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Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

By Jake Edge
May 17, 2011

I had the opportunity to sit down with Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu and Canonical, for an wide-ranging, hour-long conversation while at Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS) in Budapest. In his opening talk, Shuttleworth said that he wanted to "make the case" for contributor agreements, which is something he had not been successful in doing previously. In order to do that, he outlined a rather different vision than he has described before of how to increase Linux and free software adoption, particularly on the desktop, in order to reach his goal of 200 million Ubuntu users in the next four years. While some readers may not agree with various parts of that vision, it is definitely worth understanding Shuttleworth's thinking here.

Company participation in free software

In Shuttleworth's view, the participation of companies is vital to bringing the Linux desktop to the next level, and there is no real path for purely software companies to move from producing proprietary software toward making free software. There is a large "spike-filled canyon" between the proprietary and the free license world. Companies that do not even try to move in a "more free" direction are largely ignored by the community, while those which start to take some tentative steps in that direction tend to be harassed, "barbed", and "belittled". That means that companies have to leap that canyon all in one go or face the wrath of the "ideologues" in the community. It sets up a "perverse situation where companies who are trying to engage get the worst experience", he said.

The community tends to distrust the motives of companies and even fear them, but it is a "childish fear", he said. If we make decisions based on that fear, they are likely to be bad ones. Like individuals, companies have varied motives some of which align with the interests of the community and some of which don't. Using examples like Debian finding the GNU Free Documentation License to be non-free, while Debian is not a free distribution under the FSF's guidelines, he noted that the community can't even define what a "fully free" organization looks like. Those kinds of disagreements make it such that we are "only condemning ourselves to a lifetime of argument". In addition, because it is so unclear, "professional software companies" aren't likely to run the gauntlet of community unhappiness to start down the path that we as a community should want them to.

Essentially, Shuttleworth believes that it is this anti-corporate, free-license-only agenda that is holding free software back. For some, "the idea of freedom is more important than the reality", and those people may "die happy" knowing that their ideal was never breached, but that isn't what's best for free software, its adoption, and expansion. The "ideologues are costing free software the chance" to get more corporate participation. What's needed is a "more mature understanding of how free software can actually grow", he said.

Existing company participation

There are, of course, companies that do contribute to free software, but those companies "do something orthogonal" to software development, he said. He pointed to Intel as a hardware vendor that wants to sell more chips, and Google, which provides services, as examples of these kinds of participants. There are also the distribution companies, Red Hat, SUSE, Canonical, and others, but they have little interest in seeing free software projects become empowered (by which he means able to generate revenue streams of their own), he said, because that means that anyone looking for support or "assurances about the software" can only get it through the distribution companies.

Though some at Canonical disagree with the approach—because it will reduce the company's revenues—Shuttleworth is taking a stand in favor of contributor agreements to try to empower the components that make up distributions. By doing that, "it will weaken Canonical", but will strengthen the ecosystem. There needs to be more investment into the components, he said, which requires that that those components have more power, some of which could come from the projects owning the copyright of the code. Whether those projects are owned by Canonical, some other company, or by a project foundation, owning the code empowers the components.

The other main reason that Shuttleworth is "taking a strong public view" about contributor agreements is to provide some cover for those who might want to use them. He has "thick skin" and would like to move the free software ecosystem to getting more "companies that are actually interested in software" involved. So far, he has "seen no proposals from the ideologues" on how to do that.

Companies may be more willing to open up their code and participate if they know they can also offer the code under different terms. That requires that, at least some of the time, contributors be willing to give their patches to the project. Those who are unwilling to do so are just loaning their patches to the project, and "loaning a patch is very uncool". The "fundamentalists" who are unwilling to contribute their code under a copyright assignment (while retaining broad rights to the code in question) are simply not being generous, he said.

The state of free software today

The goal should be to "attract the maximum possible participation to projects that have a free element", he said. He is "not arguing for proprietary software", but he is tired of seeing "80% done" software. In addition, the free software desktop applications are generally far behind their proprietary counterparts in terms of functionality and usability. He would like to "partner with companies that get things done", specifically pointing to Mozilla as an organization that qualifies.

The fear that our code will be taken proprietary is holding us back, Shuttleworth said. In the meantime, we have many projects where the job is only 80% done, and there is no documentation. A lot of those projects eventually end up in the hands of new hackers who take over the project and want to change everything, which results in a different unfinished application or framework. Involving software companies will not be without its own set of problems, as those companies will still do "other things that we don't like", but there is a need for professional software companies to help get free software over the hump.

The "lone hacker" style of development is great as far as it goes, but there are lots of other pieces that need to come together. He pointed to the differences between Qt and GTK as one example. GTK is a "hacker toolkit", whereas Qt is owned by a company that does documentation, QA, and other tasks needed to turn it into a "professional toolkit". Corporate ownership of the code will sometimes lead to abuse, like "Oracle messing around with Java", but free software needs to "use" companies in a kind of "jujitsu" that leverages the use of the companies' code in ways that are beneficial to the ecosystem.

He said that some of the biggest free software success stories come from companies being involved with the code. MySQL and PostgreSQL are "two great free software databases", which have companies behind their development or providing support. CUPS is a great printing subsystem at least partly because it is owned and maintained by Apple. Android is another example of an open source success; it has Google maintaining strict control over the codebase.

Shuttleworth has a fairly serious disagreement with how the OpenOffice.org/LibreOffice split came about. He said that Sun made a $100 million "gift" to the community when it opened up the OpenOffice code. But a "radical faction" made the lives of the OpenOffice developers "hell" by refusing to contribute code under the Sun agreement. That eventually led to the split, but furthermore led Oracle to finally decide to stop OpenOffice development and lay off 100 employees. He contends that the pace of development for LibreOffice is not keeping up with what OpenOffice was able to achieve and wonders if OpenOffice would have been better off if the "factionalists" hadn't won.

There is a "pathological lack of understanding" among some parts of the community about what companies bring to the table, he said. People fear and mistrust the companies on one hand, while asking "where can I get a job in free software?" on the other. Companies bring jobs, he said. There is a lot of "ideological claptrap" that permeates the community and, while it is reasonable to be cautious about the motives of companies, avoiding them entirely is not rational.

Project Harmony

The Canonical contributor agreement is "mediocre at best", but does have "some elements which are quite generous", he said. It has a wide license back for code that is contributed so the code can released under any license the author chooses. In addition, Canonical will make at least one release of the project using the patch under the license that governs the project, he said. That guarantee does not seem to appear in the actual agreement [PDF], however.

These kinds of contributor agreements are going to continue to exist, he said, and believing otherwise "denies the reality of the world we live in". The problem is that there are so many different agreements that are "all amateur in on form or another", so there is a need to "distill the number of combinations and permutations" of those agreements into a consistent set. That is the role of Project Harmony, he said.

The project brought together various groups, companies, organizations, and individuals with different ideas about contributor agreements, including some who are "bitterly opposed" to copyright assignment. The project has produced draft 1.0 agreements that have "wide recognition" that they represent the set of options that various projects want.

The agreements will help the community move away from "ad hoc" agreements to a standard set, which is "akin to Creative Commons", he said. The idea is that it will become a familiar process for developers so they don't have to figure out a different agreement for each project they contribute to. Down the road, Shuttleworth sees the project working on a 2.0 version of the agreements which would cover more jurisdictions, and address any problems that arise.

Shuttleworth's vision

In the hour that we spoke, Shuttleworth was clearly passionate about free software, while being rather frustrated with the state of free software applications today. He has a vision for the future of free software that is very different from the current approach. One can certainly disagree with that vision, but it is one that he has carefully thought out and believes in. One could also argue that huge progress has been made with free software over the last two or three decades—and Shuttleworth agrees—but will our current approach take things to the "next level"? Or is some kind of different approach required?

As far as contributor agreements go, it seems a bit late to be making the case for them at this point—something that Shuttleworth acknowledged in his talk at the UDS opening. Opposition to the agreements, at least those requiring copyright assignment, is fairly high, and opponents have likely dug in their heels. While he bemoans ideology regarding contributor agreements, there are procedural hurdles that make them unpopular as well; few want to run legal agreements by their (or their company's) lawyers.

The biggest question, though, seems to be whether a more agreement-friendly community would lead to more participation by companies. If the goal is to get free software on some rather large number of desktops in a few short years—a goal that may not be shared by all—it would certainly seem that something needs to change. Whether that means including more companies who may also be pursuing proprietary goals with the same code is unclear, but it is clear that Shuttleworth, at least, is going to try to make that happen.


(Log in to post comments)

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 16:12 UTC (Tue) by josh (subscriber, #17465) [Link]

People often use "ideology" as a negative term when referring to the beliefs of those who disagree with their own ideology.

Going faster doesn't help if you go in the wrong direction. Disagreements on methodology like this often represent disagreements about the desired destination.

That said, if a company wants to use a contributor agreement so they can own all the copyrights on a project so they can dual-license it under a proprietary license, by all means they should continue to do so. However, don't whitewash it by claiming it has any purpose other than supporting proprietary licensing, and don't complain when it causes some people to avoid contributing, either because they don't want to sign the agreement or because they can't.

Sun actually had one of the better contributor agreements around, at least later on: they switched from a copyright assignment to a joint copyright assignment, in which both Sun and the contributor continued to hold independent copyrights over the contributed code. That kind of agreement I can live with, and I evaluate it the same way I'd evaluate contributing under an all-permissive license.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 16:43 UTC (Tue) by mjg59 (subscriber, #23239) [Link]

One of the outcomes of a loan is that the recipient typically has to give it back at some stage. How is this even vaguely analogous?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 9:03 UTC (Thu) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

The disconnect comes from how you think of a patch.

One patch into a big body of code could be considered a gift.

But the GPL sees it more like a merger. Or a partnership. The whole is a combination of two works.

If it's a gift, then it's uncouth of the giver to impose demands on how the gift be used. By giving, he renounces all claim to decide what happens to it. If you give me a book as a gift, and I decide to wipe my arse with it, that's my right. Of course, if I did that, I presumably wouldn't be getting any more gifts from you.

If, on the other hand, we're talking about a merger or partnership, that's different. One patch is more like a gift, but a major feature (say) is more like a pooling of resources to make something better for both of us. In that case, it's reasonable that you have a say in the development of your feature and perhaps on the overall direction of the project too.

A real life example might be a couple moving in together. You bring the TV, I bring the microwave, we both get full use of everything. If you were living in the apartment on your own before, you have probably made some decisions already (ISP, phone & utilities providers, etc), but if we decide on any new stuff then we decide together. Of course, you might have a room in the house that's all yours, and if you want to install a pinball machine beside the pool table in your games room, I won't stop you, but if you want to put it in the bedroom, I might want to have some input into the decision.

Of course, there's a huge middle ground between a simple small patch ("I bought you a pot plant") and an equal partnership of living together... and the amount of control one can expect depends on the investment of each party into the shared whole.

Dave.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 15:41 UTC (Thu) by nybble41 (subscriber, #55106) [Link]

> there's a huge middle ground between a simple small patch ("I bought you a pot plant") and an equal partnership of living together...

I'm not sure a gift with such far-reaching implications (possession being illegal and all) is analogous to "a small simple patch". Or did you mean "potted plant"?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 15:46 UTC (Thu) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

> I'm not sure a gift with such far-reaching implications (possession being
> illegal and all) is analogous to "a small simple patch". Or did you mean
> "potted plant"?

:-) It was a patent encumbered patch.

Dave.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 23, 2011 7:21 UTC (Mon) by fabsh (subscriber, #61595) [Link]

You could always turn down the gift if you think it's not worth it. As in real life, you aren't required to take a gift.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 16:59 UTC (Tue) by wlach (subscriber, #23397) [Link]

I would add that Sun was very clear about why they required the JCA: so they could release a commercial product with the end result (StarOffice). It was and is really unclear to me why Canonical wants full copyright over its various projects: this lack of transparency can't help but foster mistrust.

It's also a serious misrepresentation of the facts to say that LibreOffice forked solely because of a "radical faction" that refused to contribute code under Sun's agreement. That was certainly a factor, but it was far from being the only or even the most important one: my experience was that the project's internal processes made it incredibly difficult for a third party to contribute to the project, with or without signing the JCA.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:14 UTC (Tue) by AlexHudson (subscriber, #41828) [Link]

I would go further than say "misrepresentation". I don't know where Shuttleworth got that version of events, but it is so radically different to the public record and so offensive in content it deserves either good evidence in favour of it or a public apology.

