The open source projects glibc and gnulib are trying to break the copyright relationship with the Free Software Foundation • The Register


The GNU C Library (glibc) and the GNU Portability Library (gnulib) lay the groundwork for separating from the ailing Free Software Foundation by lifting the copyright transfer requirement.

This move follows in the footsteps of the same move in the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC) on June 2nd.

Like many projects under the GNU umbrella, glibc and gnulib – the GNU Project’s C standard library and a collection of subroutines, each designed to facilitate cross-platform porting – allow anyone to contribute code. Those who do are asked to transfer copyright to the Free Software Foundation – at least for now.

“The glibc stewards ask the developers for input to decide whether the project should relax the requirement to transfer the copyright for all changes to the Free Software Foundation,” announced developer Carlos O’Donell in a post to the libc- alpha mailing list.

“The changes to accepting patches with or without an FSF copyright assignment would go into effect on August 2nd and would apply to all open branches.”

A follow-up request for posts on the same topic was soon sent to the bug-gnulib mailing list. “In many cases we just copy from glibc,” confirmed developer Paul Eggert in a reply to the original thread, “so we use glibc’s guideline there. For non-glibc files, gnulib could stick to current policy or glibc-policy. “

The reactions to the proposal were mostly positive. “I’ve never had and never had an assignment (it’s a joke that my patch contributions were just minus signs),” wrote glibc employee Rich Felker, “but given the recent behavior of the FSF Board of Directors, I am absolutely not ready to assign copyrights to them in the future.

“As someone who has nagged about it at virtually every Cauldron I have attended, I think this is a positive change and I fully support it,” added Siddhesh Poyarekar. “The copyright move has been a pretty significant hurdle for me in the past when trying to get more students in India into the GNU toolchain.”

As part of the proposed change, contributors would be asked to sign a Developer Certificate of Origin (DCO) originally written by the Linux Foundation and contributors, asserting the right to license the contribution as open source.

While a reason for the proposed postponement has not been publicly stated, the timing provides an indication. The GCC Steering Committee announced earlier this month that it would be dropping the copyright assignment requirement after discussions on the mailing list raised concerns about its links with the FSF – sparked by the reinstatement of controversial board member Richard Stallman.

“He made the GNU project a nasty personality cult,” asserted GCC developer Jonathan Wakely in the discussions before the change in the contribution obligation. “The FSF appears to be imploding (with mass resignations last week). I don’t think the GCC benefits from being associated with either.”

Stallman resigned from his role as president and board member of the FSF in September 2019 after criticizing his behavior and making public comments on issues such as child abuse, some in defense of his friend and MIT professor Marvin Minsky, who was accused of sleeping with a 17-year-old allegedly traded by Jeffrey Epstein. In a 2006 post, still on his website, Stallman said he was “skeptical of claims that voluntary pedophilia harms children”.

“Some of you will be happy about it,” said Stallman of his return to the FSF in March this year, “and some may be disappointed, but who knows? Anyway, it is, and I am not planning to” resign a second time. “

With the FSF’s decision to support Stallman, it is clear that a growing number of FSF-oriented projects – including Red Hat, which withdrew funding after Stallman’s reinstatement – are firmly in the camp of the “disappointed”.

Commenting on the move, Andrew Katz, Managing Partner and Head of Tech and IP at Moorcrofts Corporate Law, said, “In my opinion, the GPL is sufficient in itself. For the GPL, license in = license out seems to be the fairest approach from both the developer and project perspective, and it means that the developers ultimately remain in control of their code.

“Recent questions about the governance of the FSF (especially the retirement and reinstatement of RMS) can lead people to worry about the quality of that governance in relation to licensing decisions. Transferring copyrights to an organization requires a significant level of trust, and developers can understandably “Be aware that trusting a third party (whether a company or a nonprofit) is a greater risk than keeping their own rights to the Code.” ®


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