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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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  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:14PM (#46019645)
    If you want news and articles, honestly Yahoo's News is not too bad. It's about the only thing going left under a Yahoo URL that's worth using, and I find it to be better than Google News.

    And as sad as this is, there are lots of Youtube channels dedicated to geeky subjects that I sometimes learn things from before they appear on Slashdot or other sites.

    For discussion, no idea what to say. It appears that you're stuck here.
  • by trims ( 10010 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @08:28PM (#46019755) Homepage

    Take a look at pretty much any major CLA out there.

    I'll name three big ones: OpenJDK, FSF's for GNU, and Apache's.

    ALL of them either directly assign the copyright of the contribution to the org, and thus, you lose any ability to control it whatsoever, or give the org the ability to relicense it explicitly.

    This is intentional, and a GOOD thing, because it increases the flexibility of the project, including making it easier to defend rights in court. Frankly, have a project with multiple copyright assignment is impossible to manage from a legal standpoint, let alone one where you don't even know the real identity of a contribution's author.

    The Linux kernel is stuck on the GNU v2 license for exactly this reason, and can never change. That's the fate of any such non-CLA'd Open Source project (other than something using Public Domain or the BSD license).

    FYI: the FSF can (and has) relicensed code contributed to GNU projects under a proprietary license. (gcc and part of the toolchain)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 20, 2014 @09:08PM (#46020029)

    On the contrary, Linux is quite right. Lots of long-term open source projects don't require copyright assignment and I'm not likely to work for any which do. The reason is quite simple: If I'm contributing my time and effort to a project, I don't want the project's code to get relicensed without my concent. If a company, such as Canonical, wants me to contribute then they should be prepared to let me keep copyright of my code so I can be assured it won't get tucked away in a closed source project.

    The Linux kernel not getting relicensed under a newer form of the GPL is a feature, not a bug. Some companies which use Linux now wouldn't if it switched to the GPLv3 because the newer license isn't as friendly (or easy to read) as the old one.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @09:37PM (#46020261) Journal

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

    Linus doesn't like them because it's an extra barrier for people who might want to contribute to the code. The more barriers you have to contributors, the fewer will contribute. I can tell you that I fixed some bugs in Android, which I didn't contribute back, because the process was too painful (and that was before I realized there was a CLA; if I'd known that, I wouldn't have even tried).

    Of course, there are benefits to CLAs, as you point out, and Eban Moglen points out other benefits. It's a matter of choosing what your priorities are. Linus favors the ease of contribution. He also considers the fact that Linux is stuck forever on GPLv2 to be a feature, not a problem.

  • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Monday January 20, 2014 @11:01PM (#46020811) Homepage

    The Linux kernel not getting relicensed under a newer form of the GPL is a feature, not a bug.

    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. Suddenly there is no linux kernel, because there is no way to switch to a newer license that does not have that attribute.

    Sure, that might never happen, just as a firmware burned into a ROM might never need upgrading. However, if it does you're up the creek. The whole GPL2+ thing is about having an insurance policy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @12:28AM (#46021395)

    OK, so I guess you are a slow reader. The door is not being shut on you.

    The door to contributing the set of patches I prepared for gcc ~8 years ago now was firmly shut on me when the FSF insisted that they could not accept them without a signature from my employer, who didn't give a shit about free software, despite the fact that the legal situation is quite clear: my employer does not own code that I work on in my own time, with my own equipment, and which is entirely unrelated to their work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 21, 2014 @01:07AM (#46021613)

    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.

    ...Says you. Because Linus says that's precisely one of its beauties.

    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.

    ...Not having Linux under a CLA makes it easier to explain why he's sticking to a (good!) choice he did *over 20* years ago. No matter how hard you bitch, Linux will never be licensed under anything but GPLv2. And that's a feature.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp