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Re: [HACKERS] Copyright

From: Don Baccus <dhogaza(at)pacifier(dot)com>
To: Philip Warner <pjw(at)rhyme(dot)com(dot)au>, Bruce Momjian <pgman(at)candle(dot)pha(dot)pa(dot)us>
Cc: The Hermit Hacker <scrappy(at)hub(dot)org>, "Ross J(dot) Reedstrom" <reedstrm(at)wallace(dot)ece(dot)rice(dot)edu>, Tom Lane <tgl(at)sss(dot)pgh(dot)pa(dot)us>, Peter Eisentraut <peter_e(at)gmx(dot)net>, PostgreSQL Development <pgsql-hackers(at)postgreSQL(dot)org>
Subject: Re: [HACKERS] Copyright
Date: 2000-01-29 06:32:48
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Lists: pgsql-hackers
At 05:01 PM 1/29/00 +1100, Philip Warner wrote:

>It's probably a little more than just putting the notices in the code. In
>Australia, copyright rests with the writer unless it is explicitly granted
>in writing to another entity by the author, or unless a singed contract of
>service exists which grants copyright of works performed directly in the
>course of performing those service.

This could probably be argued here, too, though the weight of oral
and implied conditions weigh heavily here.  It would be hard for a
significant contributor, who by definition would spend a lot of 
time working with the code and being social with "the group", to claim
they were unaware that their code would be distributed.

And what would be the remedy?  The code contribution's worthless without
the database.  If there's a novel or patentable idea in the code snippet
you could still patent it and be nice and grant the PG distribution the
right to use it royalty free.  How does modern (screwed-up, IMO) software
patenting possibilities impact possible contributions, oh my, another
can of worms!

Anyway, anyone who contributes code to the repository is doing so with
the intent of its being distributed.  I don't think good lawyers would 
have much trouble with defending that part of the arrangement.

>If the US & Canada are similar, the upshot of this is that you'll need to
>get the contributors (and Berkely) to sign their copyrights over to
>PosgreSQL, Inc, before you can lawfully place those copyright notices in
>the code. I would *guess* that there would be some resistance to this.

So, what, you sign every "XXX" comment with a copyright?

I don't think so.  

Things are muddied by the fact that there's no legal relationship between
PG, Inc and the individuals (as opposed to your working and being paid
by a company, which sets up a relationship with implicit rules).

>It's a hell of a lot simpler to leave the copyright with the authors, who
>then grant usage under a GPL/LGPL or whatever. Or, set up an arms-length
>entity designed to promote free distribution of PostgreSQL that authorsd
>may feel happy about assigning their copyrights to.

Which again is probably like the Apache Foundation or whatever it is 

>Again, just my 0.02c, but copyright is a very thorny issue designed to
>protect authors - it's a pity to take that away from them.

Do you have newspapers in Australia?  I seem to recall you do from my
one visit there :)

Do these newspapers have a "letters to the editor" column?  If so, do
the newspapers make each and every contributor sign over their rights
before publishing such letters?

I know in the US they don't.  

There's an explicit permission to publish when you mail in your letter
to the editor.  If you were to sue, the court would have a couple of

1. Did you send your letter in so it WOULDN'T be published?  When you
   read the little blurb in the paper that said "write your opinion
   letters for consideration of publishment to xyz box" that they
   would never publish it?

and importantly:

2. What was the financial harm done you by their publishing it.

   (non-registered copyrights are strictly a civil affair here)

> I am very happy
>that the copyright of the code I have contributed to, eg, the GD graphics
>library remains with me, but that it can be freely used & distributed in
>GD. I would not want to sign my rights to that code away, then be told by
>the person that buys GD from Tom Boutell that I am no longer permitted to
>use the code I wrote.

Yes, of course.

The legend, though, says "portions copyright 1996-2000 by PG, Inc."

It doesn't identify which portions.  Nor does the original statement
by UC.  The reality is that no one could necessarily claim that any
contribution you make is part of the "portions".

- Don Baccus, Portland OR <dhogaza(at)pacifier(dot)com>
  Nature photos, on-line guides, Pacific Northwest
  Rare Bird Alert Service and other goodies at

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