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It's worth noting that the ASF also requires copyright assignments.

No, AFAIK it requires copyright licenses given through a contributor agreement, which are not the same.


I can confirm that it's a Contributor License Agreement: http://www.apache.org/licenses/#clas

> Except for the license granted herein to the Foundation and recipients of software distributed by the Foundation, You reserve all right, title, and interest in and to Your Contributions.


Oops. My recollection was of paperwork but I got the nature of it wrong.


I'm not sure if it's as straightforward as this. There are two routes in for ASF software, the CLA you refer to, and the SGA for existing code: http://www.apache.org/licenses/software-grant.txt

I've signed the SGA for some code, but still have trouble parsing the details. There is language in the preamble that "Licensor owns or has sufficient rights to contribute the software source code and other related intellectual property". I'd think that "contribution of code" is more than just a shared license. But in the actual clauses, only a "non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, irrevocable" license is mentioned.

Based on the discussion at the time, I presumed I was signing a grant of ownership of code. And the the NOTICE within the project says "Copyright 2010-2012 The Apache Software Foundation", which implies the ASF claims ownership. But I'm not sure of the basis of this claim. Do you have more insight?


Non exclusive means it is not an assignment. Copyright assignments are exclusive, and you need to own at least one copyright right exclusively to sue. They also must be clear assignments to be effective. At least every ASF agreement I have seen was a license, not an assignment

As for notice, you should ignore notices, they have no real meaning anymore. If they are wrong, they are just wrong, it does not give you any rights by putting your name on code you don't own copyright to. Additionally, for collective works, valid notice for one serves as valid notice for all owners.


I appreciate the response. While I agree that there is no assignment currently present in the CLA or SGA, the preamble makes me think it once did have one. Searching deeper I do find that the ASF _requires_ you to list the Apache Foundation as the copyright holder: http://apache.org/legal/src-headers.html#notice

As for for the legal role of the NOTICE file, I think there may be more complexity than that. Here, for example, we find Lawrence Rosen and Roy Fielding (among others) discussing what must go in NOTICE instead of in LICENSE: https://issues.apache.org/jira/browse/LEGAL-62


I know they have not required assignment for at least the past 6 years (when google signed the agreement). I don't know about back past that. However, don't confuse this with whether people have assigned copyright for things to the ASF. There certainly are cases where this has occurred. Google has assigned copyright in some large software contributions to the ASF, for example.

NOTICE files have special meaning in the Apache license. I misread (I was on my phone) and thought you were talking about copyright notice previously. Even Larry thinks that copyright notice is mostly worthless. However, you can't removes notices that currently exist unless you are the copyright owner, so they have rules for moving them to NOTICE files.

Again, you should not confuse organizational requirements and policies with what the law requires or recognizes.

Internal to Google, I have set requirements about the form of copyright notice/etc, for example. This isn't just because of legal requirements, but because it stops useless developer arguments and time wasting. Sanity and consistency are important in this kind of thing, and without rules folks have a penchant for starting mailing list arguments about it every few months.

Besides that, it also helps deal with the outside world. By having strict, sane, and consistent policies, dealing with corporate and other contributors becomes a lot easier. They want to add 600 new copyright lines to your file, you point them to the policy that says no.


Agree on all, and thanks for the continued insight. While it's clearly institutional policy rather than law, I'm a little concerned that the ASF appears to claim copyright ownership of all of their projects' code, but doesn't actually have this ownership. My worry would be that as a result they wouldn't have legal standing to enforce license restrictions. I've written a question to the Apache project list that I'm part of asking for clarification about our specific case.


No problem, happy to help how I can. There are legal theories under which they could sue, just not copyright infringement in the US. Standing is one of the few very well settled areas of copyright law in the US (IE at least 8 circuits worth of federal appeals courts have all held the same thing about who has standing to sue for infringement)


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