Home > free software, linux, Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu > Shuttleworth: All your rights are belong to us

Shuttleworth: All your rights are belong to us

August 4, 2011

Yes, I know LinuxCon is next, and that’s in mid-August, but I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing and with Linus being there and all. But if you’re going to the next show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting, so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!)

Before I open palm — make that palms — and insert face, let me say that the Ubuntu community’s general mantra of “haters gonna hate” never really works as a valid argument when someone disagrees with what the self-appointed Ubuntu/Canonical leader/founder/Grand Poobah, or any other Ubuntu/Canonical leader, says. It’s a profoundly weak argument that first and foremost makes you sound shallow and stupid. It also makes you sound like you don’t have a reasonable response, as well as sounding like you’re incapable of responding.

Whether or not that is the case, do yourself a favor: Debate issues or don’t, but either way, don’t bring that moronic phrase to the table.

Having said that, I read a blog item by Fabian Scherschel this morning about how Mark Shuttleworth blogged late last month — in way, way, WAY too many words — he would like the rights to your work, please, if you contribute to Ubuntu/Canonical. Just hand them over to him on your way out the door to write more code which, of course, you can turn over to him as well when you’re done with it.

Don’t take my word for it. Go ahead and read Mark’s blog for yourself. Make sure you read all of it, and you might want to have a cup of coffee before you do.

I’ll wait.

While I wait, let me mention that the GPL V2 was established in 1991 — twenty years ago — and has withstood any and all legal challenges, both significant and frivolous, in the last two decades. Why do I bring that up? Ask me after you’re finished reading Mark’s blog.

Now, if you’re back from Mark’s blog and still awake, the item fails in a multiplicity of ways and, in a complex clause I’d like to be simpler, seems to seek to derive benefit from the licensed code work of others without compensation.

But don’t take my word for it. I’m just going to let Jef Spaleta drive here, reposting with his permission something he posted in the comments, in response to a discussion about maintenance (in the first paragraph) before outlining his difference of opinion with Mark Shuttleworth (Note: from the link you can scroll up to see the item he’s referring to about maintenance, if you wish):


“None of the maintenance arguments require copyright assignment. It’s completely hogwash. When an upstream project takes in a patch, they can do so on the same condition as it was given. There is no need for a copyright assignment on the grounds of any maintenance argument.

“Mark wants to mix the value inherent in owning the code with other things. He wants to mix it all together and guilt us into giving away our copyrights to corporations so he and other business leaders can then turn right around and make money proprietarzing the code we contributed. Not cool. Not cool at all in fact. If Canonical wants to go it alone and wants to staff the manpower necessary to build a platform that they can proprietarize without significant contribution or a healthy development community to help offset the costs, they are free to do that. But to suggest that is what the ecosystem needs to do more of is very damaging.

“And he continually gets the details wrong about the history of Qt assignment. Trolltech put some very important protections in place on their own behavior via some latching conditions if the open version of Qt ever stopped being developed that would allow the codebase to be released under BSD, pretty much nullifying the competitive advantage the controlling entity would get. He doesn’t like talking about that very important detail when he holds up Qt and Trolltech as good examples of assignment gone right. I know he’s aware of the history and the latching BSD release clauses. And yet, Canonical continues to refuse to put _any_ sort of protection in place. It’s understandable that they wouldn’t commit to the very strong protections the FSF provides in their assignment agreement. Mark expects Canonical to need to produce some proprietary products at some point, and so do I. So the strong FSF-like protections would be incompatible with Canonical’s business needs. But the Trolltech-like protections put on Qt when Qt required assignment? Completely possible for Canonical to commit to and provide some protections against the most egregious future behavior. And yet they still won’t commit to that either. That lack of interest in providing any protections with regard to egregious prioritization of contributed code and good-will is a real problem. I don’t see it changing as long as Shuttleworth remains in control of Canonical. That’s a real shame. I know there are people inside the fenceline who’d be more than happy to take a step towards a more comprehensible position, they just can’t.

“But on to the point about what it means to have a work for hire development culture in software. Indeed analogies never always fit. Just like all the hand wavy analogies Mark put forward in his blog post. So lets talk directly shall we.

“There is a reason why software companies hire developers. Part of any such contracting is invariably because of a need for ownership of the final creative work. Typically if you work for a software company anything you produce working for them is owned by them, its standard work for hire situations. You are paid a wage to produce creative works for someone else. Your wage is the compensation for the ownership of the work. If a software company (or any company really) wants to own the creative work being produced and be able to use the exclusivity of that ownership to then sell proprietary versions (without competitors being able to sell it as well) of the work in question they need to pay the developers of the work. It’s a simple as that.

