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Shuttleworth: All your rights are belong to us

August 4, 2011 5 comments

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):

“Clint,

“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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Pleased to meet you

March 14, 2011 1 comment

Linuxfest Northwest 2011 - April 30th-May 1st I’ll be there. You should be there, too.

One of the great things about living where I do is the people by whom I’m surrounded in the FOSS realm. Each community has their peeps that do yeoman’s work on a daily basis to promote Linux and FOSS, and in the Silicon Valley and “over the hill” on Santa Cruz side, we are stocked with great people who do excellent work.

Grant Bowman, as I’ve mentioned before in past blogs, is one of them.

Grant started a discussion on the LUG mailing lists in the Silicon Valley and concludes with this: Is there a “best” way to introduce people to knowing more about computing without limits? Grant’s e-mail eloquently continues in seeking an answer to how we, as Linux/FOSS advocates, can help those who are Linux/FOSS curious experience what we already know is a better way.

We all know there’s not an easy answer to this, and arguably if you get 10,000 people in an arena to answer that question, chances are you’d end up with 12,000 different answers. However, it’s a good issue to discuss to get ideas regarding how to best promote Linux/FOSS with the proviso that there is not a “right,” one-size-fits-all answer.

Putting aside seeking community — going to LUG meetings, for example, and becoming an active member — I’d prefer here to address the one-to-one issue of Linux user introducing a non-user to Linux.

One basis — not the only one, but my own bottom line modus operandi — for determining how best to promote Linux/FOSS is to know why the potential convertee wants to use Linux/FOSS and how he or she plans to use it. Computer experience at this point in the discussion is secondary, though it is something that needs to be addressed early in the discussion.

So I would break the users down into two basic categories: Changers for philosopical reasons and changers for nuts-and-bolts reasons (and I don’t mean “nuts-and-bolts” in a bad sense: What I mean are those who don’t care if their software is “free-as-in-freedom.” They just want to do what they do on their computers to work as they’re accustomed to having it work).

There are others who might fall between these two basic categories — like those who get the philosophical side but focus on the more basic part of having the OS and software “just work” — but for the sake of discussion, let’s just use these two for now.

The inverted pyramid

In the news field, one of the principles of reporting is known as “the inverted pyramid;” an upside-down triangle, actually, where the most important item of the news story (that is, the widest part of the triangle) is at the top, with less important items following in a desending order so, as far as importance goes, the diagram would come to a point at the end where the least important part of the story would exist. The inverted pyramid’s purposes, in journalistic circles, stems from the fact that when there are space considerations in the newspaper — i.e., when the story is too long for the space — the editor can cut from the bottom and what’s lost is not as important as what stays.

How that affects the philosophicals

In the case of those changers who want to use Linux/FOSS for reasons that have to do with not wanting to be chained to EULAs or for reasons revolving around “sticking it to the man,” moreso than anything that has to do with basic functionality, you can start your inverted pyramid with the wide and lofty ideals of free software and how that works. Then you can narrow your discussion down to other principles and maybe functions of how to go about using a Live CD (if they don’t know how to already) and finally reach the tip at the bottom handing him or her the CD and let them know how to reach you if they have questions.

Meanwhile, back with the nuts-and-bolts crowd . . . .

Let’s say that you’re having a discussion with someone who’s giving you the blank, god-will-this-ever-end glazed-over stare while you discuss some of the concepts of free software. That’s a pretty good indication that he or she does not really care about EULAs and the philosophical side of things, and your inverted pyramid doesn’t have to start at the lofty ideals of FOSS. Here you can emphasize some of the functionality of Linux and FOSS programs, with the proviso that “your mileage may vary” (an important point — remember GIMP may not do everything Photoshop can do, but for the amateur photographer, GIMP works just fine). The concepts that the software is “free as in free beer” may also resonate. From there, you narrow your discussion down to how you can try out using Linux/FOSS on with a Live CD, etc., and so on.

Again, these are two extremes where a lot of new users may fall somewhere in between, but some of the more important aspects of introducing and helping new users know and share what we might take for granted.

But bear in mind that when you’re advocating for Linux and FOSS:

  • Know your audience,
  • Bear in mind that while Linux and FOSS benefits everyone, Linux and FOSS are not for everyone, and some may be hesitant and/or may not want to convert (at least at the moment), and
  • Freedom ultimately means being free not to use FOSS if one so desires, which is akin to leading a horse to water and it’s up to the animal whether it’ll drink.
  • I look forward to further discussion on this, and thanks, Grant, for posting this.

    [FSF Associate Member] (Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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    Adieu, Mandriva?

    May 10, 2010 Leave a comment

    With not much else to do — I mean, how many times can you go to Best Buy and change all the laptops’ browser settings to open either to Fedora, Ubuntu or FSF? — I thought I’d take a lap around the FOSS news realm. Imagine my surprise when I happened upon this:

    Mandriva is for sale.

    Mon dieu! The times you don’t have a disposable million dollars or two lying around . . .

    My experience with Mandriva is limited — I tried it on several occasions but for some reason it never stuck. Not for lack of quality, of course, but just as a matter of personal non-preference. And I’ve been quick to use Mandriva as a foil in New Years predictions — not out of disrespect but more from the ease of poking fun at the “man” in the name.

    [I found it interesting, too, when I came across why Mandriva changed its name from Mandrake: Apparently it had to do with a conflict with the publisher of the Mandrake the Magician comic strip.]

    Regardless, Mandriva always had a solid community which was very supportive of the Lindependence Project when we did Lindependence 2008 and Lindependence 2009 in Felton. Having worked with people like Adam Williamson — once with Mandriva and now with Red Hat — and Rolf Pedersen, a tireless foot soldier promoting FOSS with Mandriva, I’ve gained a healthy respect for the distro despite the fact I don’t regularly use it.

    One can only hope that the purchaser will continue to allow Mandriva to provide the same quality of distro going forward.

    [FSF Associate Member](Fedora ambassador Larry Cafiero runs Redwood Digital Research in Felton, California, and is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation.)
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