Jos blog post today reminded me that I had a look at the Harmony Agreements and tried to decide for me whether I would consider to sign such a CA. To make it short: signing a Harmony Copyright Assignment is for me unacceptable. I think it could be valuable to others why I would not sign such an agreement. As a note: I have signed the KDE Fiduciary Licensing Agreement, so I am not in general opposed to licensing agreements.
Issue 1: The Name
The name “Harmony” is really bad. Not only as there is already a relevant FOSS project called Apache Harmony
, it is also the meaning of the name. The name implies that you have to sign it to have harmony. Harmony between whom? Obviously the company who wants the CA being signed and the developer who should sign it. So without the CA there would not be harmony? Why shouldn’t there be harmony? If the developer chooses to develop to a company driven FOSS project under a given license (e.g. GPL) I do not see any reason why there should not be harmony between developer and other corporate partners. So given the aim of the Harmony Agreements to standardize CAs, I only see one possibility to destroy the harmony: requiring a CA from the developers. If the CA is an obvious problem then I do not understand how the Harmony Agreements are going to fix this. To me the name just sounds like an euphemism or worse like Newspeak.
Issue 2: Written by a Company
The Harmony Agreements have been written under the lead of Canonical, a corporate institution. Personally I doubt that a corporation has the individual developer’s best interest in their mind. Especially in the case of Canonical I am very doubtfull since the Banshee incident
. If I cannot trust that the other party does not fleece me, I cannot sign such an agreement without consulting a legal expert in that field. This means quite a monetary factor on my side just to contribute something for free. If I have to pay to donate, I rather do not donate. I would feel way more open to the agreements if they would have been written by the FSFE, an organization I as a developer can trust and do trust.
Issue 3: Patents
Disclaimer: I’m neither a lawyer nor is English my native tongue, I might just be missreading it (see Issue 2). The agreement contains the following sentence:
(b) You own the Copyright and patent claims covering the Contribution which are required to grant the rights under Section 2.
To me this sounds like I have to state that I own all possible patent claims for the code I contribute. I would not have a problem with that for Germany (where patents on Software are not allowed), but worldwide? Considering the completely broken American software patent situation I would be sure that for any code I write there is at least one trivial patent claim for it. This is a point in the agreement I cannot sign without calling myself extremely stupid. As far as I remember my law term at university as a private, non-corporate developer no company could sue me for patent claims. By signing such an agreement patents become a serious issue for me as an individual developer. If donating code results in a threat to my monetary future I rather not donate source code.
Issue 4: Copyright in Germany
Germany has a “Copyright” very different to the rest of the world. There is no fitting translation for Copyright into the German langue and vice versa. In Germany (and some German influenced contries) you are the author (“Urheber”) and you will always be it. There is no possibility to assign your authorship to someone else. There is also nothing you have to do to become the “Urheber”, when you do creative work you are automatically the “Urheber”. Being a German, living in Germany and have been educated with this in my mind, I consider the authorship as something very important and I am very respectful for the author.
Obviously a Copyright Assignment is not possible if you are German. The Harmony Agreements handle this case:
(b) To the extent that any of the rights in Section 2.1(a) cannot be assigned by You to Us, You grant to Us a perpetual, worldwide, exclusive, royalty-free, transferable, irrevocable license under such non-assigned rights, with rights to sublicense through multiple tiers of sublicensees, to practice such non-assigned rights, including, but not limited to, the right to reproduce, modify, display, perform and distribute the Contribution; provided that this license is conditioned upon compliance with Section 2.3.
The agreement is just reduced to what the Contributor License Agreement is about. But it leaves me in legal doubt. What if I am at a conference outside Germany? Is the code I write there covered under the License Agreement or the Copyright Assignment? What if I move into another country where Copyright Assignment is possible? Given my German background it is for me unacceptable to assign the Copyright to anyone as nomatter where I live or work I consider myself as the “Urheber”. This is again a case of Issue 2. If it is just a license agreement in practice, why am I not allowed to just sign the license agreement? If the company is interested in controlling the copyright worldwide, wouldn’t it be a subsequent step to say that they don’t accept contributions from Germans due to the legal situation? How can a company know what parts of the code they have the copyright and for what they don’t?
Issue 5: Termination
There is plain simple no way to terminate the assignment. This is clearly in the interest of the company, but not neccessarily in mine. I am not sure if a could sign a treatment legaly binding for the rest of my life without the possibility to change my mind. Again compare issue 2.
Issue 6: Who benefits?
Why does a FLOSS centered company require CAs? I don’t have an answer for it and if I try to find one I can only come up with one solution. The company in question wants to improve the corporate value by having the option to make the software they develop in a community process proprietary. Or that the owner of the company considers to sell the company in future and wants to make it as profitible as possible. I hope there are better reasons for it and I am looking forward to the Panel discussion
, but I fear my thoughts could be right. I personally would not give a company the right to turn my contributions to free software, and by that to mankind, into proprieatary software or even worse to sell it to $evil_company I would never want to work for, neither directly nor indirectly.
Overall there are just too many issues for me that I would consider signing it. As a note again, I do not in general consider copyright licensing as harmful and would also sign other agreements in case I am convinced that I can trust them. E.g. I would sign the FSF CA and would also contribute to Qt
as the free software state is ensured by the KDE Free Qt Foundation
Powered by Blogilo