And the argument just doesn't make any sense. "Oracle were so hurt by the fork that they laid off their active development team and now the project is much less active" is a ridiculous notion. Were Oracle really so bothered by ~20 or so hackers of varying skill that they immediately laid off their 100-strong team?

And the "factionalists" who caused this, who are they? I imagine he's talking about people like Michael Meeks, who is a deeply admirable fellow (whose company I've had the pleasure of a number of times) who I'm sure was key to the split.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but Meeks is also the author of a particularly well-argued piece on Contributor Agreements and why they don't work well. I find it strange and co-incidental that Shuttleworth would fling some random poo in his direction at the same time while he's trying to talk up his Contributor Agreement project "Harmony".

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 9:39 UTC (Wed) by misc (guest, #73730) [Link]

I would not call you a conspiracy theorist. In fact, that's likely valid to some extend. If you see someone opinion as being wrong ( like I guess Mark have seen the one of Michael ), you will have a negative first mpression on what this person do later, and thus be biased on his initiative. That's human, Mark just act like all others person on this planet, and that's likely a subconscient reaction. See "confirmation bias" on Wikipedia, and various others bias.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 16:35 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Before I reply in full. Is there any possibility at all to listen to the original audio recording so I can hear the quoted phrases in context.

I want to give Mark Shuttleworth as much benefit of the doubt as I can muster and I'm hoping for his sake that breadcrumbs of quoted phrases make more sense when viewed in the original context instead of how they are presented here by the LWN author.

I'm not saying that to disparage Jake's editorial eye, but I'm sincerely hoping that in the actual conversation Mark makes more sense and shows a more nuanced and mature understanding of the issues than how his views are presented herein. There's a lot of emotional leakage showing in the chosen quoted phrases, and not much reasoned or rational thinking. I'd hoping the rest of the conversation has a little more meat to chew on and a lot less sensational jaw dropping moments.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:07 UTC (Tue) by jake (editor, #205) [Link]

> Is there any possibility at all to listen to the original audio
> recording so I can hear the quoted phrases in context.

No, I'm afraid not. No audio was recorded, we just chatted and I took notes, while trying to understand Mark's ideas as best I could.

> There's a lot of emotional leakage showing in the chosen quoted
> phrases, and not much reasoned or rational thinking.

If that's true, then I failed to convey the conversation well. Mark has certainly done a lot of thinking about this stuff, and presented it in a rational way. It was, though, an off-the-cuff discussion, not some prepared remarks, which leads to some disjointedness (as does me madly trying to take notes while listening).

jake

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:19 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

I would call the majority of the chosen quotes.. rational speech. I've seen Canonical employees get pissed off for far less bombastic name calling in other contexts.

I would not consider the quoted material as a best-foot-forward approach towards a constructive discussion. But speech like that, which casts those with a different pov as "fundamentalists" right out of the gate is a good open salvo in a public relations war. I'm not sure that is actually what Shuttleworth wants... a war of words. That would seem to be counter to his goals. And it's not what I took away from his very sincerely sounding contrite apology in the UDS keynote video for not leading the discussion on these issues prior to this point.

If you have a followup private discussion with him, please encourage him to make an on the record statement in full in his own words instead of continuing to have private discussions with intermediaries which run the risk of misrepresenting what he actually wants to achieve.

If I'm fundamentalist about anything, its my desire to have a public on the record discussion about these issues, where everyone can be held personally accountable for what they choose to say in the discussion.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 19:51 UTC (Tue) by ejr (subscriber, #51652) [Link]

I concur about the quotes needing context. I bristled very quickly into reading the article, even trying to keep an open mind.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:29 UTC (Wed) by k3ninho (subscriber, #50375) [Link]

I'd be very interested in hearing the audio, had you recorded it. I assume that recording interviews is the standard journalist's tool for reviewing an interview to get the most out of the time. I think I'd pay to hear a recording, were you to do them in future. Could you create that kind of subscriber perk?

K3n.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 8:43 UTC (Thu) by jschrod (subscriber, #1646) [Link]

Did you run your article by Mark; to check if he thinks this is a faithful recording of your conversation?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:17 UTC (Tue) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

I was also a bit disappointed by the article and it's quotes. it comes across as picking the most attention getting quotes, even at the expense of the meaning.

the fact that he thinks that contributor agreements will '"..weaken Canonical", but will strengthen the ecosystem. ' is defiantly not something that is understandable from the quotes.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:28 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Again no offense meant to Jake in particular when I say this.

I expect a certain amount of sensationalism in any laypress article. They do have a job to do which is not strictly to report the boring bits. I don't think this is unduly sensationalist, but its also not a constructive dialog on the merits. Its _interesting_ but not necessarily _constructive_.

This is why Shuttleworth really needs to stop engaging with the press...stop making soundbites..and actually engage in a discussion on the merits with people who respectfully disagree with his position and actually talk through things and make the case for and against. It doesn't have to be a free for all, but an on the record thoughtful publicly archived full conversation is needed.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:55 UTC (Tue) by andrel (subscriber, #5166) [Link]

LWN isn't lay press -- their coverage is too specialized.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 19:29 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

I struggled a bit with this one during the review process and thought we had cleared it up. Here's my interpretation, which is very much third-hand and could be wrong, bear that in mind.

Mark says he wants to "empower" projects; by that, I believe, he means empowering a project's (single) owner to take it proprietary if need be. An empowered project can create its own revenue stream, in the process taking revenue from the distributors who are otherwise the only ones in a position to support the code. So, by "empowering" projects in this way, he hopes to strengthen the ecosystem (creating more high-quality applications), but, since such empowerment may take revenue from Canonical, it may weaken his company.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 19:42 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Like how Canonical helped empower the Banshee developers to build the Amazon web store with its referral revenue stream.

I call BS.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:33 UTC (Tue) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

This is not a categorical problem, but one of numbers. What will make more money for the Banshee project, 25% with Ubuntu or 100% without? Can Ubuntu bring in 4 times more users?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:44 UTC (Tue) by AlexHudson (subscriber, #41828) [Link]

Actually, I disagree. If you're talking about empowering projects, Ubuntu bringing in twice the revenue via the broader user-base still isn't obviously a good deal. Sure, it's jam today, but where's tomorrow's jam going to come from?

If you care about sustainable business models, giving someone else the control over your revenue stream is not a sure-fire recipe for success.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 7:22 UTC (Wed) by ingwa (subscriber, #71149) [Link]

This thread is mixing two things: the distribution of free software in order to get more users, which is what the Linux distros normally do, and "distribution" of a revenue stream, which is not something that Linux distributions normally do.

If the banshee developers want to create a revenue stream from their free software project, it's not at all a given right that they can demand help with this from the distribution.

When it comes to users, it's the shared interest of the developers and the distro that as many users as possible get access to the application. But when it comes to revenue stream, they suddenly become competitors. Or rather: they become different steps in a standard sales channel: the vendor and the distributor. It's only fair that they share the revenue.

This said, it's entirely possible that the best strategy in the long run is to build your own distribution channel and get 100% of the revenue. After all, you should own your own customers, right? But then the devs or (more likely) their fanboys shouldn't complain that the distributor doesn't give them a channel for revenue generation for free.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:32 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

You took the wrong point away from my snark. Canonical's actions in the handling of the banshee situation do not jive with point Corbet interpret from Mark's language.

I'm not saying Corbet's interpretation of what Mark said really is what Mark intended or not. Without the original conversation I can't make the judgement for myself. Corbet did admit this was hard for the LWN team to wrap their head around what Mark said here and I'm more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt as I'm the _only_ professional Mark Shuttleworth mind reader. I have business cards and everything...very classy..very professional..I'm available for birthday and retirement parties.

I'm saying,that correct or not, that particular interpretation doesn't make any sense in the context of what happened with Banshee. And if that is what Mark really meant to say, Mark needs to take a second run at explaining his point using the Banshee situation as an illustrative example of how Canonical is willing to take a financial loss in order to empower application developers and the ecosystem to build viable revenue streams to take application development to the next level. Because from where I sit, it sure looks like Canonical actions are out of step with the intent expressed here.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:45 UTC (Tue) by jake (editor, #205) [Link]

> Corbet did admit this was hard for the LWN team to wrap their head
> around what Mark said here

I think what Jon meant was that I didn't describe what Mark said very well. I/We thought that a revision of that particular spot in the article fixed the problem, but evidently it did not. I agree that Jon's characterization of what Mark said is my understanding as well, which should come as no surprise because I am the one who explained what was meant during the review process.

I do think that Mark would put a much different spin on the Banshee situation than you are (of course). He would, I think, argue that he is trying to empower Banshee with a larger revenue stream by bringing the application into Ubuntu, which will, at least in his mind, bring many more users (and much more revenue) to the project. You can agree or disagree with that, but it is in keeping with what he said in our conversation, I believe.

jake

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:58 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

There is no evidence that Canonical was willing to take a financial hit in the original offer put forward to Banshee. Even in the final arrangement that Canonical unilaterally imposed on the Banshee developers its still not clear that Canonical takes a financial hit. Canonical is taking a cut of the Banshee revenue stream and making money. Whether or not their cut is unreasonable is immaterial to the point at hand.

Clearly Banshee developers felt empowered before Canonical as a distributor decided they deserved a cut for providing a platform. Nothing Canonical did "empowered" Banshee devs to build that revenue stream.

And since we are talking numbers... does Canonical have a public fee schedule for application developers who want to build revenue streams that Canonical will be taking a reasonable cut of in the future as platform provider?

We've seen Google just announce at GoogleIO a flat 5% commission on revenue generating apps which make use of their html5 based platform on ChromeOS (AngryBirds being the showpiece for that). And we've also seen some information concerning Apple "empowerment" of application developer revenue models (poor poor CoverFlow) But I really haven't seen anything concrete from Canonical about what application developers can expect. Or does Canonical anticipate that so few developers are going to be interested in their platform that they can just handle revenue sharing on a case by case basis.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 25, 2011 5:00 UTC (Wed) by loftsy (subscriber, #75160) [Link]

If the Banshee project had a copyright assignment policy then they would be in a stronger position to negotiate revenue share with the distributions. So your example actually illustrates Mark's point precisely.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 16:49 UTC (Tue) by nettings (subscriber, #429) [Link]

the problem with companies is that you put your feelers out, find some nice guys at $company (or maybe $company is entirely nice), and happily establish cooperation. life is bliss, to mutual benefit.
then $nice_guy in $company is laid off or reprimanded by $bad_guy, or $company gets bought out by $idiot_company. lots of time is wasted, lots of promises are broken, lots of porcelain is smashed.
copyright assignment can work well with $company. but a whole body of IP under one copyright will give $idiot_company funny ideas.

mark's position is quite insightful, but i don't see him refute this issue, which is at the core of things as i see it.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:42 UTC (Tue) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

Absolutely correct. Companies are in no way "generous" with one another, agreements and contracts are written and all details nailed down by professionals of not getting caught (lawyers). And there are good reasons for that: Business is about money, and when there's money to be won you don't trust people. Not event *your* people (maybe shall I say _specially_ your people?).
If Mr. Shuttleworth thinks otherwise, _he_ is being ignorant of how the real world works. But I find it difficult to believe that such a fool could have become as rich as Mark Shuttleworth is.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 19:45 UTC (Wed) by rahvin (subscriber, #16953) [Link]

Don't attribute riches or even their accumulation to intelligence. That's a very big mistake even if it is repeated ad nauseam in the political space. Creation or wealth or creating/running a successful business isn't correlated to intelligence in the least. Luck and timing can play a bigger role in wealth generation than just about other factor. Contrary to what you hear in politics wealth makes no prediction on the incentive or even the ability to create additional wealth.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:23 UTC (Tue) by kleptog (subscriber, #1183) [Link]

So you've written some code and give it to $company under a contributor agreement. And that company gets bought out by $idiot_company. So what? You still have your code. Everybody still has the publicly released versions, including your code under the licence at the time.

