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KDE Adopts Fiduciary Licence Agreement Option
Saturday, August 23 2008 @ 05:22 PM EDT

KDE has decided to offer its code contributors an option to use a Fiduciary Licence Agreement that it worked out with FSFE's Freedom Task Force. It's a recommendation, not a requirement. It's a copyright assignment vehicle designed to ensure legal maintainability of the project. And I hear that the response has been very positive already.

At first I was going to put the FSFE press release in News Picks, but I consider this such a wise legal decision on KDE's part, because -- as the press release phrases it, it "enables projects to ensure their legal maintainability, including important issues such as preserving the ability to re-license and certainty to have sufficient rights to enforce licences in court" -- that I am putting it here, so you will consider it too for your project, especially if yours is an international project. You may recall Groklaw's Sean Daly interviewed Shane Coughlan, who leads the Freedom Task Force project, when it was first announced in early 2007. If you have questions, here's the Freedom Task Force contact page. Notice in the press release that the FLA template was used to come up with an FLA for KDE in particular, and you can do something similar for your project, with the Freedom Task Force's help.

I also wanted to mention that FSFE has a Legal and Technical Network now:

The Freedom Task Force coordinates a European Legal and Technical Network. Each participant is referred to as a 'delegate' of the respective network. Membership is by invitation only and if you are interested in participating you can contact us.

Our goal is to strengthen the legal foundation of Free Software through building connections between professionals and researchers active on the continent. The network currently has over 50 legal experts, over 30 technical experts and covers sixteen European countries. It also maintains contacts in Canada, the USA, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan.

Some network delegates are explicitly recommended by FSFE. To be explicitly recommended the delegate must be approved by the governing council of FSFE.

I think, after thinking a lot about Jacobsen v. Katzer, that the US needs something similar, a place where you can go to find attorneys who know something about FOSS and understand how to protect your interests without doing damage to the FOSS ecosystem at large.


FSFE welcomes KDE's adoption of the Fiduciary Licence Agreement (FLA)

Free Software Foundation Europe welcomes the adoption of the Fiduciary Licence Agreement by the K Desktop Environment project. The FLA is a copyright assignment that allows Free Software projects to assign their copyright to single organisation or person. This enables projects to ensure their legal maintainability, including important issues such as preserving the ability to re-license and certainty to have sufficient rights to enforce licences in court.

"We see the adoption of the FLA by KDE as a positive and important milestone in the maturity of the Free Software community," says Georg Greve, president of Free Software Foundation Europe. "The FLA was designed to help projects increase the legal maintainability of their software to ensure long-term protection and reliability. KDE is among the most important Free Software initiatives and it is playing a central role in bringing freedom to the desktop. This decision of the KDE project underlines its dedication to think about how to make that freedom last."

Adriaan de Groot, Vice President of KDE e.V., the organisation behind the KDE project, said "KDE e.V. has endorsed the use of a particular FLA based directly on the FSFE's sample FLA as the preferred way to assign copyright to the association. We recognise that assignment is an option that individuals may wish to exercise; it is in no way pushed upon KDE contributors. There are also other avenues of copyright assignment available besides the FLA, but we believe this is the easiest way to get it done, with little fuss. Enthusiasm for the FLA was immediate -- people were asking for printed versions of the form before the week was out so that they could fill one in."

"The FLA is a versatile document designed to work across different countries with different perceptions of copyright and authorship," says Shane Coughlan, Freedom Task Force coordinator. "As a truly international project, KDE provides a great example of how the FLA can provide legal coherency in the mid-to-long term. It's been a pleasure to help with the adoption process and FSFE's Freedom Task Force is ready to continuing supporting KDE in the future."

KDE's adoption of the FLA is the result of cooperation between KDE e.V. and FSFE's Freedom Task Force over the last year and a half, part of the deepening collaboration between the two associate organisations.

About the FLA:

The FLA was written by Dr. Axel Metzger (Ifross) and Georg Greve (FSFE) in consultation with renowned international legal and technical experts. Parties involved in the evolution of the FLA at some point or another included RA Dr. Till Jaeger, Carsten Schulz, Prof. Eben Moglen, RA Thorsten Feldmann, LL.M., Werner Koch, Alessandro Rubini, Reinhard Muller and others. The latest revision was compiled by Georg Greve and FSFE's FTF coordinator Shane M Coughlan based on feedback provided by Dr. Lucie Guibault of the Institute for Information Law in the Netherlands.

