Linus Torvalds: Any CLA is fundamentally broken

Matthew says, “Canonical ship software under the GPLv3 family of licenses (GPL, AGPL and LGPL) but require that contributors sign an agreement that permits Canonical to relicense their contributions under a proprietary license. This is a fundamentally different situation to almost all widely accepted CLAs, and it’s disingenuous for Canonical to defend their CLA by pointing out the broad community uptake of, for instance, the Apache CLA.”

Many in the free software community are of the same opinion and that’s the reason why they are skeptical of Canonical’s CLA. Greg KH says, “I agree, +Matthew Garrett  has summarized this quite nicely as to why people object so much to Canonical’s CLA.

So much so, that someone mentioned to me that CLA should stand for “Community Limiting  Arrangement”, not “Contributor License Agreement”.”

Matthew says that Canonical could have made their CLA more friendly by replacing it with something from Harmony Project which, he says, “Canonical could easily replace their CLA with one that removed this asymmetry – Project Harmony, the basis of Canonical’s CLA, permits you to specify an “inbound equals outbound” agreement that prevents upstream from relicensing under a proprietary license[2]. Canonical’s deliberate choice not to do so just strengthens the argument that the CLA is primarily about wanting to produce proprietary versions of software rather than wanting to strengthen their case in any copyright or patent disputes. It’s unsurprising that people feel disinclined to contribute to projects under those circumstances, and it’s difficult to understand why Canonical simultaneously insist on this hostile behaviour and bemoan the lack of community contribution to Canonical projects.”

However, father of the Linux kernel, Linus Torvalds weighs in with a different opinion. He says, “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.”

About Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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