I'm trying to understand what you actually lose by signing a contributor agreement. Actual, practical issues, not ideological ones.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:53 UTC (Tue) by andrel (subscriber, #5166) [Link]

There is a nontrivial expense to understanding the agreement prior to signing it.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:25 UTC (Tue) by kleptog (subscriber, #1183) [Link]

Yes, you're not going to get any disagreement from me about that. Just when I thought we'd gotten through the licence proliferation and gotten legal to understand the common licences, we're now confronted with a proliferation of contributor agreements.

But ISTM the issue is more bad agreements than that all such agreements are bad. Can't someone come up with a few good examples that can be used as models.

That said, what does a good contributor agreement give you (or anybody) that requiring all contributions to be BSD licensed doesn't.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:40 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

When a company envisions proprietary relicensing as a business model for themselves and doesn't want to compete with other contributors to the codebase in a proprietary relicensing business landscape that company will chose an (A/L)GPL licensing model with copyright assignment to keep other entities for competing for the same business on equal terms.

When codebases are BSD license, copyright assignment doesn't create any special relicensing privileges for any contributor or contributing entity. When its BSD code, anyone can take the code a make a proprietary fork and compete with everyone else for the same market.

Mark Shuttleworth continues to over simplify the issues. The issue is not copyright assignment. The issue is the interaction of copyright assignment with copyright licensing choices in a way that deliberatively creates an unfair business advantage for one contributor over all others. He wants to paint opponents as a fundamentally oppose to assignment because he needs to point opponents as unreasonable in order for his point of view to seem relatively more reasonable. This is naked rhetorical manipulation of the discussion. At this point, he should know better. It's time to stop manipulate perception and to start having a conversation on the merits.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:54 UTC (Tue) by kleptog (subscriber, #1183) [Link]

Now we're conflating two issues: contributor agreement != copyright assignment. I was considering the case where if a project is GPL and one person/company owns 95% of the code base, then requiring contributions to be BSD doesn't appear to have any benefits over copyright assignment.

There are contributor agreements that don't do copyright assignment, Google's for example. They just want a statement that you own the code and won't assert any patents.

But there's your statement: "... in a way that deliberatively creates an unfair business advantage for one contributor over all others". Besides that being the whole point of copyright, I have a hard time seeing this as automatically unreasonable. If some company is investing in a project, why shouldn't they get some benefits? As long as all contributions are available in an open source release, you still get to fork if you really want to. What's the catch I'm missing?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:16 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

If you personally don't have a problem with assigning your copyrights over to a single for-profit entity... then feel free to do that.

However if your employer happens to be in the business of competing with that company and a proprietary version of the codebase you want to contribute to helps that other company more effectively compete with your employer... make really really sure your employer is okay with your contributing your expertise in helping out a competitor get a specialized advantage that your employer can't equally benefit from.

Or imagine a situation where the original copyright owning company completely and utterly fails to execute on its business plan. Just utterly drops the ball because of gross incompetence at the management level after like a decade of chewing through venture capital. You and a few other independent contributors who have the technical skills to maintain the project want to create a new managing entity with better management and try your hand at the proprietary relicensing business because you want to take a shot and doing the business thing better. If the code is GPL with copyright assignment, You'll have to _buy_ _back_ the copyrights you originally _gave_ _away_ to the first corporate entity. If the code is BSD (without without assignment) you can just go for it and build the better business.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 0:43 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

Jef,

if there is a company doing major development and you don't do copyright assignment and they go under and you want to try your had at proprietary licensing, you have to buy all the copyrights that you don't own. It may be harder to buy copyrights from many different people than to buy them all from one entity (even if it includes things that you wrote to begin with)

there is a fundamental difference in view between the people who assume that assignment (even if joint) is valid and those who do not

those who see it as valid see the organization that manages the copyrights as creating the vast majority of the code, with the other contributers being , if not minor, at least significantly less significant.

those who see it as invalid see the contribution from the outside as being worth at least as much as that generated by the organization.

different projects will have different ratios, but at least initially, almost every project where their is a team of people paid to work on it full time, that team will out-produce the outsiders. Over time the outsiders may become a much larger portion of the development, but if the development really is very lopsided, is it really so unfair?

one thing that assignment avoids is any arguments over if a particular patch is significant enough to warrent copyright on it's own.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 1:00 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Again.. talking about assignment without also talking about the license in use is not enough. BSD/MIT/Apache with assignment is a totally different situation than GPL with assignment. Assignment coupled with an automatically "business-friendly" proprietary permissive license is still a level playing field for all contributors. Everyone gets the ability to make a proprietary fork..to take their copy of the ball and go home..any time they want.

It's only when you mix copyleft licensing which strongly implies a co-development model with corporate copyright assignment where things get problematic and inequity arises between contributors. In this case the specific wording of the contributor agreement can matter a lot in terms of weighing the trade-offs...especially if you ever ever want to use the code you are contributing in another project or in another context.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 1:14 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

I actually haven't seen a contributer agreement that would prohibit you (the code author) from using the code for anything else (or contributing it to another organization). If there is such an agreement, I would oppose it.

but is such an extreme contract even common? much less the norm?

anything that I've seen that was an actual copyright assignment also included a license back to the author to use the code for any purpose or any context.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 2:00 UTC (Wed) by foom (subscriber, #14868) [Link]

Well, there's one rather significant purpose for which a license back is no use: contributing the same code to another project that also requires copyright assignment.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 2:07 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

good point.

that's a very good reason for pushing for either joint copyright assignment, or to explicitly give the project the right to dual license the code, or some other mechanism that can give the organization the rights that it is really looking for.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 3:13 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Right! The devil is in the details. Again I'll point out that Canonical's chosen form of contributor agreement doesn't not provide for dual-ownership or any such nuance. It's a blanket assignment. It's really difficult to take Shuttleworth seriously when Canonical's own assignment requirements are don't consider the complexity of a world where multiple projects are expecting ownership over potentially the same pieces of code that a contributor could be submitting across projects.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 3:34 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

The good news is that Mark recognizes that there are problems with their current agreement. Per the article, he considers it "mediocre at best" so there's hope in getting a good one eventually.

isn't that why Cannonical pushed for project harmony? It makes sense to me that while they see a problem with the current agreement, rather than trying to tweak the current agreement they instead try and work out a better document through wider discussion and only after that change their version.

it takes time to figure out how to fix things, but there is plenty of evidence that they are working on this area.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 4:16 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

He also admitted he's failed to show leadership in making the case for assignment in public. I would not call the closed door nature of Harmony discussions under Chatham House rules "evidence" of progress at all.

As far as I'm concerning Harmony under Chatham House rules was lost time and effort. Harmony is rebooting now with a public mailinglist. We'll see if Mark shows up on that publicly archived list and makes the case for assignment in his renewed effort to show leadership in this area. The continued lack of public discourse from him continues to be disturbing.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 25, 2011 10:26 UTC (Wed) by markshuttle (subscriber, #22379) [Link]

The meetings were an open invitation, lots of people both for and against CLA's were present or represented. They were not "closed door" in any sense. Chatham House Rules are a very good device for encouraging people to speak their minds without fear of attribution, and the best way to make progress on complicated discussions when there are inflammatory topics on the table.

Harmony is not "rebooting", it's got a draft which is appropriate for discussion.

FTR, Jake's article fairly represents my commentary. Under the circumstances, with me speaking fast and him taking notes, it's a very reasonable rendition.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:51 UTC (Tue) by mjg59 (subscriber, #23239) [Link]

Copyright assignment restricts the ability to market closed derivatives to the original upstream, while BSD would let anyone do it.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:05 UTC (Wed) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183) [Link]

> That said, what does a good contributor agreement give you (or anybody) that requiring all contributions to be BSD licensed doesn't.

Perhaps you don't want anyone to be able to use your code, but you do want it to get into this one commercial product. VirtualBox lets you choose between MIT licencing and a contributor agreement.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:05 UTC (Tue) by airlied (subscriber, #9104) [Link]

If you assign copyright of your code, you don't still have your code. Unless the agreement give you both joint copyright, which some of them don't.

You can't even recontribute your code to another project as you no longer own it.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:26 UTC (Tue) by nye (subscriber, #51576) [Link]

This article could be summarised as follows:

Mark Shuttleworth finally decides that being generally obnoxious is insufficiently fun, and switches to outright trolling.

What an unpleasant man.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:42 UTC (Tue) by apolinsky (subscriber, #19556) [Link]

I see nothing obnoxious in Mr. Shuttleworth's comments. Having used Linux since Slackware 2.2, I find them right on. Ubuntu is a wonderful derivative of Debian. It is easy to install and use. I've found my entire family can use it without a problem, whereas if I asked them to boot up my Centos, Debian, or Slackware machines they would have significant difficulties. They have installed software without an issue. Movies can be watched, if desired, without having to wonder if the 'codecs' are free or not. Unpleasant, no. Realistic yes.

Alan

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:54 UTC (Tue) by mjg59 (subscriber, #23239) [Link]

I think describing "I'm willing to give you a significant body of code that I've written and which makes your software better, but I'm not willing to give you a copyright grant" as ungenerous is pretty obnoxious.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:09 UTC (Wed) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183) [Link]

> I think describing "I'm willing to give you a significant body of code that I've written and which makes your software better, but I'm not willing to give you a copyright grant" as ungenerous is pretty obnoxious.

Questions of obnoxiousness aside, copyright assignment probably does discourage people from making "significant" contributions to projects.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:00 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

None of those benefits of Ubuntu that you enjoy express relate to the issue of copyright assignment for contributions to (A/L)GPL'd codebases to for-profit entities such as Canonical.

A disagreement with Shuttleworth over this issue is not an attack on Ubuntu or the Ubuntu community. A refusal to sign Canonical's contributor disagreement is not a disavowal of the Ubuntu CoC or the Ubuntu community ethos.

Don't let your enthusiasm for Ubuntu and for the Ubuntu community model cloud your judgment about the issues here concerning the balance between the interests of for-profit entities and the interests of the larger ecosystem with regard to the importance of a shared commons of peer co-development. These are really important issues for the overall ecosystem that go well beyond simple distribution tribalism.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 17:57 UTC (Tue) by ingwa (subscriber, #71149) [Link]

Actually his 80% done comment is spot on. You have no idea how much work it is to go from a program to a product until you have been involved in such an effort.

And free software projects have a notorious habit of not going the final km.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:43 UTC (Tue) by tdwebste (subscriber, #18154) [Link]

The goal of a Company is to expand its market share and to capture revenue from this market.

This may not a bad thing for shared development. Companies who sell hardware components or developer services benefit from the expanded application market created for their devices and services by the shared development effort enforced by GPL licenses.

Unfortunately Companies who create applications compete with every other application developer often without much customer loyalty. To gain customer loyalty these Companies need to be able to provide something other competing cannot. BSD and dual-licenses to the rescue. These licenses allow Companies to benefit from the development effort of others without sharing the hard bits.

BSD and dual-licenses result in fragmentation and wasted effort, because the hard bits are not shared. Solutions from Companies with the largest market share winning out. Not necessarily the best solutions.

GPL fragmentation is actually a good thing because others can observe and experiment with the alternate solutions to the hard bits, with finally the best solutions winning out.

-------
Learning, observing and experimenting is essential for training the next generation of developers who build on the experience of the last, solving new problems.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:50 UTC (Tue) by dgm (subscriber, #49227) [Link]

It has been said that, if making something for you costs 1, making it good for others costs 10, and then making it good for anyone costs 100. We have plenty of examples of the two extremes.

Maybe the amount of work you mention is the very reason why some projects don't walk that extra Km. It's a very uphill one.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 7:36 UTC (Wed) by ingwa (subscriber, #71149) [Link]

Yeah, except I heard the factor 3 instead of 10.

I'm pretty sure that this is the reason. But some projects actually do, even if there are no company behind it, even if it's rare. Krita[1], to take an example in my neigborhood, is handled very professionally. But you need to involve other skills than just software development, and that's also not something that many free software projects do.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:11 UTC (Wed) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183) [Link]

> But you need to involve other skills than just software development, and that's also not something that many free software projects do.

Perhaps a strong focus on making it easy for others to contribute would help too. But that is also boring once your software does what you want it to.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 22, 2011 0:30 UTC (Sun) by pflugstad (subscriber, #224) [Link]

According to the "Mythical Man Month" it's 3x to make it usable by others, and/or 3x to be a reusable component in a system (more or less), or 9x for both:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month#Proje...

This is covered in the first 5 pages of the book, which can usually be read online from Amazon. And it jives very well with every software project I've been involved in over ~20 years.

