-only - shortly after their contribution. After all, corporations have to account to their stockholders, and a contribution that can go private quickly would indicate a lack of due diligence or poor negotiation, that could potentially result in lost money, time, and resources.

          Often, for corporations, the reason to contribute to open source is to foster an

        • by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Friday July 08, 2011 @07:10PM (#36700844)

          Bruce is 100% right here. There are two kinds of contribution agreement; those which promise to continue distributing the software on the same terms as you distributed it to them and those that cheat you. Canonical's agreements are the type which cheat you, whilst the agreements of the Fedora project, the FSF and most other FOSS projects are not. Groklaw has already done some serious investigation of Canonical and project harmony [groklaw.net] and that's probably the place to start.

          What you want to watch out for is groups which take your code and establish a special advantage for themselves. Apart from the article above you might find the article "How to Tell When an Open Source Foundation Isn't About You" [groklaw.net] very useful. There are many examples of this danger, Oracle's recent mess being the latest. If a project won't accept your contribution then import it into Gitorious and fork it. Provide your changes as a patch and look for others doing the same. Eventually, when the project closes up you will have the basis of a free fork. Contributing to Canonical really looks like a thing to avoid unless it's really clear it's going to save you lots of effort and it's clear that someone else is maintaining a separate archive of the software ready to fork.

          • Basically Canonical is asking for about the same rights the FSF ask for, but nobody ever questions the FSF because they have an irreproachable reputation. As the makes of Ubuntu, Canonical should have gotten such level of trust and while there are true ubuntu believers, the fact that enough people distrust it to the point that it is even an issue is just... sad. Everything just because of Canonicals recent misbehaving and general better than thou attitude they have gotten out of late...

            • The FSF contracts require that the FSF always release the software under licenses which are substantially similar to the one you released it under. That gives the FSF no possibility to close the source. Canonical's agreements aren't the same at all since Canonical gets the right to release the code under any license they like. That's unfair and rediculous. If Canonical wants to do that then they should be paying you since you are essentially working 100% for them.
              • by wisty (1335733)

                So what? It's always easier for a project if they can re-relicense the code.

                Imagine if you pick a popular license (say, the BSD license), then find it's not compatible with the latest GPL (as is the case with the old BSD license). Do you track down every contributor, and ask them to relicense their code, or just be stuck with the limitations your license has?

                I guess the solution is to use the GPL, as it can be "upgraded" without contributor permission. But the GPL is not everyone's cup of tea.

                So if you don'

                • So what? It's always easier for a project if they can re-relicense the code.

                  We aren't discussing what's easy for Canonical here. We are discussing what should Canonical contributors do. The point, here is dead simple. Don't give your contributions to Canonical; there are many alternative organizations which will take your contribution on many different licenses and offer many different arrangements which are beneficial to you. Examples include the Apache foundation, the Free Software Foundation, The Gnome Foundation etc. etc. Other examples also include commercial organisati

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Bruce ... you of all people should know better than to spread this sort of FUD.

          You and I both know that you can't put OSS back in the box after its out there.

          The worse that can happen is that you contribute a bit of code to an OSS project which then goes closed source so you don't get newer versions, nothing at all stops you from getting the version you contributed to, unless someone magically deletes every copy in existence.

          It doesn't matter than Samba 3 or 4 are now close sourced, I still have the source

    • by maxume (22995)

      You are looking at the world through Bruce colored glasses.

      Their use case is clearly one where the developer has a desire to contribute to the project and trusts the management of the project:

      http://harmonyagreements.org/use.html [harmonyagreements.org]

      (and as you say, why would anyone give away rights for no reason...)

      • What is going to happen here is what happened with Creative Commons: a lot of different IPR policies get bundled under the same name so that the uninitiated will not be able to distinguish one from the other. Some of those policies are harmless, and some quite harmful.
        • if i am giving contributions to some obscure non-profit project on github i think it would be nice to have some official-ness to the copyright status of my patches... right now its kind of in limbo yes?

          • Your own work (not work for hire) is your property, and is fully copyrighted the moment you write it. Nothing in the agreement would strengthen the status of your copyright. You choose to place it under a license and contribute it to a project. If they remove your attribution, you have legal grounds to sue them.

            A contributor agreement doesn't really get you anything you wouldn't already have, and is likely to remove rights you do have.

            • for the warning!

