Thursday, April 05, 2012

Enter the WebODF CLA

The word of the day is: CLA

...ok, so that's not actually a word, but rather an initialism ;) Hi everybody! Some of you already know me, though mainly as that guy who has funny hair and talks about Gluon a lot. Today, however, i come to you in my new guise, as the guy who's going to be talking a whole lot about WebODF over the next while!

So, what's this WebODF thing, some of you say? Well, if you've got some ODF files (word processing, spreadsheets...) and want to show them on the web somehow, then you'll want to check out WebODF. Based on HTML, CSS and JavaScript, it'll run in just about any browser.

The main topic today, however, is the new Contributor License Agreement for WebODF contributors. This little document describes what rights you as a contributor, and KO GmbH as the maintainer, have to the work you contribute to the WebODF project. So, you may well think, why should do we want you to sign a CLA to contribute work to WebODF? Surely it's already covered by the project's nice, free software license!

One important side effect of the project's reach, which includes the iOS App Store, is that while the project license, the AGPLv3, is fine for most cases, sometimes it is problematic. The CLA allows the maintainer to bypass that issue, and create a product from the AGPLv3 licensed codebase which can be published on the iOS store, which has no in-built way of supplying the source code in the way the license otherwise specifies as a requirement.

In fact, the only app store which does supply a method for doing so is the Intel AppUp Store - not even Android Play allows the application creator to supply their users with easy access to the source for the software they are using. However, again - with the CLA signed by all WebODF contributors, this legally becomes not a problem, and instead becomes just a practical one, which can be worked around through providing links inside the app on these devices.

In short: The CLA allows the project to reach places it would have otherwise been barred from.

If you have any questions about it at all, please do not hesitate to ask! Either here in the comments, or on the WebODF IRC channel over on Freenode, or indeed any of the other contact methods listed on the WebODF website.

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Blogger KAMiKAZOW said...

Frankly, that's all bull! Equal rights for everybody. If the AGPL is not fit for purposes you intent WebODF to be used, relicense it under Apache License!
You just repeat the lies already spread by Canonical etc.

A CLA is what killed and resulted in LibreOffice without CLA! Canonical projects have next to no outside contributions.

I, for one, will never ever contribute in any capacity to a project that requires me to hand over more rights to a single company than I have for the codebase I'd contributed to.

6 April 2012 at 13:09  
Blogger Del said...

I think it is sad to see Apple forcing permissive licensing. Where would we be today without copyleft and somebody taking a stand.

6 April 2012 at 14:20  
Blogger KAMiKAZOW said...

Apple isn't forcing permissive licensing. In this case the problem is (A)GPLv3 which requires A) that every user must be able to install modified versions at any time and B) that en-/decryption keys must be available.
GPLv2 would be no problem. Neither would be the original AGPL.

It sounds like a case of "let's choose a very restrictive license in order to get away with a CLA."

8 April 2012 at 23:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The actual CLA is much more broad than just being able to license it for the iApp store, so that must not be the actual reason. If WebODF is an in-browser thing, then why does it even need to be in the store?

Intel AppUp is not the only store that makes it easy to access the source. f-drioid does as well.

IANAL, but it is my understanding that GPLv2 also conflicts with Apple's terms (One of the problems is limits on re-distrabution), this is why, for example, VLC cannot be in the repository.

9 April 2012 at 13:35  
Blogger sebas said...

I think the problem with this CLA is that it only allows one company such things (as allowing, paraphrased, to be put in Apple's appstore).

A way out of this is of course to choose a more permissive license that allows others as well to "create proprietary copies".

The risk involved here is that it's not guaranteed forward that WebODF will stay Free software. (One would have to fork the last version released under a Free software license.

That makes me feel uneasy about this CLA.

10 April 2012 at 17:03  
Blogger leinir said...

@KAMiKAZOW: Relicense, you say? Well, the Apache License doesn't fit us very well - we'd really rather that if others are to profit from our work, they have to play nice and give something back to us, and the Apache License doesn't force people to share back to us. But, yes, it would perhaps make sense at some point in the future to actually relicense things. Which is just another reason to have a CLA, which is also a convenient way of avoiding developer-hit-by-bus licensing problems. Thanks for the suggestion though, appreciate it.

As to the many projects which got a CLA, it's interesting you should chose the projects you do, when there's plenty of examples of projects getting one and doing just fine. Fedora's going strong, MuseScore (whose CLA and reason for having it heavily inspired ours) equally so. To take a more high profile one, the Qt Project also employs a CLA, which doesn't seem to me to have harmed the project.

11 April 2012 at 08:50  
Blogger leinir said...

@Jack Hill: WebODF isn't a website in itself, it's a component for building web applications. In modern smartphone platforms, you can build apps using web technologies, and that's what we're doing here. The Android app is an example of this (the iOS app is similar in nature to that one), where what's generally called a hybrid app (combining platform specific code with a html based UI) and uploaded it on Google's Play (it was market when we did it, gotta keep up ;) ).

About the f-droid app store, thanks for that one, i didn't know about that store! Must fly and try it on my Adam :) What i meant, though, was that it's the only app store being shipped on devices by manufacturers of devices, sorry, i realise that was in no way clear from what i wrote above. Cool to see their app available in Play, though :) (just tried it, seems they've not got a tablet-ified UI for it yet, but still, pretty nicely done, i do like the licenses being so up front :) )

Basically, yes, the licensing of Apple's store are problematic in more than that one way, as explored at the EFF and elsewhere (i'm sure you can google your way to others). As you say, another part of the issue is the redistribution, not just source availability (which arguably could be worked around by providing a source package directly as a payload in the binary package downloaded from the app store). The forward freedom of the GPL licenses are effectively removed by the Apple App Store's restrictions, since you must download and install apps only from their store. So, to be able to work around that, we introduce the CLA, and ensure that anything which does show up on there is rubberstamped by the team.

11 April 2012 at 08:50  

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