Anyone who does software as a profession needs to have read this book. And if your manager has not - find a new manager.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:10 UTC (Tue) by dkg (subscriber, #55359) [Link]

MySQL and PostgreSQL are "two great free software databases", which have companies behind their development or providing support.
This seems to be a poor example for the case Mark is trying to make. Postgresql is an outstanding F/OSS database with no requirement for making a copyright assignment whatsoever. And MySQL is in possibly its worst position in a long time because its copyright assignment centralized control over the codebase such that it could simply be bought (first by Sun, and then subsequently) by Oracle, one of its major proprietary competitors. This acquisition triggered a number of forks precisely because of concerns over Oracle's control.

Remind me again why these examples are supposed to convince me of the merits of copyright assignment?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 6:15 UTC (Wed) by tajyrink (subscriber, #2750) [Link]

With MySQL (company) they had the ability to have tens of people developing MySQL for years as a day job, because of the dual-licensing model they were able to use. Dual-licensing is one viable way to do business with free software in addition to more service oriented business. But still that (some contributor/copyright agreement) has I guess always limited the amount of community developers gathering around - although that might be partly because whatever community people there are, are quite a lot smaller in resources usually than tens of paid people.

MySQL, Postgres and copyright assignment

Posted May 18, 2011 15:02 UTC (Wed) by dkg (subscriber, #55359) [Link]

Yep. MySQL used copyright assignment to build a company and employ people. Other people used different employment strategies and no copyright assignment to build a community around Postgres. Because of the centralized control of the copyright for MySQL, the project was bought outright by a proprietary competitor. The MySQL community now seems to be in disarray. The Postgres community seems to be moving happily forward together.

At this point, i'd rather rely on the Postgres community (though i confess i like the Postgres RDBMS itself better than i like the MySQL RDBMS, so my technical inclinations may also be coloring my perceptions).

MySQL, Postgres and copyright assignment

Posted May 19, 2011 17:48 UTC (Thu) by sorpigal (subscriber, #36106) [Link]

This is a good point. From the view of most of the world it seems like having a company behind a program makes it reliable, but from a free software point of view having no single owner improves reliability far more. The MySQL example is quite instructive in this regard.

MySQL, Postgres and copyright assignment

Posted May 19, 2011 18:00 UTC (Thu) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198) [Link]

If MySQL represents the worst case scenario where a central copyright codebase gets bought out by a potentially hostile competitor then I'm not sure how bad that really is given that there are several active forks that look promising right now and the main vendor is still supporting and releasing new versions.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:12 UTC (Tue) by JoeBuck (subscriber, #2330) [Link]

My understanding is that the largest group (or, at least, a large group) of OpenOffice.org developers who weren't willing to assign changes to Sun (and later Oracle) were motivated not so much for "fundamentalist" reasons as for business reasons: they worked for Novell, and Novell didn't want to sign a one-sided agreement. Hence the Novell fork of OO.o.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:20 UTC (Tue) by zonker (subscriber, #7867) [Link]

Mmm-hmmm. Interesting that Mark glosses that over. He knows better.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:51 UTC (Tue) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

And because NIHism within Sun (see for example the gstreamer stuff that got worked into go-oo and then, months (years?) later got independently redone inside Sun).

And obscenely difficult patch acceptance requirements iirc.

mmeeks has a number of very informative articles on the subject from the last year or two (http://people.gnome.org/~michael/)

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:13 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Jake,

Quick follow up. Were you sponsored by Canonical to attend UDS? Or did you fly out there on LWN's dime?

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:27 UTC (Tue) by jake (editor, #205) [Link]

> Were you sponsored by Canonical to attend UDS?

As with most international travel (and domestic for that matter), LWN doesn't have the budget to send people to all of the different events that we cover. So we look for sponsorships and in this case Canonical did cover airfare and hotel.

jake

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:38 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Okay,
And do other corporate entities do this sort of tech laypress sponsorship to their equivalent events? Google? Apple? Red Hat? I don't know I'm asking. For all I know this is common practice across the industry and if it is, well I think the entire industry probably needs to be more upfront about it...so readership can take sponsorship into account when applying their bias filters.

Again not to say that you are overly bias, if anything I think you punched Shuttleworth in the mouth a little with your choice of quotes. And because the article isn't overtly biased in his favor even though you were sponsored, it gives me some leeway in asking you about bias in the industry in a more general way with the hope that you'll give the question full consideration. Is it ethical for technical laypress to withhold travel sponsorship information from readership?

And it gives me the chance to challenge you personally with the next question. Do you consider yourself an active Ubuntu contributor? I'm trying to understand how laypress sponsorship jives with Jono's explanation of the sponsorship process. Do you feel that sponsoring laypress from the same budget that sponsors active contributors to UDS is a fair use of funds? If you knew that your ticket and hotel could have paid for an active contributor to show up and engage in discussions and take on work items that need to be done in the next cycle would you have chosen to give your sponsorship to that contributor?

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 18:48 UTC (Tue) by jake (editor, #205) [Link]

> do other corporate entities do this sort of tech laypress sponsorship
> to their equivalent events?

I don't really know about Google, Apple, or Red Hat's policies in this regard. They don't really have "equivalent" events as far as I can tell (FUDCon might be the exception there). I have been sponsored by the Linux Foundation for various events (LinuxCon, Collab, MeeGo, probably others), by GNOME for GUADEC, and by CELF for various ELC and ELCE events, perhaps others as well.

> I think you punched Shuttleworth in the mouth a little with your
> choice of quotes.

Sorry you (and others evidently) think so, it was not my intent. I was trying to give an accurate picture of what he said.

> Do you consider yourself an active Ubuntu contributor?

No. As I understand it, my sponsorship did not go through the usual UDS sponsorship channels. It came, I think, from the marketing budget.

jake

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 18:55 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

We travel to a lot of conferences with assistance from the events involved. Do you really think that, over the last year, we could have reported from events in Germany, Japan, Brazil, Australia, England, Hungary, etc. without it? We have a long-term goal of being able to pay more of our own travel, but it's a hard one to hit.

The notion that we are, by virtue of writing about what happened at an event, somehow less deserving of travel sponsorship is just a little offensive.

In general we have tended to avoid distribution-specific events (or desktop-project-specific events) because we've always figured that somebody from an opposing camp would complain. We can't possibly attend every distribution's conference, so we normally attend none. Perhaps we need to stick to that in the future.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:12 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Let me be very clear I'm not complaining. In fact I'm actually following up on a gripe about journo sponsorship made by a journo who is most assuredly in the Ubuntu camp. I'm asking questions because I'm generally curious about how this works. For completeness I've poked someone in the eye at Red Hat via private email to ask about how they handle journo sponsorship. This isn't a witch hunt, I'm information gathering.

I would say that if its common practice for an organizing entity to sponsor journos, I think sponsored journos should include that information in any article about the event as part of disclosure.

And since Jono's description of the UDS sponsoring process added just this week doesn't mention journos as a special group...I was misled into thinking it was a common budget based on the chatter I was seeing about the original gripe. If there's a separate pot of money for journos then its not a problem. But like I said, from the chatter I'm seeing, that's not necessarily the impression. A clear statement about how journos are selected which parallel's Jono's description of UDS contributor sponsorship would probably make things clearer.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:24 UTC (Tue) by corbet (editor, #1) [Link]

FWIW, I never apply to a conference as a "journo" - I apply as a member of the community. I have never really seen how the decisions are made, but I believe conference organizers apply the same approach to us as to anybody else: how much will the event be improved by our presence?

A reasonable case could certainly be made for better disclosure of travel sponsorship, anyway.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:40 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Hmm, okay you personally don't go to conferences strictly as a journalist. Fair enough. But in this particular case Jake hasn't self assessed himself to be an Ubuntu contributor. So in this particular case, Jake went there primarily as a journalist covering a story.

And indeed having press at an event does add value for the journalist and the organizer and the readership. I would not suggest otherwise. But there are ethical considerations for the industry to consider when journalists are dependent on sponsorships from organizing entities.

I believe it would be adequate disclosure for anyone who attends and event and is sponsored to attend an event should disclose their sponsorship, whether they attended strictly as a contributor to participate or as a journalist to cover the story, or as a mix of both. It is good practice for a number of reason to disclose sponsorship depending on your particular situation as a sponsored individual. The GNOME devs who write personal blogs do a pretty good job consistently tagging GNOME Foundation sponsorships for events they attend and write about for example, though for completely different reasons than the reasons I would expect a journalist to disclose sponsorship to their readership.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 21:42 UTC (Tue) by mgross (subscriber, #38112) [Link]

I am very glad LWN gets sponsorships to attend and report what happens at these events. After reading through half of this thread I feel like I'm being trolled by a tinfoil hat.

Sponsorship

Posted May 18, 2011 2:02 UTC (Wed) by nzjrs (subscriber, #35911) [Link]

> In fact I'm actually following up on a gripe about journo sponsorship made
> by a journo who is most assuredly in the Ubuntu camp

I'm presuming you are referring to the OMGUbuntu folks.

I think elevating or equating OMG with LWN is an insult to the quality and depth of reporting at LWN.

I guess I don't see what mystery there is to get to the bottom of.

If LWN was picked because they were better (more technical, more thorough) journalists then I cant disagree. If they were picked because it was their turn then I have no objection. I can't imagine a cynical third option (if the goal was to provide positive coverage) that would result in LWN being chosen over OMG.

Sponsorship

Posted May 18, 2011 3:38 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

I'm not suggesting there's anything sinister or malevolent going on. I don't believe there is a tit-for-tat arrangement in place here or anything like that. And I don't think its a problem that Jake was sponsored to attend insofar as Canonical planned a budget for press separate from contributors. I'll try to verify that with Canonical peeps outside LWN. If any of them will actually talk to me still.

But I am stating that we'll all benefit from adequate disclosure about sponsorship. And I personally think the LWN team is probably the best example of journalistic standards in our little pocket of spacetime. And since I think that, I also think they'd listen to a reasonable request that such disclosures be made a common practice when such sponsorship occurs. Trust me, I'm not making a direct comparison between LWN and any other journalistic effort. There's no comparison.

To his credit, Jake didn't drag his feet about answering the question about sponsorship when I asked it. Asked and answered, no hedging no backpedaling..just a straight up answer..even though they know he openned himself up to criticism with the answer. I can't expect anything more than that. It's refreshing to get a clean answer even when the question is challenging in nature.

I'm not going to hold a grudge for the LWN team for not thinking about sponsorship disclosure as a matter of policy up till this point. I certainly didn't ever think about it before now. But I am thinking about it, and I think there's a reasonable chance they'll consider making disclosure part of their standard operating policy.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 18, 2011 4:01 UTC (Wed) by jake (editor, #205) [Link]

> even though they know he openned himself up to criticism with
> the answer

I never really considered that, exactly. I have at various points thanked sponsors in my articles from conferences, typically in some kind of wrap-up article. But, I am sure I have forgotten more than a few times as well.

I have no problem "disclosing" that kind of information at all. But I am surprised that some think it is really all that significant in terms of determining biases. We all have biases, and most of what goes into those biases cannot be quantified by things like 'were sponsored to go to XYZ conference by ABC org'. There are plenty of other, less visible things that *could* be contributing to my biases (corporate subscriptions and advertising are two obvious possibilities).

In order to create a bias filter for a site or a writer, I think you have to read the material and compare it to what else you know of the subject of the article and go from there. Over some period of time, you will get a feel for where the biases are, and whether you trust the site/writer to, generally, accurately report things. I can certainly disclose that someone paid for some of the expenses to get me to a place where I could cover an event, but for all you know they (or a competitor) were handing me $100 bills hourly.

It just seems obvious to me that the only way to really figure out what the biases of a given writer/publication are is by reading it and forming your own opinions. Finding out about sponsorships might seem like it helps, and maybe it does, but it's really no substitute for reading and thinking about what's written.

jake

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:12 UTC (Tue) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

I think if distributions consider LWN coverage important and request a editors presence and are willing to sponsor you, I don't think there is a important reason to refrain from doing so. Many of important free software projects compete with others and LWN reports one or the other depending on the release or conference or something else relevant. I don't see why distributions are special in that regard.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:20 UTC (Tue) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

I don't see that accepting sponsorship to attend an event is a significant problem (and it doesn't matter if the event is distro specific or not), however it can be a slippery slope if journalists or sponsors allow it to affect their decisions (from the sponsor side, "X wrote bad things about the event last year, so I don't want to pay for them this year", from the writer side "I don't want to offend the people who paid my way here")

LWN does a very good job of being even-handed in it's reporting (better than any other organisation I know of writing about the industry), That may be why this article stood out in that if anything, the choice of quotes seems to be aimed at putting Mark in a bad light (very few articles have this many direct quotes), so LWN is definitely not falling down this slope.