            • by Anonymous Coward

              > You choose to place it under a license and contribute it to a project

              And they choose to accept it only under a contributor agreement so you can't gum up their works with your custom license that doesn't jibe with theirs, or get to come back and veto a change in terms because you contributed a ten line patch six years ago.

              If they don't accept it, you get to fork it and go your own way and never get your patch merged upstream.

              Everyone gets a choice.

          • What Bruce said; but with a comment. The Free Software Foundation will accept contributions to many projects. You can write your code and agree to assign it to them. There may not be much benefit to you, but for others it may help with understanding the status of the code. There may also be some legal benefit for you in that you in that you will have less responsibility for the code. As ever, ask an expert lawyer to find out :-)
      • by jedidiah (1196)

        No. I'm looking at the world through a corporate mindset that has trust issues with other companies.

        The GPL was created not because RMS had a political agenda but because some corporation chose to take advantage of the community. His contributors rightfully objected to the situation and held him responsible.

        Any collaboration framework needs to work as intended even in the worst case scenario. You can't just engage in "wishful thinking" with business entities. You will just get taken advantage of.

        • by maxume (22995)

          How is "(and as you say, why would anyone give away rights for no reason...)" related to wishful thinking?

          The really weird part here is that the business entities involved here would likely be companies paying developers to work on projects external to that entity, a business entity running their own project is going to have their own lawyer-approved contribution agreement.

    • by bug1 (96678)

      Of the tens of thousands of open source projects, by guess is the vast majority of them are not run by a corporation.

      I havent seen anyone of note stand up for these Harmony Agreements, are they so bad that even small non-profits should avoid them ?

      I thought having copyrights centralized helped enforcement, opens the door for open source developers to get damages from corporate exploiters who violate the license, isnt that a good thing ?

      • You can still sue for copyright infringement even if you don't own a majority of the copyrights. And you can sue on behalf of multiple copyright holders. All existing court enforcement of Open Source licenses has been for projects that did not have a unified copyright - did you know that?

        FSF has a good reason to keep the copyrights, they are a non-profit (which is really important) and they want to change the license as the law develops. In contrast, companies are getting a lot of power from that unified co

        • by bug1 (96678)

          Yes i do realize individuals can sue for enforcement. But the opinion ive heard is that if all copyright holders can act in unison, then it makes greatly increases their ability to settle for damages.

          To me open source to me is about "working together", and our leaders are now telling us not to work together in a legal sense.

          It is important to protect ourselves from exploitation, but ny concern is that all the negative publicity covering these harmony agreements will not only prevent corporations exploiting

          • We don't really want damages, we want to get whoever it is to comply with the license. We actually have enough force to do that without big damages, because we can block imports, etc.

  • I saw "Harmony Project Pushes Lawyers Off..." and started to get excited.

    Then I read "FOSS's Back" and realized that lawyers weren't being pushed off anything.
  • by paulsnx2 (453081) on Friday July 08, 2011 @06:24PM (#36700360)

    ...that precludes the killing of all the lawyers.

    • by macraig (621737)

      So my project to kidnap and torture lawyers with waterboarding and sexual humilation for five years won't get your vote of approval, either?

    • virtually every case of court precedent that involves the first amendment. . .

      the vast body of Freedom of Information Act cases....

      the FOIA itself, which was caused to exist, by lawyers...

      the public defenders who fight for the rights of whistleblowers?

      i kind of like lawyers.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        The idea of lawyers standing up to defend the rights of the despised is something that goes way back. It didn't just start with the ACLU or EFF. Patriots were doing it even when we still thought of ourselves as British subjects. It's part of the rule of law. Although this sort of thing has been disparaged as of late.

      • 99% of the lawyers give the rest of us a bad name.
        -Steven Wright

  • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Friday July 08, 2011 @09:43PM (#36701786) Homepage

    Some negative reviews of the project's concept:

    * Richard Fontana: http://opensource.com/law/11/7/trouble-harmony-part-1 [opensource.com]
    * Bradley Kuhn: http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2011/07/07/harmony-harmful.html [ebb.org]
    * David Neary: http://blogs.gnome.org/bolsh/2011/07/06/harmony-agreements-reach-1-0/ [gnome.org]

  • by allenw (33234)

    Harmony is an effort that was begun and shepherded by Amanda Brock"

    To some of us, Harmony is the name of Apache's Java implementation. Sort of surprising that this naming clash wasn't considered given the context. Heck, TFA even mentions Apache HTTPD.

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