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Linus Torvalds: Any CLA Is Fundamentally Broken 279

sfcrazy writes "The controversy over Canonical's Contributor License Agreement (CLA) has once again surfaced. While Matthew Garrett raises valid points about the flaws in Canonical's CLAs, Linus Torvalds says 'To be fair, people just like hating on Canonical. The FSF and Apache Foundation CLA's are pretty much equally broken. And they may not be broken because of any relicencing, but because the copyright assignment paperwork ends up basically killing the community. Basically, with a CLA, you don't get the kind of "long tail" that the kernel has of random drive-by patches. And since that's how lots of people try the waters, any CLA at all – changing the license or not – is fundamentally broken.'"
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Linus Torvalds: Any CLA Is Fundamentally Broken

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  • Why doesn't the summary for articles like these spell out unfamiliar abbreviations such as "contributor license agreement"?
  • by bug1 ( 96678 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @07:47PM (#46019439)

    Free and Open source software are about working together to write software, its unquestionably good.

    There are tens of billions of dollars worth of Libre code out there, with thousands of unpunished violators, and only 2 or 3 people in the world defending it.

    And this "community" persistently rallies against working tegether Legally with CLA, i just dont understand, is it purely a trust thing ?

    (And if you want to help defend Free Software, consider donating to the Software Freedom Conservency)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @07:55PM (#46019515)

    But he's a wise asshole. Not cow-towing to the fail that is GPL 3 (kernel, git and subsurface.) Not climbing on the CLA bandwagon...

    One day Linus will be gone and Linux will probably fall into the hands of license-mongering zealots. I'm glad I probably won't be around to suffer that.

  • Re:WTF... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:03PM (#46019563) Homepage

    Lack of trust.

    This is what this is all about. Many people view Canonical as untrustwory for one reason or another. I could cite a whole litany. However, that's not the point.

    Many people find reason to be suspicious of Canonical in a way that isn't comparable to anything regarding the FSF or Apache. It's not a remotely comparable situation.

    As a general rule, CLAs originating from any corporation with the standard "fuck everyone else" style charter should be met with skepticism. They're not your friends. They probably aren't even your ally.

  • by Phroggy ( 441 ) <.moc.yggorhp. .ta. .3todhsals.> on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:31PM (#46019787) Homepage

    I used to expect a lot more from Slashdot, but now that none of the old-guard are left it's steadily and inexorably slipping in the same fashion that kuro5hin, The Register, and other tech sites have slipped.

    The "old guard" editors didn't know how to do their jobs either. Note my user ID; I remember. I come here for the comments, not the articles.

  • by trims ( 10010 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:39PM (#46019831) Homepage

    Normally, I see Linus being pragmatic about things, but I have no idea why he's against CLAs.

    Having a CLA (with some form of copyright assignment or "unlimited" sublicensing) is the ONLY way to run a flexible, long-term Open Source project.

    The Linux kernel is the only substantial project that doesn't do this, and, frankly, can only get away with it because it's so critical. Even there, it's a pain, because (to pick a stellar example), Linux will NEVER be able to relicense itself under an improved GNU license. It's stuck FOREVER on the GNU v2 license. Which is hardly a good thing.

    CLAs are a consequence of copyright, just like the licenses themselves are. They're necessary to allow a project to update the license, defend the entire codebase in court, keep track of ACTUAL authors, etc. If you don't have this, you have a toy project, one which ultimately will fail to succeed.

    If you don't like CLAs, then use the BSD or Public Domain route, because they're the only licenses (or non-license) that avoids all the traps of copyright law. Otherwise, if you want copyleft of any sort, then you have to use a CLA.

    Linus is basically complaining that having a driver's license is an obstacle to people just getting on the road and driving whenever they want. Sure, CLAs restrict the "fly by night" patcher. That's a feature not a bug. Sometimes, you do want to set the bar higher than the lowest common denominator. Naturally, some CLAs are worse than others, but the concept as a whole is sound.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @09:21PM (#46020125)

    Not all projects have copyright assignment. In fact, the majority use "unlimited, non-revokable sublicense" concept. You retain your copyright, but give the project the flexibility to do what it needs to with your code.

    By contributing, you're participating in the project, and ceding a portion of your influence as a cost of being a participant. Imaging if a project required UNANIMOUS consent of any contributor, ever, to make a license change. Or defend against a particular copyright suit, or similar. So, sure, a CLA removes some power from the individual. However, your contribution was hardly useful without the rest of the codebase, so it's unreasonable to require unanimous consensus on everything affecting the codebase.

    No, the non-relicense problem of the kernel is definitely a bug. Just because it currently prevents something you don't like doesn't mean it's a feature. If, at some time, we came up with a better GNU v4 license, the kernel can't switch.

    Because v2 is hardly perfect, and we're locked into it regardless.

  • by synaptik ( 125 ) * on Monday January 20, 2014 @09:34PM (#46020227) Homepage
    Yes; but back then it was because they were amateurs, doing this for a hobby.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @11:11PM (#46020881) Homepage Journal

    Because they hope your interest will fuel the very slightest bit of initiative, like the ~5 seconds it takes to Google it?

    Just a guess, but it worked for me! No whinging here about such a trivial matter. I mean, if you are seeing this site anyway, you are definitely online...

    That's a bullshit answer. It is standard practice in good writing to say what an acronym or abbreviation means the first time it's used. Afterwards using the shortened version is just fine.

  • A lot of people who skim Slashdot's front page don't know enough to know whether they need to care about a particular story. People don't know what they don't know [].
  • by hweimer ( 709734 ) on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @04:29AM (#46022311) Homepage

    Yeah, explain that to me in 10 years when some court rules that contributions under the GPL are illegal to distribute due to some legal deficiency in the license.

    Actually, it is much more likely that a CLA will be found to be unenforcable than the text of a well-established software license. In fact, CLAs requiring copyright assignment are probably void in large parts of the world, meaning you are back to square one.

  • by zoward ( 188110 ) <> on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @07:09AM (#46022909) Homepage

    Also, the Slashdot editors need to understand that when they don't spell out these acronyms the first time they use them, the first half of the comments section is going be discussing the lack of proper acronym definition and poor editorial skills instead of, you know, the actual article content. Just sayin'.

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.