“Any company that requires naked assignment (without protections against bad faith actions similar to what TrollTech or the FSF provide) is just trying to get the milk for free. And its shameful when they do it. Shameful.

“Apple gets that. Apple pays a fair wage to its developers and designers, and the end result is they own the stack. And crazier thing is, there are people are willing to pay non trivial amounts of money for the end result.

“Android, the other platform Mark is very concerned about now, doesn’t require an assignment. http://source.android.com/source/licenses.html and has the workings of an open development community styled around Apache.

“Let’s be very clear about that, Android.. the open platform that is kicking ass right now…does not require copyright assignment. Clearly if Google can make Android the juggernaut of OEM and user uptake that it is, there’s nothing stopping Canonical from following suit. Canonical does not need your copyright to compete. It’s a straight up falsehood meant entirely to encourage people to give up their copyrights so Canonical can proprietarize contributed code at some future date.

“In fact there’s nothing stopping Canonical from literally forking the Android codebase as it stands right now and building a competing product with differentiated interface bits and Canonical backed end services to replace the Google services. Again…all of this freedom to compete.. all done without an assignment requirement…just a contributors agreement which makes your attest its your code your contributing when you submit a patch for Android. And in reality, even that could probably be superceded with a signoff process which mimics the linux kernel’s sign off procedures to cut down on that paperwork. There’s some real benefits to keeping the redtape down to the bare minimum, but that’s another point, a point I think Micheal Meeks does a good job illustrating when he talks about libreoffice developer community growth. Anyways…

“Now does Google feel a higher maintenance burden for contributed Android code because they don’t own the copyrights? No of course not, that is absurd. The maintenance burden is what it is regardless of whether they own the rights to all the code. And the Android juggernaut keeps rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ along. This little side show about assignment is ultimately just a distraction for Mark and for Canonical, it’s not going to help them compete better in the marketplace its only going to serve to drain focus inside the company. It’s a real shame.”

I wish I had said that, Jef.

Oh, and GPLv2? I brought it up, oh, a year ago — or so it seems — because Mark makes my favorite misguided assumption in a plethora of misguided and invalid assumptions found in the lengthy blog: “I’d be willing to bet that, if some fatal legal flaw were discovered in the GPLv2, Linus would lead a process of review and discussion and debate about what to do about the Linux kernel, it would be testy and contentious, but in the end he would take a decision and most would follow to a new and better license.” Meanwhile, back on the planet Earth — a place I’ve never left, but Mark Shuttleworth has, literally and to his credit — in 20 years, there hasn’t been a “fatal legal flaw discovered,” let alone a case against the GPL challenged successfully in the courts. But if there were, I’m sure a better license would follow (this, of course, is not to say GPLv3 is that license, and I’m not going to field that here).

So, can we discuss or debate this, or are you just going to call me an idealogue or a hater and walk away? The choice is yours, but if you choose the latter, by all means please let the door hit you on the way out.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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  1. Bob McKeand
    August 4, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Just spun through LXer and there were lots of contentious
    lint-pickers who seem to agree with the Free Software Guy.

    As my post on this most glorious blog was not mentioned I
    assumed I was way behind the curve again. But yep LtFSG
    nails it. And the Linux Users that are leaving xxbuntu in droves
    are nailing it also.

    So Mr Shuttleworth can strike the classic pose, “I will buy a
    ticket but I won’t go in. That will show them!”

    Larry and the Colonel and the Sarge from TX are moving on!

    How far can you sail a 11.04 disk?

  2. August 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Methinks you have misunderstood Mr. Shuttleworth’s intentions. He said that people who create should have their creativity rewarded and RETAIN ownership rights, not surrender them. He simply asks that owners be responsible enough to MAINTAIN what they contribute. If they’re not willing to bear the RESPONSIBILITY of ownership, they can and should surrender ownership to those who are willing to take RESPONSIBILITY for maintaining it.

    • August 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm

      Methinks not, and methinks that if I did, there are a whole lot of other people who read it the same way I did and, therefore, Mark Shuttleworth needs to work on his writing more clearly. Regardless of whether he preaches personal responsibility — which is just a step above preaching brushing your teeth three times a day and being excellent to each other — the fact remains that the subtext that a corporation can handle a coder’s personal responsibility is clearly a faulty premise.

  1. August 4, 2011 at 3:34 pm
  2. August 9, 2011 at 4:18 am
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