I would be disappointed if concerns over this made it so that LWN appeared at fewer events.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 19:28 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

To be fair to Jake, this could be a faithful representation of Shuttleworth's state of mind on the subject. While these particular quotes are _disturbing_ there's no reason to overreach and suggest Jake means to paint Mark in a bad light. It could very well be Mark paints Mark in a bad light and I'm going the extra mile to give Mark the benefit of the doubt on that and I'm willing to withhold my intense scrutiny over these statements if there is a more expansive statement from Mark on its way into the public record. I'll give Mark till the end of the week to post a blog article which allows him to frame his arguments..without the name calling.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 20:44 UTC (Tue) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

parts of it I believe completely.

there has always been tension in the FOSS community between those who are willing to make compromises in order to provide needed functionality now and those who will do without the functionality until it's free.

Mark has clearly placed himself (and Ubuntu) in the camp of those willing to so things that the other camp isn't willing to do in order to provide functionality now. He is far from being alone in that camp (Linus is another vocal member of that camp) and his description of the other camp as being 'ideologues' is not unexpected (or, in my mind particularly inappropriate, what would)

the problem that he talks about where companies start to open up and get hammered for what they haven't opened yet rather than thanked for what they have opened is a serious problem

I also don't think that anyone disagrees with the '80% complete' problem that he describes.

the need or lack thereof for contributor agreements is a matter where there is a lot more disagreement. It's good that he isn't happy with the current Cannonical agreement, I don't think anyone is and the big thing that he needs to do is to make it clear what he is trying to do with this agreement and re-write the agreement to provide the appropriate guidelines (it may be good enough to add guarantees that the software will always be available under a particular license or class of license in addition to any proprietary licenses that are granted)

I do think that it's a good thing that Mark had decided that it's acceptable for Cannonical to sign contributer agreements when submitting patches to other projects , as that should reduce the friction involved.

but as long as the FSF is requiring contributor agreements, many of the more vocal people really have a hard time arguing that the concept of a contributor agreement is evil.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 21:04 UTC (Tue) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

I still find it ironic that LibreOffice comes under fire from Mark, even though Canonical's first contribution to the codebase, as far as I am aware, was to the LibreOffice fork and not to the OpenOffice fork (either before or after the fork occured.) And I believe Ubuntu made the decision to switch to LibreOffice before Oracle jettisoned OpenOffice staffing. It's a bit revisionist of Mark to make the sort of accusations about the disruption LibreOffice caused to OpenOffice development when Canonical was more than eager to jump ship and support Libreoffice so quickly. I wonder if Canonical had taken a stand and said you know what, we are going to continue to stick with Oracle and OpenOffice because we "trust" Oracle to continue to provide sound leadership for the codebase..would that have changed the history of things. Ubuntu is soooo popular, if Canonical had decided to stick their neck out and support Oracle's leadership wouldn't that have been a game changer?

If he's going to talk the talk, Canonical needs to walk the walk. And with LibreOffice, Canonical walked away from corporate management of the codebase and embraced open co-development. Mark can't have his cake and eat it to, try as he might. Canonical showed real leadership in how quickly they embraced Libreoffice.

And he still gets the details of the Qt copyright assignment history wrong. Qt had a BSD relicense nuclear option for like a decade+ tied to its dual licensing model. If the open development tree closed down, a non-profit entities had the authority to relicense the last available open development codebase as BSD. That is a _huge_ offset against bad faith proprietary re-licensing. He continues to gloss over that history when holding up Qt. I've even said that Qt's nuclear option seemed like a fair trade-off to protect long term contributor interests. More disturbingly I don't believe the Harmony drafts make room for that sort of creative long term balance of interests..at least not explicitly. So if anything Harmony may push that sort of pragmatic balance of corporate and contributor business interests off the table as a future model for engagement.

Shuttleworth is not one to let little things like "facts" get in the way of his goals to craft perception and opinion towards the ends that best suit his personal interests.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 21:05 UTC (Tue) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

"but as long as the FSF is requiring contributor agreements, many of the more vocal people really have a hard time arguing that the concept of a contributor agreement is evil."

I don't think anybody considers it "evil" and any such portrayal is very unhelpful however many would consider copyright assignment as problematic when commercial companies use it and it is especially problematic when people point to FSF as a justification for it as they invariably do because FSF is a non-profit organization with a legal mandate for serving the public while commercial organizations are not and FSF copyright assignment gives a legal guarantee and FSF's own history makes it clear that they would never release contributed code under a proprietary license.

http://www.fsf.org/blogs/rms/assigning-copyright
http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2010/02/01/copyright-not-all-eq...

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 17, 2011 21:19 UTC (Tue) by quaid (subscriber, #26101) [Link]

"the problem that he talks about where companies start to open up and
get hammered for what they haven't opened yet rather than thanked for
what they have opened is a serious problem"

So I work for Red Hat on community organizing, and have been involved with many discussions directly with real software vendors (ISVs) who range from a spectrum of "all code is already open source but no community around it" to "maybe we'll open source something one day."

This assertion that companies get treated poorly in open communities is not an uncommon fear of these companies. But where is the evidence?

When I have observed these many companies interacting in open communities, or thinking about it, or doing anything, it is rare that I have seen a truly poor interaction that originated from someone in the community. Some mis-communication happens, but rarely, rarely is it an outright attack of the sort Mr. Shuttleworth tells hearsay about.

Aside from the general recognition to treat all potential contributors fairly, even corporations, in the last decade there has been a growth in professional open source developers who impact the quality of discussion in the open communities. I'm sure there ARE companies who have bad experiences, and I'm sure that a percentage of those are not directly at fault for that reaction. But is it an actual problem? Or just perceived as one?

What are the real facts? How close is the reality to the unsupported assertion Mr. Shuttleworth seems to simply repeat?

Considering that this is cornerstone of his long-thinking on the subject, I would hope he has at least done some market research. Not just talked with peer executives at other ISVs, who all repeat the same urban legends without any more evidence than hearsay.

My contrast, I turn to Dr. Dan Frye, who is the VP of IBM's open source developer group. In the below video, he talks about how THEY made the mistakes in their initial forays in to open source development. He didn't blame the community for their reaction. He fixed his house. Today, IBM has a process for evaluating how to join an open source community so they can avoid stomping in with giant boots-of-destruction:

http://video.linux.com/video/1381

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 17, 2011 21:26 UTC (Tue) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

I've witnessed numerous cases where companies start to open something and have people attacking them publicly (either for making mistakes as they start opening things up, or because they aren't being 'open enough' about some things, frequently about development for example)

This isn't just Mark imagining things.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 17, 2011 21:35 UTC (Tue) by quaid (subscriber, #26101) [Link]

"This isn't just Mark imagining things."

Agreed, nor am I imagining my own experience. (Which is that more companies strangle themselves in the open source crib than get strangled by external folks.)

But I'm not claiming my experience is the way things are, everywhere, and asking others to accept that anecdotal experience as unverified fact. Nor am I using it as the basis for an unpopular position.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 17, 2011 21:38 UTC (Tue) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

I didn't read it that he is basing any position other than 'this is a problem' on the basis of these sorts of actions.

if saying that is an unpopular position, then more people need to take such an unpopular position.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 17, 2011 22:32 UTC (Tue) by quaid (subscriber, #26101) [Link]

"I didn't read it that he is basing any position ..."

If the problem isn't as he describes it, then perhaps his conclusion of what to do is not the right answer?

His direction regarding CLAs is at least called in to question if he is basing that direction on the opinion that there is a wide spread problem if there is no evidence of that problem other than anecdotal.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 18, 2011 1:06 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

as I was reading this, I didn't see him basing any actions or positions on the problems that companies have opening things, I read that as a separate complaint from the problems of getting the last 20% done. and I read him trying to deal with the 20% problem as the reason for pushing contributer agreements (along with the possibility of dual-licensing projects)

I don't think that his solution will solve the problem, but I think he's entitled to try it and see if he can make it work (there are a lot of companies out there that I would not have thought that there was enough to make it work)

I would disagree with straight copyright assignment, but I don't see anything fundamentally wrong with the right to dual license (which is not the same as making proprietary derivatives). I see this as giving people who want to use the code two options 'support the project by contributing code' or 'support the project by contributing money so that the project can buy time to generate code'.

I know that some people are not willing to accept that as choice for their code (especially if they are outsiders, not part of the organization that would be getting the money), and to those folks I would say, find a different project to contribute to, there's no shortage of worthy causes. I will also guarantee that you will not always agree with the choices the organization makes, and for that it doesn't matter what organization, be it Cannonical or the FSF.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 18, 2011 8:33 UTC (Wed) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

Hi,
I've witnessed numerous cases where companies start to open something and have people attacking them publicly

As have I.

I would say that there are a number of factors at play here:

  1. Companies who are honest about the extent of their investment in community projects get a lot of credit. Companies who are not honest about the extent of their investment (potentially to themselves) get criticised.

    What I mean by this is: if a company makes an announcement that "we're releasing software X, it's going to be completely community run", and then the governance rules are blatantly skewed to favour the company, then they're going to be criticised. If instead they say "we're releasing this as open source software, but we plan to continue maintaining the core (but patch proposals are welcome)" they will get a free pass.

  2. Companies who leave themselves open to criticism like this lose respect fast, and there is a significant faction in most communities that are extremely, aggressively harsh towards entities they don't respect.

    This is not a good state of affairs - and I would like to see the vocal minority think of companies as groups of individuals, each worthy of basic respect, rather than a big amorphous entity that you can freely kick around without hurting anyone's feelings.

  3. Companies which are trusted, and lose that trust, have a long, hard battle to gain it back.

    Take the example of Sun, who announced open-sourcing of Solaris after a successful collaboration with GNOME. They never recovered from the criticism they got for OpenSolaris, Java, etc - and nothing they did (including for example relicencing Java as GPL) was good enough to regain the trust they'd lost by messing up the initial release of OpenSolaris. Canonical feels to me to be in a similar situation - slowly spending their community capital and progressively losing the trust of their supporters, until no matter what they do they will be criticised because it won't be good enough.

This is a really hard situation to be in as a company. If you mess up your first interaction with a project, you can spend years repairing the relationship & regaining trust. You do it in baby steps, by showing that you're learning, by entrusting individuals to represent you in communities, and by having those individuals do things in the community's interests.

On the other hand, I have seen companies progressively increase their interaction with communities, and each additional step is met with approval and thanks. Or companies that are forthright that while their product is free software, that they're going to maintain control of their core product, and that's been accepted by their user community. The difference is in the fall from grace and loss of trust. So my best advice to companies thinking about interacting with a free software community is: start small, be honest with yourself & others. Gain trust through your actions, and then handle that trust carefully.

Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 18, 2011 22:08 UTC (Wed) by vonbrand (subscriber, #4458) [Link]

Sorry, but Sun did not fix their problem with Java (witness the heat Oracle is now raining on Android over that same code) or their other open source projects (placing OpenSolaris under their expressly not GPL compatible license). So it isn't that they invested years of hard work in regaining confidence, they lost whatever they had fair and square and did precious little to gain it back.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 19, 2011 7:23 UTC (Thu) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

> Sorry, but Sun did not fix their problem with Java

The main problem people had with Java is "it's not released under the GPL". Then it was. But that was too late, the confidence had been lost, and so people were looking for the catch, and they found it - "the conformance suit isn't available under a free licence".

If Sun's first announcement was "Java released under GPL, but Sun to maintain control of Java trademark" then I think everyone's reaction would have been "fair enough, woohoo". Because this was a 2nd or 3rd step, after an initial "freeing Java" announcement (and in combination with the history around Solaris), people were saying "boo, hiss - holding something back".

Which I think was mostly unfair.

