Ubuntu Contributor Harmony

I have made no bones about my opposition to unpaid copyright assignment in any quarter. Least understandable was the old Canonical contributors agreement, Mark wrote another of his personal defences in his blog on Friday; of what I consider to be unreasonable and assumptive. But this isn’t about that blog post.

Only just today I have noticed that the Canonical contributor agreement has changed from a copyright assignment to a broad license. Creators get to keep their copyright and Canonical doesn’t have it’s hands tied by the GPL. I’m not sure how long it’s been this way, but I am happy to see it has changed.

Balancing this difficult policy with the views and feelings of the wider community is an unenvious job, various people in a number of different Free Software communities try their best to get solid legal frameworks in place, while maintaining the rights of contributors with the need to keep things protected in the open.

I’m certainly happier to contribute under the harmony agreement, than I was under the old CA. Even though this does permit Canonical to make proprietary versions of the software. The main factor there being that their reputation would be shredded so quickly as to damage the very fabric of the community endeavour.

What are your thoughts?

8 thoughts on “Ubuntu Contributor Harmony

  1. I don’t understand, doesn’t making it so “Canonical doesn’t have it’s hands tied by the GPL” make it pointless for an open source developer to work one of Canonical’s projects. Unless, I’m misunderstanding the agreement.
    Why would someone contribute to a GPLed project if said developer’s work ends up in a proprietary project?

  2. I feel pretty much the same way, but from what I understood from Mark Shuttleworth’s last blog post on the issue, it’s the other way around. You assign copyright but still get all the useful rights (so you can still relicense if you want).

    I’m also much more open to that, but I want to take some time to read the actual agreements thoroughly before I comment about it in a blog post.

  3. Why would canonical want to make proprietary versions? Same reason that google has for android. HW vendors want to customize the software on devices and of course not give that back to the competitors. Canonical is in a great position to sell closed source versions of the non-app parts of a desktop/tablet environment.

  4. CTown: It depends how much work the developer is contributing. For a serious project with hundreds or thousands of lines of code, I wouldn’t. But for ten time changes, the price of maintaining a fork is higher than pushing it upstream. Besides, Canonical will suicide if they tried that sort of thing and I think they know it.

  5. Jonathan Carter,

    I think you missed the point. What Mark is talking about in his blog is the _old_ agreement. that did require assignment. The new agreement which has not actually been announced anywhere, does not require assignment. The contributor agreement was silently changed recently (and I don’t know when.) But its very clear that Mark wrote that blog post with the old agreement in mind, or else statements in his blog are nonsensical. I am very interested in being directed to any official announcement of the change if and when it is (or has been) communicated to the Ubuntu community.


  6. Thanks for the answers. But couldn’t a Canonical developer incorporate the fork at any time as long as it is under a compatible license (as long as they somehow credit the contributed work). Why ask the original contributor to give Canonical the rights to re-license the code in the first place? For what purpose does Canonical need to re-license code that already fits in the project?

  7. It’s nice that the agreement has been completely rewritten. Yes, I know that Harmony has been announced, but it was not announced that Canonical had already switched its Contributor Agreement to it.

    I signed the old agreement. Does this mean that I’m magically considered to have signed the new agreement?

  8. Jeremy,

    5. If I signed the old agreement, do I need to sign the new one too?

    No, if you previously accepted the Canonical Contributor Agreement 2.5 (or earlier), your future contributions will continue to be covered by that. However, if you wish, you can sign the new Contributor License Agreement, in which case the terms of the new agreement will cover any new contributions.

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