[implementations-list] Fwd: [gnu.org #393190] Dear FSF clerk, here are all my questions about copyright assigment

Jason Spiro jasonspiro3 at gmail.com
Sun Jun 21 07:12:56 CEST 2009

Forwarded conversation
Subject: Dear FSF clerk, here are all my questions about copyright assigment

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 1:40 AM
To: assignments at gnu.org
Cc: "Vi/Vim implementations: developer discussion and user tech
support" <implementations-list at lists.ourproject.org>

Dear FSF copyright assignment clerk,

I am the maintainer of two Emacs add-ons:  Vimpulse[1] and
viper-in-more-modes[2].  Vimpulse is still too buggy to ship with
Emacs, and I don't use or care much about viper-in-more-modes so have
never even evaluated whether they can ship with Emacs.  But I would
like to start getting copyright assignments for both add-ons now so
that they can ship with Emacs eventually.

I care so little about viper-in-more-modes that I will not talk about
it in the rest of this email.  The rest of this email talks about
Vimpulse only.

I am not a main contributor.  There are two main contributors:
Alessandro Piras (in Italy) and Brad Beveridge (I think in Canada).
They said they are both willing to sign copyright assignment papers.
I have contributed maybe 5 lines of code and dozens of lines of
documentation.  I have already disclaimed all copyright to my
contributions and placed my contributions in the public domain, but I
will gladly sign papers too if you like.

Question 1:  Is it good that I have placed my contributions in the
public domain?  (I live in Canada.)

There have been some other contributors.  I have no idea exactly how
many; I would have to look at each of the 80 old email threads in my
inbox relating to Vimpulse.  Maybe I will move them all into the
Vimpulse bug tracker at ourproject.org, which is currently empty, for
ease of future tracking.  The following are estimates based on
memories from last year:  Some people have contributed one- or
two-line fixes.  Perhaps half a dozen (or maybe less) people have
contributed larger amounts of code:  e.g. ten to twenty lines.

Question 2:  What is the minimum number of lines that requires
copyright assignment?  (I tried doing a Google search for 'fsf
copyright assignment' and found the old document [3] from 'prep' which
refers to various files that let me check whether papers have been
received and talk more about the various options (assign vs. disclaim)
and such.  But I couldn't find the files it refers to.  It would be
wonderful if you could put those files up on the web.

Q3:  What if someone contributes code which does nothing but define
keybindings (keyboard shortcuts)?

Q4:  Should I include lines of documentation / comments in my count of
lines of code?  How about blank lines?

Q5:  There are several unreviewed patches in my inbox.  Do you
recommend I leave them unreviewed until I have gotten copyright
assignment for them?

Q6.  How about if I tell the pending patch contributors, "Please
contact assignments @ gnu.org so you can assign your contributions to
the FSF (this is best) or disclaim copyright to your contributions and
put them in the public domain (if you are unwilling to assign
copyright).  After that, please test your patch, and if it tests OK,
please merge it into Vimpulse on the EmacsWiki."

Please Reply to All.  Thanks in advance,
--Jason Spiro

^  [1].  http://www.emacswiki.org/elisp/vimpulse.el
^  [2].  http://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/viper-in-more-modes.el
^  [3].  http://www.gnu.org/prep/maintain/html_node/Copyright-Papers.html

From: Donald R Robertson III via RT <copyright-clerk at fsf.org>
Date: Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 6:16 PM
To: jasonspiro3 at gmail.com


It is great to hear that you are interested in contributing to Emacs.
There's actually a bit of process for getting your work included in
Emacs that I'm not sure you have gone through yet. If you have, I
apologize. You should go to https://savannah.gnu.org, if you are not
already a member there, then sign up and login. Then go to the Emacs
page, then click on the members list. There is a link there to a form
for requesting inclusion on the project. We won't need to have an
assignment on file until you go through this process and have your work

Putting your work in the public domain is okay, as such work can be
included in the GNU Project. The only issue really is that proprietary
developers can use your work if it is in the public domain.

As for the rest of your questions, I think we should just hold off on
them until we know that the work is going to be included. It's better to
have someone take a look at a work before determining whether an
assignment is needed, and that takes a bit of time to do. If the work is
not included in Emacs, then we can about other options you might use to
get your work distributed freely.

Thanks again for your interest in contributing, and good luck.

> [jasonspiro3 at gmail.com - Sun Nov 30 20:41:10 2008]:

Donald R. Robertson, III, J.D.
Assignment Administrator
Free Software Foundation
51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor
Boston, MA 02110
Phone +1-617-542-5942
Fax +1-617-542-2652

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Dec 1, 2008 at 11:57 PM
To: copyright-clerk at fsf.org
Cc: implementations-list at lists.ourproject.org

Hi Mr. Robertson,

No, I have not applied to get either of the two works into Emacs yet.
I and others agree it that Vimpulse is too buggy to get into Emacs
yet.  And I don't care enough about viper-in-more-modes to try to get
it into Emacs.  But I want to make sure the projects can easily get
into Emacs when needed.  So I think I will get all the contributors to
release their contributions to the public domain.  I will probably do
so by asking them to go through the clickthrough public domain
dedication process at
http://creativecommons.org/license/publicdomain-2 and then forward the
email receipt they get to the bug tracker.  Do you think that is a
good and safe method for people to dedicate work to the public domain,
that will work no matter what country they come from (e.g. Canada,
Italy, China)?

If you reply, please make sure to Reply to All.


