Michael Meeks on Copyright Assignment

Michael Meeks published a though provoking essay called Some thoughts on Copyright Assignment. It is a must read when working with Free Software projects that request legal assignment of contributions to a corporation.

It contains sane recommendations both for individual contributors, project leaders and corporations seeking assignments.


  1. Interestingly enough, PJ does not have much praise for that post:

  2. Dalibor, I think you misread PJ’s comments. Or she worded them as if she is not in agreement with Michael, while in fact she is, but has a different order/priority of recommendations she would make.

    She just focuses on and repeats two recommendations Michael makes. Using foundations instead of corporations for collecting copyright assignments and using strong versus weak (GPL-compatible) copyleft licenses:

    – Michael says: If you feel you must demand copyright assignment, consider doing so via an onward assignment from a well-governed proxy non-profit.

    P.J. recommends going with the FSF or the FSFE’s Freedom Task Force (http://fsfe.org/projects/ftf/services.en.html), which I highly recommend also.

    – Michael says that you should also strongly consider choosing a copy-left license, to encourage contribution back to the project. But if you aren’t going with the GPL, but want to use something more “liberal”, please use something like the LGPL[v3] or something else GPL compatible (and using ‘or any later version’ language of course).

    P.J. recommends to just always use GPL. And specifically not using the Apache or Mozilla type licenses. Seeing that both those licenses are incompatible with the old GPLv2 license, that seems a good recommendation.

  3. “Dalibor, I think you misread PJ’s comments. Or she worded them as if she is not in agreement with Michael, while in fact she is, but has a different order/priority of recommendations she would make.”

    Let me quote the first part of her comment here:

    “Well, that’s because Meeks is not a lawyer, so he misunderstands, which is not surprising. Let me explain about SCO. The IBM counterclaim over infringement of code under the GPL has to do only with its own contributions to the kernel. That is because it is true, not self serving, that legally you can’t sue over copyright infringement of something that you don’t own the copyrights to. It is one of the elements you must demonstrate to even bring an action. If the entire kernel project wanted to sue SCO, they’d have to contact each and every individual contributor, or their heirs if any have died. They’d have to do that prior to being able to sue. How ridiculous is that for a legal strategy? So, Meeks is factually wrong. It is better to have one entity own the copyright, for legal purposes.”

    If that’s what agreement sounds like, then I need an update for my irony detector. ;)

  4. I don’t think it is irony. She feels that Michael is too quick comparing company owned projects with foundations that act as guardians for a collection of hackers. This paragraph is explicitly about a legal argument Michael made with reference to SCO, she thinks she knows more about the details in that case than he does.

    BTW. I agree with her that it wasn’t because anybody or nobody “owned” the copyrights as central authority that the SCO case was busted (it just made it harder to counter sue). Michael is too quick to discard that there are other ways, like using the FSF, The Software Freedom Conservancy, SPI, etc. to act as legal guardian of a project. Just because placing a specific company in charge of your project is in general a really bad idea doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about structuring it through some foundation and assign rights to that independent organisation for extra legal protection.

    Michael’s recommendations actually do mention you should explore that option. He just isn’t as legally focussed as PJ is. Go read all his recommendations, they are pretty good.