> placing OpenSolaris under their expressly not GPL compatible license

Since when does every free software licence have to be GPL compatible? It would have been nice, but releasing it as free software is better than not releasing it as free software. This is a case in point of what Mark is saying - "not enough" is an all too frequent chant.

Cheers,
Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 19, 2011 15:09 UTC (Thu) by nye (subscriber, #51576) [Link]

>The main problem people had with Java is "it's not released under the GPL". Then it was. But that was too late, the confidence had been lost, and so people were looking for the catch, and they found it - "the conformance suit isn't available under a free licence".

You forgot 'passing the non-free conformance test is a condition for being able to use the numerous wide-reaching patents over which we will eventually sue you'. As catches go, a massive lawsuit probably counts as quite a big one.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 19, 2011 15:13 UTC (Thu) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

> You forgot 'passing the non-free conformance test is a condition for being
> able to use the numerous wide-reaching patents over which we will
> eventually sue you'. As catches go, a massive lawsuit probably counts as
> quite a big one.

Ah, I don't care about patents, and I encourage every other free software developer not to care about patents. It is an issue orthogonal to software freedom and the licence of the software.

Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 19, 2011 15:34 UTC (Thu) by nye (subscriber, #51576) [Link]

>Ah, I don't care about patents... It is an issue orthogonal to software freedom

Do you have any justification for this rather extraordinary assertion?

> and the licence of the software.

Yes, obviously.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 19, 2011 15:39 UTC (Thu) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

>> Ah, I don't care about patents... It is an issue orthogonal to software
>> freedom
> Do you have any justification for this rather extraordinary assertion?

The Linux kernel is patent encumbered. The GIMP saved GIFs when LZW was still patented.

This does not prevent either from being free software.

Mind me asking what was extraordinary about my assertion?

Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 20, 2011 21:49 UTC (Fri) by DOT (subscriber, #58786) [Link]

If you aren't allowed to use the software without explicit permission of a dictator (patent owner), how can you call that software free? It fails the first rule of software freedom.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 20, 2011 23:36 UTC (Fri) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

> If you aren't allowed to use the software without explicit permission of a
> dictator (patent owner), how can you call that software free? It fails the
> first rule of software freedom.

Then no software is free.

Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 21, 2011 5:40 UTC (Sat) by faramir (subscriber, #2327) [Link]

>Then no software is free.

Are you saying that ALL software is covered by
patents? That seems implausible.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 21, 2011 6:29 UTC (Sat) by dark (subscriber, #8483) [Link]

It seems plausible to me. There are so many of them, so vague and so broad. And software contains so many parts that might infringe. It seems unlikely that there would be no overlap, for any program that does anything useful.

Either way, how can you prove for any piece of software that it's not covered by any patents?

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 21, 2011 9:54 UTC (Sat) by DOT (subscriber, #58786) [Link]

There is a reason why patents are such a huge pain in the ass of free software; it's not orthogonal at all. But let's not overstate the problem. All software with a free software license can be considered free until it is actually found to infringe a patent.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 21, 2011 10:30 UTC (Sat) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

and the patent holder decides to not license it for free software

for example, the RCU patent has been licensed to all software under the GPL IIRC

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 22, 2011 8:22 UTC (Sun) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

If a patent license is available, it is not a infringement anymore.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 22, 2011 21:13 UTC (Sun) by dneary (subscriber, #55185) [Link]

> All software with a free software license can be considered free until it
> is actually found to infringe a patent.

I would say *proven* to infringe a patent. And that needs a court case. And a bucketload of money. And not $1 bills.

So, all software is free, and the patent system is broken, and keeps approving patents which, if challenged, would be invalidated. So, as I said, I don't worry about patents, and I don't think a patent should ever be a reason not to write a piece of free software.

Cheers,
Dave.

Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have

Posted May 22, 2011 23:11 UTC (Sun) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

patent infringement doesn't need to be proven to put a company out of business, a lawsuit is enough (it takes a lot of money to defend against a patent lawsuit)

Evidence - "problems" companies have

Posted May 22, 2011 7:57 UTC (Sun) by nhippi (subscriber, #34640) [Link]

Yes, the evidence is quite out there. Watch for example the Nokia Maemo saga. Lots of people would complain that some modules of code (which those people had no intention of ever modifying) were not open source. Complaining rather than celebrating the fact that company moved from 100% closed source to 90% open source.

Evidence - "problems" companies have

Posted May 22, 2011 8:09 UTC (Sun) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

In my two+ years of working with Nokia on Calligra for Maemo and MeeGo they have always been exemplary. Working upstream, in our bugzilla, in our code repository, with us, coming to sprints and events, taking responsibility to grow the community by engaging with students. And with immensely valuable results, like much better import filters, new text engine for Words and lots, lots more.

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 20:50 UTC (Tue) by ofeeley (subscriber, #36105) [Link]

QUOTE: if anything, the choice of quotes seems to be aimed at putting Mark in a bad light (very few articles have this many direct quotes)

It's impossible to know if the choice of quotes is aimed at anything, or is instead a fair representation of the interview. That's why journalists often keep a recording. Given Jake's previous reporting it might be fair to assume that he managed to capture the essence of the interview and in order to reinforce his interpretation provided quotes to anchor it.

If you look at the companion piece[1] about UDS you'll see that the same style (short, inlined quotes) is used.

1. https://lwn.net/Articles/441578/

Sponsorship

Posted May 17, 2011 21:51 UTC (Tue) by cmccabe (subscriber, #60281) [Link]

This article seems very consistent with the other things Mark Shuttleworth has said and done in the last few years. He clearly believes in copyright assignment and finding ways to monetize FOSS on the desktop.

He is clearly frustrated that FOSS is a cost center rather than a profit center for companies. For example, Google and Facebook spend money on FOSS to support their operations, but they don't directly make money from FOSS. It is an expense for them, like air conditioning or health care.

Shuttleworth seems to think that using copyright assignment, companies can offer premium version of their projects alongside open source ones. This would allow them to generate a revenue stream of their own.

It would have been nice to have fewer, longer excerpts from the speech. Having just a few whole paragraphs would probably have been better. But it's not like the content of this speech should surprise anyone. He's been saying these things for years. It's kind of like seeing "breaking news: Pope thinks Jesus is a great guy" in the headlines.

P.S. I don't think I agree with Mark... copyright assignment seems to separate communities into first-class citizens who get the profit from selling proprietary licenses and second-class citizens who never will. But that's another issue and it's been discussed many times elsewhere...

Sponsorship

Posted May 18, 2011 9:44 UTC (Wed) by anselm (subscriber, #2796) [Link]

Google and Facebook spend money on FOSS to support their operations, but they don't directly make money from FOSS.

They may not actually make money, but it certainly saves them money. Linux lets Google use commodity PCs for their server farms, and imagine the aggregated cost of those Windows licenses/maintenance/….

Besides, I'm sure that, from a strategy POV, Google would hate being dependent on their biggest competitor for their operating system. If Linux didn't exist, it might even be worth Google's while to write their own operating system just to be »free«.

Sponsorship

Posted May 18, 2011 21:02 UTC (Wed) by piggy (subscriber, #18693) [Link]

> In general we have tended to avoid distribution-specific events (or desktop-project-specific events) because we've always figured that somebody from an opposing camp would complain. We can't possibly attend every distribution's conference, so we normally attend none. Perhaps we need to stick to that in the future.

It would sadden me if this were the outcome. I certainly appreciated the coverage reported here. I count on LWN occasionally attending many of the conferences that I would love to attend myself.

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 9:13 UTC (Thu) by jschrod (subscriber, #1646) [Link]

> In general we have tended to avoid distribution-specific events (or
> desktop-project-specific events) because we've always figured that
> somebody from an opposing camp would complain. We can't possibly attend
> every distribution's conference, so we normally attend none. Perhaps we
> need to stick to that in the future.

No, please don't. It gives us a chance to learn what's going on at other distributions. I like to hear about UDS or about Fedora meetings, it's interesting information. Please, don't let the jspaleta's obsessed search for Shuttleworth/Canonical misdoings influence your journalistic decisions. That you can let the respective organizations pay for your travel and conference costs, is a trust situation that you (both you personally, and LWN.net as a whole) earned with impartial reporting in the past.

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 9:30 UTC (Thu) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> In general we have tended to avoid distribution-specific events (or desktop-project-specific events) because we've always figured that somebody from an opposing camp would complain. We can't possibly attend every distribution's conference, so we normally attend none. Perhaps we need to stick to that in the future.

I personally wish that you would _not_ stick to that in the future. The conference reports are, at least to me, useful and interesting.

Please (*please*) don't let (what I see as) jspaleta "trolling on all things Ubuntu" influence LWN policies and choices. I mean, are we to get less coverage on Ubuntu because jspaleta has nothing better to do than post 50 times in _every_ Ubuntu/Canonical story?

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 10:11 UTC (Thu) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Wow....

And again, I'll re-iterate that I'm not complaining about Jake's attendance at UDS. I'm _not_ asking for some sort of sham "fair and balanced" stupidity for event coverage either. I do not expect LWN to try to be at every possible event to cover all bases and all factions. And like you I don't think they should go out of their way to avoid "camp" specific events either.

I do think its better for all of us in the readership that travel sponsorship is disclosed as a matter of policy. And to Jake's credit he added a sponsorship thank you in the newest weekly edition article summarizing the UDS experience, which more than meets any reasonable sponsorship disclosure request I could ask for as a member of the readership.

It could very well be that we need to find more ways to get press sponsored to attend conference events to raise the profile of working going on in the ecosystem. And I have no problem with that, as long as we make it a cultural norm to disclose sponsorship.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 14:07 UTC (Thu) by bfields (subscriber, #19510) [Link]

And again, I'll re-iterate...

Most of us heard you the first time, even if you for some reason feel that one particular commenter didn't.

Please do us all the favor of stating your position once as well as you can, and then sitting out unless you have something to say that an intelligent reader wouldn't be able to figure out on their own from a previous post.

(Apologies for the off-topic post.)

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 15:44 UTC (Thu) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Nope. I will not restrict myself to a single shot at explaining myself. But I will endeavor to limit myself to two additional attempts to restate a point when I feel something may have been communicated poorly.

-jef

Sponsorship

Posted May 19, 2011 14:01 UTC (Thu) by stevem (subscriber, #1512) [Link]

Definitely. If possible, try and get LWN folks anywhere you can in terms of conferences and meetups. Lots of really cool developments and ideas come out of them, whether they seem to be distro- or desktop-specific.

Also +1 on not letting jspaleta put you off!

Sponsorship

Posted May 20, 2011 18:59 UTC (Fri) by Kluge (subscriber, #2881) [Link]

jspaleta does occasionally seem a little Ubuntu/Canonical/Shuttleworth obsessed. But IMO his comments on this article have been quite constructive. In fact, he seems determined to give Shuttleworth more benefit of the doubt than the interview implies he should have.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:06 UTC (Tue) by pzb (subscriber, #656) [Link]

While I'm not sure what you consider "equivalent events", I am aware that it is common to provide press passes as no charge for events and to pay some or all of the travel costs for select press and/or analysts. For commercial industry events, I have even seen the sponsor/show owner create special events for analysts, such as ski weekends or broadway show tickets.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 0:47 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Do you some specific event sponsors you want to call out by name? I'm planning on trying to contact up to 10 different FLOSS ecosystem entities (for-profit and non-profit alike) in my effort to get a sense of what the cultural norm is. Like I said this isn't a witch hunt, I'm genuinely interested in knowing what the current norm is for handling of press access to events and what the sponsoring entities expect in terms of disclosure from journalists.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 1:22 UTC (Wed) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

free access for the press is very common (and the definition of 'press' is pretty slippery in the FOSS world)

providing assistance for press to attend is less common in the FOSS world, if for no other reason than that the budgets tend to be small.

but in the commercial world, high-value give-aways are very common, even to attendees. This is a large part of the reason that many press people end up getting the reputation as shills and I believe that it's a large part of the reason that the traditional press (including many magazines) are of such poor quality.