From: Donald R Robertson III via RT <copyright-clerk at fsf.org>
Date: Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 7:43 PM
To: jasonspiro3 at gmail.com


Thanks again for your interest. Sorry about the delay, your previous
reply some how slipped past me. I can't really recommend any particular
course of action in how to put your work in the public domain. In any
event, even if all the contributors place their work in the public
domain, we would still need at least a disclaimer from each of them if
the project were to become a part of emacs. So I'm not sure how much
time it would actually save to have them do that instead of just
assigning their work when the time comes. Thanks again for your
interest, and good luck with your project.

> [jasonspiro3 at gmail.com - Sun Jan 25 13:44:44 2009]:
> Hi Mr. Robertson,
> I still didn't get a reply yet, so I am resending my message to you.

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 27, 2009 at 7:15 PM
To: "Vi/Vim implementations: developer discussion and user tech
support" <implementations-list at lists.ourproject.org>

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 29, 2009 at 1:15 AM
To: copyright-clerk at fsf.org
Cc: "Vi/Vim implementations: developer discussion and user tech
support" <implementations-list at lists.ourproject.org>

On Mon, Jan 26, 2009 at 2:43 PM, Donald R Robertson III via RT
Thanks Mr. Robertson.  But when the time comes:

1.  What if I can no longer reach them?

2.  What if they then no longer want to bother with copyright assignment?

I suspect it'd be very hard to then remove their code from Vimpulse.

Are there any other options?  For example, can you contact all
contributors and ask them to assign copyright now, even though it's
not strictly needed yet?  Or can you send me a PDF of the FSF
copyright assignment contract?  I could then get every contributor to
sign it and fax it to me when I merge their code.  Then, when the time
comes, I will fax my pile of contracts to you.

When you reply to this email, please click the "Reply to All" button
so that your reply will go to the whole Vimpulse mailing list will get
your reply.  Otherwise, I plan to forward all your future replies to
the mailing list manually.  If this is not ok, just let me know.

From: Donald R Robertson III via RT <copyright-clerk at fsf.org>
Date: Fri, Jan 30, 2009 at 7:28 PM
To: jasonspiro3 at gmail.com


Thanks again for your interest. The FSF does not accept assignment
contracts from the wild, so we don't provide PDFs of those forms.
Although it is possible to have everyone assign their work now, I
believe it is our policy to not accept assignments when it isn't clear
that the work is becoming a part of GNU. In general, even when it is
just an individual seeking to assign work and they haven't contacted the
maintainer to see about getting their work accepted, I tell them to
hold-off on the assignment. Sometimes, if a contributor's work is not
copyright significant, we don't need an assignment from them. Other
times, life gets in the way and the person never ends up contributing.

In any event, it is usually the maintainer of the project who sends
someone my way looking for an assignment. If you guys haven't already
signed up at https://savannah.gnu.org, then you definitely should. You
should talk to them about your project (I'm sure they'd be interested in
it!) and about your desire to have it included in emacs someday. Even if
the work isn't ready for inclusion yet, they might see it as a promising
possibility. That's really the first step and the best step you can take
in getting your work assigned to the FSF. You'll have to contact them
anyways at some point in the process, so you might as well get it out of
the way. Thanks again for your interest, and good luck with your project.

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Feb 1, 2009 at 6:51 AM
To: copyright-clerk at fsf.org


I emailed emacs-devel about getting vimpulse into emacs, as you
suggested.  The subject line of the mail I sent is "What to do so
Vimpulse (Vim emulation plugin) can get into Emacs?".
If I may ask -- why not?
If I may ask this too -- why not?
OK; how many lines of significant code is usually required for a
contributor's work to be copyright significant?
I have contacted them, but through the mailing list, not through
Savannah, since the form you mentioned seems not to be the way to
contact them all.


From: Donald R Robertson III via RT <copyright-clerk at fsf.org>
Date: Tue, Feb 3, 2009 at 8:39 PM
To: jasonspiro3 at gmail.com

We receive hundreds of assignments each year, and the easiest way to
ensure that the forms we accept match the current language we are using
is to have the forms printed on our letter head. If we just accepted
forms from the wild, we would have to check each one to make sure that
the language hasn't been altered or outdated. As a non-profit, we don't
have the resources to go through such a process.
I'm not really sure, but, for one thing, the costs associated with just
getting the paperwork together and storing it is not zero. There might
also be issues with whether we want to take on any responsibilities in
regards to code that isn't becoming a part of the GNU project. My guess
would be that getting into GNU is sort of a gate-keeper to ensure that
we only expend resources on taking ownership on things that are going to
be beneficial.
It's not really an exact science. Copyright protects a somewhat nebulous
idea known as expression, and that concept isn't necessarily tied to
length of a work. A very short work, like say a poem, may contain
copyrightable expression whereas a very long work, like a phone book,
may not. A sort of rule of thumb that we use is that something less than
15 lines is unlikely to be copyright significant, while something more
than 15 lines is more likely. In the end, the maintainer really has to
look at the quality as well as quantity of the work and decide whether
it's worth assigning or not.

From: Jason Spiro <jasonspiro3 at gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Feb 9, 2009 at 6:17 AM
To: copyright-clerk at fsf.org

Mr. Robertson, thanks for all the time you have spent answering my questions.

As you suggested, I asked the appropriate folk if Vimpulse can be
accepted into Emacs.  But according to what they answered[1], I will
need to find a new maintainer first.  I will let you know once I have
found one.

^  [1].  http://thread.gmane.org/gmane.emacs.devel/108538

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