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Why FPCA does no harm

Marcel Ribeiro Dantas [mribeirodantas at]

Why FPCA does no harm, differently from Canonical's CLA.

Published on June, 26th. (Last modified on: June, 26th)

The main reason for this post is to prepare Fedora Ambassadors and Contributors for attempts of others to say FPCA is as bad as Canonical's CLA and that our legal document can do harm as much as theirs.

Recently, many posts around the web have spoken of the possible trap Canonical may be setting up. They released Mir, a computer display server for GNU/Linux, under the terms of a copyleft license, the GNU GPLv3, which was supposed to be very well seen by the community. Choosing the GNU GPLv3 as the license of your software makes it clear that you really care about freedom, since GNU GPLv3 is a very effective license against DRM, software patents and attempts to close the source code of the software.

What is the reason for all that fuss then? Well, in order to contribute to softwares maintained by Canonical, the contributor is supposed to sign/agree to a Contributor License Agreement (CLA), which is not very different from what many projets do, like Fedora Project with its FPCA (Fedora Project Contributor Agreement), Apache Software Foundation, JBoss Netty, Joomla and so on. Below, Wikipedia gives a reasonable explanation about what's CLA and what's made for.

"A Contributor License Agreement (CLA) defines the terms under which intellectual property has been contributed to a company/project, typically software under an open source license". Also from Wikipedia, "The purpose of a CLA is to ensure that the guardian of a project's outputs has the necessary ownership or grants of rights over all contributions to allow them to distribute under the chosen licence. In some cases this will mean that the contributor will assign the copyright in all contributions to the project owner; in other cases, they will grant an irrevocable licence to allow the project maintainer to use the contribution."

As you can see, it does make a lot of sense for a big project or company maintaing software projects to ask its contributors to sign a CLA or a similar document. Again, what's the reason for the fuss?

Well, the thing is what Canonical's CLA says in its text. There are people trying to dodge critics saying we shouldn't pay so much atention to Canonical and Mir, and that Fedora does the same with its CLA (Look below)! Let's have a look at some parts of the Canonical's CLA and I'm sure you will see *where* the problem resides.

Currently, the document is named FPCA, the Fedora Project Contributor Agreement, by the way, and you can read more here on why it changed its name and why it's not really a CLA anymore, traditionally speaking.

Extracted from:

(b) To the maximum extent permitted by the relevant law, You grant to Us a perpetual, worldwide, non-exclusive, transferable, royalty-free, irrevocable license under the Copyright covering the Contribution, with the right to sublicense such rights through multiple tiers of sublicensees, to reproduce, modify, display, perform and distribute the Contribution as part of the Material; provided that this license is conditioned upon compliance with Section 2.3

Section 2.3

2.3 Outbound License Based on the grant of rights in Sections 2.1 and 2.2, if We include Your Contribution in a Material, We may license the Contribution under any license, including copyleft, permissive, commercial, or proprietary licenses. As a condition on the exercise of this right, We agree to also license the Contribution under the terms of the license or licenses which We are using for the Material on the Submission Date.

If you paid enough attention while reading, I'm sure you read: , or proprietary license. If you agree to this CLA, Canonical Lld is free to do exactly whatever they want with the software, even closing the source code with all your contributions in. THAT'S the big issue. GNU GPLv3 may have been used in an attempt to draw attention and inspire contributors to come in the name of the Free Software Movement, while by signing Canonical's CLA you give up of the freedom the free software is supposed to share.

The reason for GNU GPLv3 being a copyleft license is exactly to make sure a software will always be free, regardless of the modifications and so on. But the main copyright holder can always change the license. You may say: But Canonical Ltd is not the main copyright holder! Thousands of people may have [someday] done significant contributions. And I say: It *doesn't* matter, as long as you all signed the CLA.

Reading the FPCA here, you can see cristal clear it has nothing close to what Canonical's CLA says. Actually, all the allowed software licenses for Fedora Project, listed here, are officially recognized as free software licenses according to the Free Software Foundation. If you want to read the FPCA legal text, instead of the FAQ or documents speaking about it, you can do it here.

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Why FPCA does no harm by Marcel Ribeiro Dantas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Copyright ® 2013 Marcel Ribeiro Dantas
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