About KDE:

KDE is an international technology team that creates free and open source software for desktop and portable computing. Among KDE's products are a modern desktop system for Linux and UNIX platforms, comprehensive office productivity and groupware suites and hundreds of software titles in many categories including Internet and web applications, multimedia, entertainment, educational, graphics and software development. KDE software is translated into more than 60 languages and is built with ease of use and modern accessibility principles in mind. KDE4's full-featured applications run natively on Linux, BSD, Solaris, Windows and Mac OS X.

About the Free Software Foundation Europe:

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is a non-profit non-governmental organisation active in many European countries and involved in many global activities. Access to software determines participation in a digital society. To secure equal participation in the information age, as well as freedom of competition, the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) pursues and is dedicated to the furthering of Free Software, defined by the freedoms to use, study, modify and copy.Founded in 2001, creating awareness for these issues, securing Free Software politically and legally, and giving people Freedom by supporting development of Free Software are central issues of the FSFE.

The Freedom Task Force can be found at The Freedom Task Force can be emailed at ftf at


KDE Adopts Fiduciary Licence Agreement Option | 120 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections thread
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Saturday, August 23 2008 @ 05:29 PM EDT
Please place corrections under this comment.

Summarize the correction in the title of your comment.

(Seamonkey is telling me that "Licence" in the story title is misspelled, but I understand there is more than one way to spell it in English.)

"The choice to exact consideration in the form of compliance with the open source requirements..., is entitled to no less legal recognition." --US CAFC

[ Reply to This | # ]

[NP] News Picks comments
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Saturday, August 23 2008 @ 05:32 PM EDT
Comment on Groklaw News Picks here.

If you say which News Pick you are commenting on, then we can understand what you are talking about.

"The choice to exact consideration in the form of compliance with the open source requirements..., is entitled to no less legal recognition." --US CAFC

[ Reply to This | # ]

[OT] Off Topic threads
Authored by: Aladdin Sane on Saturday, August 23 2008 @ 05:34 PM EDT

"Let's give them something to talk about."

Could be a scandal...They're giving away software for Free...

"The choice to exact consideration in the form of compliance with the open source requirements..., is entitled to no less legal recognition." --US CAFC

[ Reply to This | # ]

misleading press release by the FSFE
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, August 23 2008 @ 07:15 PM EDT
the only reason copyright assignment is needed is to give the authority to
relicense the project.

the busybox lawsuits have shown that you don't need to assign copyright to the
project to take court action.

the only reason you may need assignment to take court action is if the author of
the code that's been infringed on isn't willing to take action (even to the
extent of making a one-time assignment of the right to take action), but someone
else in the project wants to take action.

this would be a _very_ rare case (most cases of infringement are where the
entire project is infringed on, so you aren't dependant on any one person's

also the KDE quote makes it clear that this isn't something they are requiring
developers to do. as such it can't possibly achieve the results that the FSFE is
claiming. If it's nessasary to enable court actions, the fact that not everyone
is signing their rights over invalidates it, and the fact that not everyone
signs it means that it doesn't allow the project to relicense the code.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Psychological barriers to copyright assignment
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, August 24 2008 @ 12:41 AM EDT
I have been, based on circumstances, reluctant to assign copyright to a
projects. Mostly this is when the project dual-licenses, or I think it might.
I've no problem contributing under a copyleft license, share and share alike,
but why should someone else profit by taking my work proprietary?

It would be nice if there were a copyright assignment that would simultaneously
allow for relicensing and ensure that the code remains free.

What other psychological, or other, barriers do people see surrounding copyright
assignment? What are the solutions?


Karl O. Pinc <>

[ Reply to This | # ]

side benefits for developers?
Authored by: grouch on Sunday, August 24 2008 @ 04:21 AM EDT
I'm not a coder, but it seems to me one of the side benefits of this would be that the developer can do what he or she obviously enjoys and not have to worry about international copyright issues. The Freedom Task Force page lists, among others, under "What We Do:"

  • We resolve licensing issues in partnership with for the long-term benefit of Free Software.
  • We act as the legal guardian of Free Software projects.

It seems to me that would take a load off the mind (so that mind could get back to finding that blasted misplaced semicolon).

PJ pointed out the safeguard for the developer and project in an earlier comment, quoting from Sean Daly's interview of Shane Coughlan about the FLA:
"Also, the FLA has a clause that if FSFE ever acted against the principles of Free Software then the assignment would be null and void."