I can't point at specifics on the commercial side, but if you read the write-ups after just about any major commercial event, it seems pretty obvious.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 1:30 UTC (Wed) by pzb (subscriber, #656) [Link]

I was thinking of events like:

  • VMworld by VMware
  • Oracle OpenWorld
  • Novell Brainshare
  • Red Hat Summit - JBossWorld
  • SAPPHIRE NOW by SAP
  • Lotusphere by IBM
  • Apple Worldwide Developers Conference

There are tons more, these are just a few that come to mind. I'm not sure if you would call all of these FLOSS ecosystem entities, but all contribute to FLOSS or have large percentages their software running on Linux. Admittedly none of these is really the same as UDS, but Canonical does not run a user conference similar to the above to my knowledge.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:39 UTC (Tue) by aryonoco (subscriber, #55563) [Link]

First of all, unlike what many people are saying here, I thought the piece was very well done, insightful, and balanced. Thank you Jake for the piece, and thanks you Jonathan for running it. Whether you use Ubuntu or not, UDS is an important conference (doubly important this time with the presence of Linaro people there) and LWN is right in covering it.

On the topic of contributor agreements, as a long time sceptic of contributor agreements, this was the first time that I began to understand Mark's vision and where he is going.

If free software projects generally own their own code base, and design a business plan to generate revenue around it and become self sufficient, this could strengthen the whole free software ecosystem. Unfortunately for Mark, I don't think this will happen.

Shuttleworth has poured his resources and years of his life contributing to the community. Even if you are not an Ubuntu user and have never benefitted from a Canonical-developed technology, I doubt that his creation of Canonical and Ubuntu have hurt anyone, so I find the level of antagonism and hostility by some community members towards him, baffling.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:10 UTC (Tue) by moofar (subscriber, #70283) [Link]

Its really not hard to understand. Shuttleworth is arguing for proprietary software, in order to help free software. Some people believe that proprietary software is wrong under all circumstances, so they criticize him. Imagine he was advocating for something you thought was wrong in all circumstances... for example he says "We need free software developers to help us poison children... because it will help us generate profit to pay for more free software development." It is not really a complicated perspective to understand.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:29 UTC (Tue) by aryonoco (subscriber, #55563) [Link]

He is NOT arguing for proprietary software. He is however advocating for projects to own their copyright, so that they can build a revenue-generating plan around it. If that plan happens to be dual licensing, so be it. Even RMS has acknowledged that dual licensed software can be acceptable, sometimes.

Has the world really suffered that much due to the availability of Qt under a commercial license, as well at GPL and LGPL?

Just to make it clear, I am not arguing in favour of contribution agreements. I believe they don't work, simply because they introduce a barrier to participation which discourages many to join, as well as the fact that most free software is developed by the "lone hacker" or collection of "lone hackers" who are not necessarily interested in building a business around their idea (and might not be good at doing so either). But the man has a vision and he's earnt the right to try his hand at it. It's perverse to twist Shuttleworth's words to claim that he is advocating for proprietary software.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:54 UTC (Tue) by moofar (subscriber, #70283) [Link]

"He is NOT arguing for proprietary software. He is however advocating for projects to own their copyright, so that they can build a revenue-generating plan around it."

The second sentence is equal to "He is advocating selling proprietary software." Owning copyright gives you only one kind of revenue-generating power. All other ways to generate revenue do not require copyright ownership. My statement is valid, he is arguing for proprietary software to help free software.

I am not saying he is wrong, but the fact that he, like you, tries to skirt around and obfuscate the rather simple way that free software people see things is really not going to help his cause.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:01 UTC (Tue) by moofar (subscriber, #70283) [Link]

And there is one minor exception to my above statement. See, http://ebb.org/bkuhn/blog/2010/10/19/proprietary-relicens.... Also, I am personally in favor of contributor agreements, but not for revenue-generating purposes. Project Harmony seems like a good idea to me.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 10:09 UTC (Wed) by pboddie (subscriber, #50784) [Link]

Owning copyright gives you only one kind of revenue-generating power. All other ways to generate revenue do not require copyright ownership.

The above quote has probably the most insight per word of the entire discussion. Copyright assignment is not merely about one specific kind of revenue generation: it is about exclusivity with respect to that kind of activity. And although people try to bring copyleft licences into this as some kind of problem - albeit only a "problem" if you want to make proprietary software and you're left staring at a copyleft licence - the actual issue is not which licence is attached to a "code drop" from an entity owning the code; it is the presence of double standards from the owner: that the community should believe and participate in the development of Free Software, but the owner would like to make some money from proprietary software.

This isn't problematic if the owner really developed the code themselves or rewarded those who did - there's a discussion to be had about whether a contributor is "rewarded" by being able to participate in a project and to use that project's code in the first place - but when a community of people have made the project into what it is, those people might regard the financial exploitation of their work as unfair. Economists and others might argue that the inequality of the roles in such projects should naturally lead to a smaller community of outsiders.

People who care about the availability as Free Software of their contributions might be more likely to contribute to projects which employ copyleft licences. However, such people may object to their contributions being used in proprietary software through copyright assignment or special licence grants. But if companies want to build a community around their software, they have to consider such issues carefully.

No company would enter a new field completely uninformed, so I don't really sympathise with the sentiments about people being unfriendly to clumsy businesses.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 16:37 UTC (Wed) by pspinler (subscriber, #2922) [Link]

Quote: "First of all, unlike what many people are saying here, I thought the piece was very well done, insightful, and balanced. Thank you Jake for the piece, and thanks you Jonathan for running it."

Ditto, my thanks also. This was important to cover, and seems to be a pretty good attempt at remaining balanced.

-- Pat

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 19:27 UTC (Wed) by bfields (subscriber, #19510) [Link]

One of the things journalists can do is interview people that most of us wouldn't get a chance to talk to very often. I like it. Thanks!

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 20:42 UTC (Tue) by moofar (subscriber, #70283) [Link]

When you speak in Mark's voice, but intersperse a hundred quotes of his actual voice, it is extremely frustrating to read. It makes me constantly think, what did he actually say? and what is the difference in what you are saying? The quotes are written as if he is saying the entire sentence, except he didn't. I would appreciate a transcript or recording of what he actually said. This article may have some informative value to someone, but it is nails on chalkboard for me, honestly a horrible feeling.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 2:32 UTC (Wed) by dberkholz (subscriber, #23346) [Link]

Not quite that bad for me, but I would recommend a more typical approach to quotes of using only complete sentences. In other cases, paraphrasing works perfectly well when coupled with "he said."

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 21:21 UTC (Tue) by stefanha (subscriber, #55072) [Link]

We're missing details on what exactly contributor agreements give companies without which they cannot get involved in open source. On each new paragraph of this article I hope to find the meat of why Mark Shuttleworth is championing contributor agreements but an explanation never comes. It is hard to have a real discussion without the logic behind why contributor agreements are necessary and why now.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 22:23 UTC (Tue) by neilbrown (subscriber, #359) [Link]

The key issue here is that lots of FLOSS projects only reach the 80% mark (and those are the really good ones) where the missing bits are the "boring bits" like polish and documentation.

The suggestion is that it would be good for the FLOSS community to motivate/enable developers to put more effort into those boring bits (true) and that funneling money with the right strings attached is probably the best way to do that (also probably true).

The next step in the chain of reasoning is that the best way to funnel that money is to enable FLOSS developers to sell something to one group of people while still being able to share most of that thing freely with another group of people. I think this is the link in the chain that many people really have a problem with, so they/we don't have any patience with the next link in the chain which is contributor agreements.

So I wonder if the conversation we need to be having is not so much about contributor agreements as about business models. Certainly some models have been found that channel some funding into FLOSS but it seems they aren't enough. In particular they don't seem to help with the "last 20%" problem. Is there a new business model?

The "app store" model has shown that you can make a lot of money by selling something for 99c to enough people. The "humble bundles" show that people are willing to pay for quality when given the opportunity.
I myself would be willing to drop a few dollars here and there from time to time to support FLOSS projects, but there doesn't seem to be any easy opportunity.

It feels like there should be a model that allows those who want to fund software to be "* supporters *" and there by enable developers to finish the job, but I have no idea what it is.... I'm sure it isn't a "--donate" option on all programs....

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 17, 2011 23:12 UTC (Tue) by moofar (subscriber, #70283) [Link]

I agree with your sentiment. Free software is more valuable to me than proprietary software, but there is no easy way for me give money as a single user. I would like to help free and open source projects x,y,z monetarily, but I haven't really heard from any of them that they want money, or could use it, or how much I should give, or how I can give.

How to donate to free software projects

Posted May 18, 2011 2:44 UTC (Wed) by denials (subscriber, #3413) [Link]

If you search for "donate project-name" in major search engines, quite often you'll find the answer to your questions. Here are some worthy ones to consider, IMO:

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 5:00 UTC (Wed) by pabs (subscriber, #43278) [Link]

Pretty sure most free software projects would prefer your time (for coding, translating, documenting, promoting etc) rather than your money. If you have more money than time, donate to things that require money. For e.g. it currently costs money to travel to free software conferences. The Libre Graphics Meeting does fundraising drives every year, as does DebConf.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 10:08 UTC (Wed) by fb (subscriber, #53265) [Link]

> Pretty sure most free software projects would prefer your time (for coding, translating, documenting, promoting etc) rather than your money. If you have more money than time, donate to things that require money.

I am pretty sure that there are a lot of people like me:
-- without much spare time;
-- with a fair amount of disposable income.

As always, convenience also plays a large role. I would certainly donate _more_ often to different projects if there was a "FOSS donate shop" that made it more convenient for me to donate for software I use a lot.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 11:53 UTC (Wed) by Trelane (subscriber, #56877) [Link]

FWIW, there are some formal and informal processes. This is slanted toward GNOME, where I have most interaction.

The formal process I'm most familiar with is GNOME's "Friend of GNOME" stuff (http://www-old.gnome.org/friends/) and particularly their "Adopt a hacker" program.

Informally, hackers sometimes post their needs on planet gnome, e.g. when seif needed a new laptop and set up a paypal donation system so that those so inclined could pitch in. Some of the projects (e.g. zeitgeist) have a paypal donate button, and other hackers have things like amazon wishlists.

HTH!

Projects and managing their donations

Posted May 18, 2011 10:22 UTC (Wed) by pboddie (subscriber, #50784) [Link]

I am aware of project organisations that have had problems spending their money, but in such cases the observation about projects needing more people or "time" actually concern volunteers (or "managers" in the business dictionary) who can make sure that money gets spent on useful things, not those who will actually write code or documentation.

Such organisations often don't want to frivolously spend money on things that wouldn't help the project in some way - massive billboard advertising or "Brewster's Millions" endeavours are seen as being irresponsible with other people's money - and thus they can get bogged down in micromanaging grants for worthy causes. Even with a healthy stream of worthy causes being suggested (adding functionality, writing manuals or courses), there's always the concern that such activities won't be sustainable after the paid individuals have finished their work: might such things not just add to the project's workload?

That said, I see a certain amount of benefit in targeted donations where someone might say that they have a specific objective and will pay for it to happen, thus providing the worthy cause and the cash. That isn't so different from a "bounty" - something that Mr Shuttleworth used to offer for various Python projects, as I recall.

Projects and managing their donations

Posted May 19, 2011 19:03 UTC (Thu) by sorpigal (subscriber, #36106) [Link]

Don't forget resentment. If we're all donating our time we're all equal. If some of us are paid to join the community, fine. If some volunteers begin to be paid by the project, but not others, then that's a recipe for trouble, infighting, etc.

Maybe feature bounties is the right way to go, but I've never seen that work well for unsexy work.

Projects and managing their donations

Posted May 19, 2011 19:41 UTC (Thu) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

do does that mean that companies should never pay people to work on open source projects?

or does it mean that if anyone working on a project is getting paid that people who aren't getting paid shouldn't contribute?

Projects and managing their donations

Posted May 20, 2011 0:22 UTC (Fri) by pabs (subscriber, #43278) [Link]

It just means that there are complex issues with motivations at play when the profit motive is introduced or already established within a community.

Google's model of introducing monetary motivation seems to be working well, at least from an outsider's point of view.

This is getting off-topic though, we need a separate article.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:29 UTC (Wed) by michaeljt (subscriber, #39183) [Link]

> It feels like there should be a model that allows those who want to fund software to be "* supporters *" and there by enable developers to finish the job, but I have no idea what it is.... I'm sure it isn't a "--donate" option on all programs....

The idea of a "donate" button on the bugtracker just crossed my mind. Without any guarantees of fixing, but at least raising the visibility of the bug.

