Wednesday, 22 June 2016

"But I'm a commercial developer / a government employee"

Following on:

Having seen some posts about this elsewhere on the 'Net:

  • Your copyright remains your own unless you assign it
  • Establish what you are being paid for: are you being paid for :
  1. Your specific area of FLOSS expertise (or)
  2. Your time / hours in an area unrelated to your FLOSS expertise (or)
  3. A job that has no impact or bearing on your FLOSS expertise (or)
  4. Your time / hours only - and negotiate accordingly
Your employer may be willing to negotiate / grant you an opt-out clause to protect your FLOSS expertise /  accept an additional non-exclusive licence to your FLOSS code / be prepared to sign an assignment e.g.

"You should also get your employer (if you work as a programmer) or your school, if any, to sign a "copyright disclaimer" for the program, if necessary. Here is a sample; alter the names:
Yoyodyne, Inc., hereby disclaims all copyright
interest in the program `Gnomovision'
(which makes passes at compilers) written 
by James Hacker.

signature of Ty Coon, 1 April 1989
Ty Coon, President of Vice"

If none of the above is feasible: don't contribute anything that crosses the streams and mingles commercial and FLOSS expertise, however much you're offered to do so.

Patents / copyrights

"In the 1980s I had not yet realized how confusing it was to speak of “the issue” of “intellectual property”. That term is obviously biased; more subtle is the fact that it lumps together various disparate laws which raise very different issues. Nowadays I urge people to reject the term “intellectual property” entirely, lest it lead others to suppose that those laws form one coherent issue. The way to be clear is to discuss patents, copyrights, and trademarks separately. See further explanation of how this term spreads confusion and bias."
 [ - footnote 8.]

If you want to assert a patent - it's probably not FLOSS. Go away :)

If you want to assert a trademark of your own - it's probably not FLOSS. Go away :)
 [Trademarks may ordinarily be outside the scope of normal FLOSS legal considerations - but should be acknowledged wherever they occur both as a matter of law and as a matter of courtesy]

Copyright gives legal standing (locus standi in the terminology of English common law) to sue for infringement - that's the basis of licence enforcement actions.

Employees of governments and those doing government work
  • Still have the right to own authorship and copyrights and to negotiate accordingly
  • May need to establish more clearly what they're being paid for
  • May be able to advise, influence or direct policy towards FLOSS in their own respective national jurisdiction
  • Should, ideally, be primariily acknowledged as individuals, holding and maintaining an individual reputation  and only secondarily as contractors/employees/others associated with government work.
  • Contribution to national / international standards, international agreements and shared working practices should be informed in the light of FLOSS work.
This is complex: some FLOSS contributors see a significant amount of this as immaterial to them in the same way that some indigenous populations do not acknowledge imposed colonial legal structures as valid - but both value systems can co-exist

How to share collaboratively

Following on:

When contributing to mailing lists and fora:
  • Contribute constructively - no one likes to be told "You've got a REALLY ugly baby there" or equivalent.
  • Think through what you post: check references and check that it reads clearly and is spelled correctly
  • Add value
 When contributing bug reports:
  •  Provide as full details of hardware and software as you have
  • Answer questions carefully: Ask questions the smart way:
  • Be prepared to follow up queries / provide sufficient evidence to reproduce behaviour or provide pathological test cases 
  • Provide a patch if possible: even if it's only pseudocode
When adding to / modifying FLOSS software:
  • Keep pristine sources that you have downloaded
  • Maintain patch series against pristine source
  • Talk to the originators of the software / current maintainers elsewhere
  • Follow upstream style if feasible / a consistent house style if not
  • Be generous in what you accept: be precise in what you put out
  • Don't produce licence conflicts - check and check again that your software can be distributed.
  • Don't apply inconsistent copyrights
When writing new FLOSS software / "freeing" prior commercial/closed code under a FLOSS licence
  • Make permissions explicit and publish under a well established FLOSS licence 
  • Be generous to potential contributors and collaborators: render them every assistance so that they can help you better
  • Be generous in what you accept: be precise in what you put out
  • Don't produce licence conflicts - check and check again that your software can be distributed.
  • Don't apply inconsistent copyrights: software you write is your copyright at the outset until you assign it elsewhere
  • Contribute documentation / examples
  • Maintain a bugtracker and mailing lists for your software
If you are required to sign a contributor license agreement [CLA]
  • Ensure that you have the rights you purport to assign
  • Assign the minimum of rights necessary - if you can continue to allow full and free use of your code, do so
  • Meet any  required code of conduct [CoC] stipulations in addition to the CLA
Always remember in all of this: just because you understand your code and your working practices doesn't mean that anyone else will.
There is no automatic right to contribution nor any necessary assumption or precondition that collaborators will come forward.
Just because you love your own code doesn't mean that it merits anyone else's interest or that anyone else should value it thereby
"Just because it scratches your itch doesn't mean that it scratches anyone else's - or that it's actually any good / any use to anyone else"

Why share / why collaborate? - Some useful sources outside Debian.