-- grouch

GNU/Linux obeys you.

[ Reply to This | # ]

KDE Adopts Fiduciary Licence Agreement Option
Authored by: dyfet on Sunday, August 24 2008 @ 08:55 AM EDT
This can be a touchy subject. We have seen some examples of projects that have initially used the GPL and then changed to separately offer a proprietary licensed version of the same software, explicitly so they can produce and sell a modified proprietary version of their project, while simultaneously demanding that all contributors offer them exclusive copyright assignment so they could continue to re-license other people's contributed code. It only takes a few bad actors to undermine what essentially is a matter of trust, agency, and integrity.

While some in the community are "copyright deists", believing there should be no more than one copyright holder, I am a dualist ;). I had found the best solution, legally, and ethically, when we were running open source telecomm corp, was actually to have two copyright holders. Combined with a pure GPL license, neither organization, having exclusive copyright interest, could act alone in bad faith to those who entrusted it with copyright assignment, but the number of holders remain small enough to have legal standing to effectively act on behalf of the community with regard to our packages.

In the case of OST, we supported and encouraged either copyright assignment to OST or the FSF, and so both organizations came to hold copyright interest in our packages in an inseparable manner, and this worked well for the needs of our contributors while assuring them it would be impossible for us to change licensing arbitrarily or for exclusively selfish purposes. For a commercial organization using free software licensing that has a large body of active outside contributors and that hence faces real needs to have copyright assignment as a result, I would recommend such an arrangement again.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Orphan Copyrights and the UNIX Effect
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, August 24 2008 @ 12:59 PM EDT
I suspect that a lot of the open/free software community has always assumed that
their software would benefit from what I will call the 'UNIX effect'.

UNIX in its early days was a sort of open-source shared code community (All
sorts of people threw stuff in the pot). The nominal owner AT&T, was under
Federal anti-trust scrutiny, and thus was not rabid about copyrights. As I
understand the situation the various copyrights in UNIX are scattered,
non-existent, unknown, shared, and/or all of the above. Notwithstanding SCO's
delusions, it is impossible today to change the licensing terms for that stuff,
because you can't figure out / find who to ask. (Maybe SUN actually did it? But
we digress.)

A lot of the free/open software projects are effectively in similar situations.
You have a large number of contributers, literally around the world, some of
whom are now unknown, or unfindable, or whose heirs are such. You can't
relicense that code en-bloc because of that disbursed anonymous copyright base.
I.e. the UNIX effect. And I think a lot of people are sort of counting on that
to protect against the proprietary-izing of their code.

Now comes a new twist. The perpetual copyright (aka the 'Disneyright') has
started to create 'orphan' copyrights in books and similar works, that is, works
whose copyright owner is now unknown, or unfindable. And this makes it hard for
people who want/need to use some or all of such a work.

So we have legislative proposals floating around to allow for unlicensed use of
validly copyrighted material in circumstances where the user tried to find the
owner, and couldn't. Umm... why does that sound familiar?

I have a vision; shortly after passage of some such legislation, of classified
ads appearing in such major publications as the 'Ebonian Times and Hog Report'
saying "If you are a copyright holder in any of the following software
projects...". Followed shortly thereafter by 'relicensing' of those
projects on remarkably exclusive and proprietary terms.

The beauty of that trick is of course, that everybody (who doesn't answer the
ad) becomes unknown and un-locatable and the entire code base is now en-bloc

Whether it would actually work doesn't matter, the predatory jerks out there
will try it, if steps are not taken to very openly prevent it.

It may be that this new license will do the trick. Don't know. But better
minds than mine need to start paying attention to the spillover effects of the
orphan copyrights legislation.

In particular, the consequence of unlicensed use of an orphaned work is usually
seen as a nominal monetary issue. The open/free software non-monetary rights
appear to be essentially negated.


[ Reply to This | # ]

Careful, authors, you should know what you do!
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, August 27 2008 @ 12:27 AM EDT
As an originator, granting exclusive rights to anyone is only in very, very rare cases a good idea. The point is, the author looses the rights. This means, one cannot grant simple right anymore, because the exclusive right are gone.

Over the years, i sold licences for freeware I wrote several times. These were not big deals, but is a good extra income.

An assignment might be an idea for a last will, hoping that the organization one makes the assignment to, keeps course. During my lifetime, i'd prefer to steer my thing myself.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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