[darcs-users] Copyright law [was: Typo: s/at/all/. (and 1 more)]

Stephen J. Turnbull stephen at xemacs.org
Mon Mar 30 03:41:12 UTC 2009


Trent W.Buck writes:

 > (Remember: without a license declaration, it's a violation of
 > copyright law for us to have work in the Darcs repository!)

Wrong.  It's not illegal at all, at least not in the U.S.  There, it's
a violation of the law to attempt to profit from intentional
unlicensed activities using the work.  But even then, there's wiggle
room if you can make a plausible case that you had good reason to
believe in an implicit license (eg, contribution by the author of the
code to an open source project with a well-known policy about its
license).  I think this is pretty generally true across jurisdictions,
but I only know for sure about the U.S. and Japan (where it's also
true).

Since Darcs is clearly non-profit, we're talking about torts (causing
damage to the owner of property), not violations of law.  This is like
playground basketball: if the "victim" doesn't complain, there was no
foul.

The danger here is that (1) without an explicit declaration of
license, the owner of the copyright can easily and arbitrarily
withdraw his code claiming "I didn't say you could use it *yet*", or
change the license, and (2) without explicit declarations of license,
the argument that the project has a well-known policy becomes weaker.

For those reasons, among others, I think it's a *very* good idea for
Darcs to have a policy requiring explicit licensing of contributions,
especially since it uses a copyleft license.  Since it's not hard to
comply if you want to, strict enforcement of policy is also a good
idea.  Just don't spread (unintentional, I'm sure) FUD about what the
law says.


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