"We will encourage you to develop the three great virtues of a programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris."
[Larry Wall, Programming Perl, O'Reilly Assoc. (and expanded at ]

Because "A mind is a terrible thing to waste"
 [The above copyright Young and Rubicam, advertisers, for UNC Fund, 1960s]

"Why I Must Write GNU

I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement. ... "
[rms, GNU Manifesto copyright 1985-2014 Free Software Foundation Inc.]

"La pédagogie, l’information, la culture et le débat d’opinion sont le seul fait des utilisateurs, des webmestres indépendants et des initiatives universitaires et associatives."
 Education, information, culture and debate can only come from users, independent webmasters, academic or associative organizations.
[le minirézo]

We value:
  1. Contributors and facilitators over ‘editors’ and ‘authors’
  2. Collaboration over indiviualised production
  3. Here and now production over sometime soon production
  4. Meaningful credit for all contributors over single author attribution - from whom much of the above quotations were abstracted - Manifestos for the Internet Age
Grayscale Press ISBN-13:978-2-940561-02-5]

[Note] Github repository is marked with licence of CC-Zero but explicitly states that licences of the individual pieces of writing should be respected

So - collaboration matters. Not repeating needless make-work that someone else has already done matters. Giving due credit: sharing: doing and "do-ocracy" matters above all

Perversely, Acknowledging prior work and prior copyright correctly is the beginning and end of the law. Only by doing this conscientiously and sharing in giving due credit can any of us truly participate.

It seems clear to me at least that contributing openly and freely, allowing others to make use of your expertise, opinions, prior experience can anyone progress in good conscience.

Accordingly, I recommend to my work colleagues and those I advise that they only consider FLOSS licences, that they do not make use of code snippets or random, unlicensed code culled form Github and that they contribute

Why I must use Free Software - and why I tell others to do so

My work colleagues know me well as a Free/Libre software zealot, constantly pointing out to them how people should behave, how FLOSS software trumps commercial software and how this is the only way forward. This for the last 20 odd years. It's a strain to argue this repeatedly: at various times,  I have been asked to set out more clearly why I use FLOSS, what the advantages are, why and how to contribute to FLOSS software.

"We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.
We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.
Your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter, and there is no matter here
 In our world, whatever the human mind may create can be reproduced and distributed infinitely at no cost. The global conveyance of thought no longer requires your factories to accomplish."
[John Perry Barlow - Declaration of the independence of cyberspace  1996]

That's some of it right there: I was seduced by a modem and the opportunities it gave. I've lived in this world since 1994, come to appreciate it and never really had the occasion to regret it.

I'm involved in the Debian community - which is very much  a "do-ocracy"  - and I've lived with Debian GNU Linux since 1995 and not had much cause to regret that either, though I do regret that force of circumstance has meant that I can't contribute as much as I'd like. Pretty much every machine I touch ends up running Debian, one way or the other, or should do if I had my way.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Digging through my emails since then on the various mailing lists - some of them are deeply technical, though fewer these days: some are Debian political: most are trying to help people with problems / report successes or, occasionally thanks and social chit chat. Most people in the project have never met me - though that's not unusual in an organisation with a thousand developers spread worldwide - and so the occasional chance to talk to people in real life is invaluable.

The crucial thing is that there is common purpose and common intelligence - however crazy mailing list flame wars can get sometimes - and committed, caring people. Some of us may be crazy zealots, some picky and argumentative - Debian is what we have in common, pretty much.

It doesn't depend on physical ability. Espy (Joel Klecker) was one of our best and brightest until his death at age 21: almost nobody knew he was dying until after his death. My own physical limitations are pretty much irrelevant provided I can type.

It does depend on collaboration and the strange, dysfunctional family that is our community and the wider FLOSS community in which we share and in which some of us have multiple identities in working with different projects.
This is going to end up too long for Planet Debian - I'll end this post here and then continue with some points on how to contribute and why employers should let their employers work on FLOSS.