Linus Torvalds Says All Contributor License Agreements Are Broken

A discussion about the Contributor License Agreement pointed out some deficiencies

A controversy regarding Canonical's CLA has been going on for a couple of days, and now even Linus Torvalds has entered the discussion, although in a more peaceful manner.

CLA stands for Contributor License Agreement and it basically allows the distributor of your software (Canonical, Apache, and almost all the big distributors out there) to defend the application in case it needs defending, in a copyright issue for example.

In the case of Canonical, things are a little different. This is a company that needs to make money in order to survive and its goal is not only to release the Ubuntu operating system, but also to turn a profit. In this case, the CLA will allow Canonical to release the software under a proprietary license.

“To be fair, people just like hating on Canonical. The FSF and Apache Foundation CLA's are pretty much equally broken. And they may not be broken because of any relicencing, but because the copyright assignment paperwork ends up basically killing the community.”

“Basically, with a CLA, you don't get the kind of ‘long tail’ that the kernel has of random drive-by patches. And since that's how lots of people try the waters, any CLA at all – changing the license or not – is fundamentally broken,” said Linus Torvalds in a Google+ post.

Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon explained why Canonical's CLA was the way it was and why it shouldn't present an obstacle for people who are trying to contribute to their project.

“This all boils down to barriers to community contribution. There are lots of barriers...choice of programming language, VCS, governance, tone of community discussion, how decisions are made, how branches are reviewed, bug management, CI workflow, and many other things...CLAs are just one additional consideration. Some people like them, some people don't, and that's fine.”

“I don't think Canonical has been disingenuous about the CLA or why Canonical thinks it is necessary. Has Canonical being flawless in the communication and messaging around it? Probably not. Underhanded and disingenuous? No.” said Jono Bacon in the same post.

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