Alternatively, people could donate money towards a particular bug which would be "released" to whoever fixes the bug, or to the project if the person didn't want the money. This would only work for projects that accepted donations of course. It needn't even be run by the project itself - someone else could manage the money and the administration for a percentage of the donations. I know there are things like this already, but as far as I recall they have been pledge things, not donate up front ones.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 8:26 UTC (Wed) by shmget (subscriber, #58347) [Link]

"Companies may be more willing to open up their code and participate if they know they can also offer the code under different terms. That requires that, [..] contributors be willing to give their patches to the project. [..] The "fundamentalists" who are unwilling to contribute their code under a copyright assignment [..] are simply not being generous, he said."

in other words: companies are more likely to open-up their software if they can get developers to work for free then turn around and sell that work under a closed licensed... Gee the best of both world right? Well for the 'company' at least...

And people spending their free-time writing code should not be 'selfish'? by insisting that the fruit of their labor remain open-sourced ? really ?

With friends like that who need enemies ?

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 3:21 UTC (Thu) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198) [Link]

I don't think I agree with this objection. You seem to be saying that you would rather not have more open source software if someone is profiting from it and only have projects that no one is profiting from because contributing to a project that someone else is getting revenue for is doing work for free even though you would have rights to the code per the license.

I personally have said that I think the confusion of gratis vs. libre and a definite undercurrent of people who want something for nothing has stunted an industry which could build a lot more cool things if developers could be better supported for their work.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 3:54 UTC (Thu) by mjg59 (subscriber, #23239) [Link]

Surely the ultimate choice here is down to either the developers or their employers? I'm pretty sure that the people writing the code understand the difference between gratis and libre. It's up to them whether they feel that giving away their copyright in order to let someone else gain the right to sell closed versions of their code is a net benefit or not. People who want something for nothing aren't the decision makers here.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 17:49 UTC (Thu) by raven667 (subscriber, #5198) [Link]

I suppose that's true that those people aren't the decision makers, I guess I just get distracted by what some people post on the intarwebs. It just seems like there is a lot of peer pressure to make things gratis and a generalized contempt of companies and money that prevents many projects from having the kind of success that, for example, Mozilla enjoys.

Maybe in an alternate reality what if major open source projects were organized as corporations owned by the major developers that charged license fees or had revenue sharing agreements with distributers. Everyone who puts significant effort in gets a cut and can maybe support themselves full time working on projects. You see this kind of thing in the games industry all the time these days, single developer shops or very small companies putting out small, inexpensive, high-quality releases and finding personal and financial success. It seems a shame that this model is translated so poorly to the open source "world".

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 15:23 UTC (Thu) by shmget (subscriber, #58347) [Link]

"You seem to be saying that you would rather not have more open source software if someone is profiting from it"

no, that is not what I'm saying.
I don't mind if a company sell maintenance or services (as in writing new code on demand for a fee) based on my code... but I _do_ mind that it does that under closed-source... that is why I use GPL and not BSD
In other word I don't mind that they make money so long as I at least get better/more code in return.

Another evil of the dual open/close model is that the company that manage the project as incentive to reject perfectly good open-source contribution because they have implemented it on the closed-source side of the house and don;t want to cannibalize their business... in other words making patch inclusion/rejection decision based purely on their business interest and not on the merit of the patch...

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 19:36 UTC (Thu) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

There are actually two models of operation that could involve non-open licensing, and you are making an assumption about what is involved.

one model is to have the exact same code with multiple licenses, one open, one closed.

personally I don't have a problem with this, either way supports the product (the open license with code, the closed license with money), and even RMS doesn't have a problem with this approach

the second model is the one you are concerned with where the company has a limited product under an open license, and an 'enhanced' product under a closed license.

I think this can be done sanely, and don't have a big problem with it, but it does have the problem that you describe where a company may be reluctant to implement something in the open version that they have implemented in the closed version

I believe that ghostscript is an example of this done sanely. As I understand it they develop enhancements that go into a closed version, but that version automatically becomes open after a given time period

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 20, 2011 15:06 UTC (Fri) by shmget (subscriber, #58347) [Link]

"one model is to have the exact same code with multiple licenses, one open, one closed."
I don't understand. why bother with the later then ? what's the benefit ?

"As I understand it they develop enhancements that go into a closed version, but that version automatically becomes open after a given time period"

That sound like a reasonable compromise I could live with...
But I think that Copyright assignment is an overkill to achieve this goal... although I am unsure of how to have the licensed worded to _guarantee_ that outcome (i.e not just hoping that the 'company' will do the 'Right Thing(tm)')

Bear in mind that 'Corporations' are psychopathic by design (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Corporation )

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 20, 2011 18:22 UTC (Fri) by dlang (✭ supporter ✭, #313) [Link]

>>"one model is to have the exact same code with multiple licenses, one open, one closed."

>I don't understand. why bother with the later then ? what's the benefit ?

the benifit is that companies that are paranoid about GPL 'infection' no longer need to worry about it. MySQL's business was based on doing exactly this, selling the same code that was available under the GPL under a closed license for people who didn't want to comply with the GPL (or were afraid of what the GPL could require them to do, even if it didn't)

I agree that full copyright assignment is overkill for any of this. I'm not trying to claim that full copyright assignment is needed for anything.

however I am saying that there are reasonable ways to dual-license code, and that if an organization is going to do so, they will need some contributer agreement that gives them the right to do so with the code contributed from outsiders.

copyright assignment gives the company the ability to so this, but it's not the only way for this to happen

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 14:13 UTC (Wed) by sdalley (subscriber, #18550) [Link]

We use Ubuntu in our household and I think it's one of the best things ever to happen to the Linux ecosystem. Mark S deserves a big thank-you for investing real money and paid staff time into moving the focus over to software *users* rather than just developers, geeks and servers.

But ... I worry that Ubuntu isn't really an ongoing viable business model. If I contribute to Ubuntu, it's nice to know that it's going somewhere long-term. If its sustainability is dependent on its rich and philanthropic owner being able to make a small fortune out of a large one, rather than pay its own way as a going concern, then I do wonder.

For the benefit I get from it, I would be more than happy to pay for version updates on a Magnatune sort of basis (you may pay either the suggested amount, or more or less down to zero depending on your circumstances and inclination), and in return get funded development of better opensource video drivers, Wayland, reliable suspend/resume, LibreOffice import/export filter improvements, Active Directory functionality, top-notch documentation and other things of lasting value that need that final 20% uphill push.

There are many obstacles to this of course:

1) Interpretation of the GPL. The GPL allows to charge for "support" and "the cost of physically transferring a copy". It does not forbid donations. IIRC RMS/FSF used to get by, pre-internet, from doing tapes of GNU software at $150 a pop. The Ubuntu web presence infrastructure must cost a bomb to keep running, and an allocation of the overhead cost to a suggested download charge would IMO be both reasonable and within the spirit of the GPL.

2) Ubuntu's front-page promise to "always remain free". This would need a substantial re-spin to "libre" rather than "gratis".

3) The appropriate separation of Canonical and Ubuntu so that payments were not seen as donations to a millionaire.

4) Competition from Red Hat and Novell.

In conclusion, very interesting piece, thanks LWN for your efforts! If they succeed in getting a productive discussion going on business viability, every cent of travel expenses will have been incredible value. Not that we should begrudge it anyway ...

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 20, 2011 13:14 UTC (Fri) by wookey (subscriber, #5501) [Link]

Interpretation of the GPL. The GPL allows to charge for "support" and "the cost of physically transferring a copy". It does not forbid donations.

I think you're confusing source and binary distribution rules here. Nothing in the GPL prevents making a charge for binaries. The rules are about charges for source (if it's not already accompanying the binaries). http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

Actually selling GPLed binaries isn't practised much because everyone else can give it away so the price is strongly driven towards zero. And almost all entities just start there and leave it there. Buy people do pay for GPLed software in various circumstances, e.g from app stores (or at last I assume they do).

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 15:28 UTC (Wed) by edelsohn (subscriber, #16472) [Link]

The discussion thread seems to be focusing on complaints about the implementation details, anthropomorphizing companies, cherry-picking anecdotes and glossing over the fundamental point. Different members of the FOSS community have different goals and FOSS has evolved to the point where these differences are coming into stark contrast. Mark alludes to it in one of his quotes:

"the idea of freedom is more important than the reality", and those people may "die happy" knowing that their ideal was never breached, but that isn't what's best for free software, its adoption, and expansion.

Mark is trying to bring clarity to this issue and force the FOSS community to confront it. What is the FOSS community's definition of success? Mark stated his definition above. The question is if enough members of the FOSS community agree and will join him.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 18, 2011 15:49 UTC (Wed) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

Sure Mark talks the talk. But Canonical does not walk the walk.

Point of Fact: Ubuntu jumped at the chance to support LibreOffice instead of "trusting" Oracle to play the role of good corporate shepard. For him to be critical of LibreOffice now is hypocritical.

Point of Fact: OpenStack's contributor agreement does not require copyright assignment. Eucalyptus's contributor agreement does. Another situation where Ubuntu( under Mark's leadership..leadership with veto power) has chosen to support the project that does not use copyright assignment to shim up its business plan.

Mark can talk and talk and talk about how important copyright assignment is to correctly leverage business interests to take open development to a new level. That sure sounds nice. And I bet when you hear him talk in person, his personal charisma really makes it a compelling argument.

But, look at the track record for Canonical and Ubuntu with regard to how they chose to interact with companies that are doing exactly what Mark says is needed. They shun them. Given the first opportunity they'll jump to supporting a competing codebase that does not require assignment.

This is classic "do as I say not as I do" podium posturing. If Mark, with his very strong beliefs on the matter, can't seem to drag Ubuntu into a direction to "trust" Oracle or Eucalyptus when given the choice between those corporate, copyright assignment requiring entities, and competitors with more community oriented contributor agreements which do not assign copyrights...then why on Earth would Mark expect anyone to pay attention to what he is saying? If he's going to talk the talk, Canonical needs to walk the walk.

-jef

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 7:48 UTC (Thu) by kleptog (subscriber, #1183) [Link]

Given the number of subtleties involved with contributor agreements I don't see how refusing to accept some means they're being inconsistent. He admits he doesn't yet know what a good one would look like and so maybe he looked at those and decided that they weren't good enough.

More useful would be comparing those they have accepted with those they haven't. The ones they reject, would you have accepted them? Do you think the ones they accepted are good ones? That would make it clearer whether you agree with his goal or not.

I'm still more stuck on the practical sides. I really hope we don't get contributor agreement proliferation, because that would be even worse than licence proliferation.

Code freedom

Posted May 18, 2011 16:15 UTC (Wed) by southey (subscriber, #9466) [Link]

Actually the community has a very positive view of companies as evident by the strong role of companies in many projects like the kernel. The community also lets companies know when these are 'misbehaving' or should have a better community involvement.

Rather people are concerned about freedom of their code as evident by the many different licenses. So it is easy to understand that contributor agreements will be used to overcome restrictions people place on their code such as moving from BSD to GPL, GPL v2 to GPL v3 etc. when it benefits the company, organization or other entity. This is likely to be important in an meritocracy where perhaps the majority of people do not support the view of the 'administration'.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 19, 2011 14:23 UTC (Thu) by wingo (subscriber, #26929) [Link]

It seems like this is but another part of the prolonged stage of "then they fight you". Free software systems are becoming more powerful at the same time that they are easier to use than ever, but the hoarders just can't let go.

I don't understand what all this whining is about on Shuttleworth's part about a company feeling "belittled". It's nonsensical. "Why can't I turn your contribution into something proprietary? That's childish of you!" Really. A shame, because Shuttleworth is in a position to do a lot of good.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 20, 2011 18:26 UTC (Fri) by jberkus (subscriber, #55561) [Link]

Shuttleworth completely fails, in this interview, to explain the relationship between copyright assignment and making projects commercially-friendly. For that matter, he muddies the distinction between contributor agreements and copyright assignments, a difference which is quite important.

For that matter, PostgreSQL, a project which he holds up as an example, does not require any copyright assignment. MySQL, which did require copyright assignment, was legendary for lack of external contributions and for playing fast-and-loose with licensing. So he's defeating his own arguments.

I think that Mark has an argument here, but this interview completely fails to express it effectively.

Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software

Posted May 20, 2011 21:37 UTC (Fri) by hingo (subscriber, #14792) [Link]

So is the reason Mark is failing to make this case, because he is not making any sense?

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