Open Source Communities and Contributor Agreement: it’s all about Trust

Recently I’ve noticed a debate about Open Source Communities and Contributor Agreements.

Simon Phipps, in his post, says that “Contributor agreements that aggregate the copyrights of open source code in favour of a single corporate sponsor are a sure sign of a community where one member has more rights than the rest. And equality is the key to success.”

This is a nice opportunity for me to clarify my position about this topic and SpagoWorld contribution policy.

Community projects and Enterprise projects: the SpagoBI sample

First of all, I think we can indentify two categories of projects: Community projects (Linux kernel, GNOME, Apache, Mozilla) and Enterprise projects.

The latter are supported by industries (open source companies or producers) and their focus is the industrial usage at large, as an alternative to proprietary solutions.

Following the example of one of the most adopted SpagoWorld projects, SpagoBI, in the Open Source (OS) Business Intelligence (BI) domain, you can have different options, like Birt, JasperSoft, Pentaho and SpagoBI. All these projects must offer industrial support services (training, consulting, maintenance) because their adopters need to use the solution to realize an enterprise and/or mission critical project. All these solutions are supported by the developing company and claim to have a community of contributors as well. It’s more a community of adopters or participants, rather than of contributors, I guess.

(You can find an interesting post about Open Source Communities Types, by Simon Phipps, here)

But this is not my point now.

These projects use open source software for different business models (like dual-licensing, open-core, open complement). SpagoBI is the only entirely OS BI suite adopting the pure-open source model.

Yes, it marks a difference.

SpagoBI adopts the SpagoWorld contributor agreement where contributors “grant to Engineering Ingegneria Informatica – i.e.: the parent company of Engineering Group, developing and managing SpagoWorld projects – a perpetual, unrestricted, irrevocable, non-exclusive and free copyright license to use their contribution and any work derived from it, under the terms of the license of SpagoWorld projects”. Engineering Group “simply receives a “copy” of your contribution, while you retain your intellectual property and full rights on your own work”.

In return “Engineering Ingegneria Informatica S.p.A. can use” your contribution “only by including it into SpagoWorld software or documentation, under the terms of the license of SpagoWorld projects”.

It’s all about Trust

Engineering Group needs the complete IP of SpagoBI software in order to be able to manage the open source license over time (i.e.: “the freedom to update the open source later”, using Simon’s words, if needed following licenses evolution, I add).

Why contributors should trust Engineering Group?

Because of declarations and facts.

1.      Engineering Group declares that “it can use his/her contributions only by including it into SpagoWorld software or documentation, under the terms of the license of SpagoWorld projects” (i.e. GNU LGPL)

2.      Looking at all contents of SpagoWorld (including SpagoBI) website you can find all open declarations and activities and no licensing sales.

3.      SpagoBI is not downloadable from a server of Engineering Group, but from the forge of OW2 Consortium, an independent not-for-profit organization granting the availability of open source license over time

4.      You can download SpagoBI for free: no login, no personal or marketing data required (an average of 13,000 download per month in 2010)

5.      You can subscribe to SpagoWorld website for free, in order to access SpagoBI forum or SpagoBI tracker: personal or marketing data are not required.

6.      You can be an enterprise, an integrator or an individual and you can use SpagoBI by yourself or with the support of the community. You ask Engineering Group for services only if you like.

(I hope you give some in return, like information, success stories, feedback in order to assess the solution and give credits to the community. It happens seldom and I’m sad of this)

It’s all about trust! Do you think again that giving a (non-exclusive) copyright assignment to Engineering Group you are entering a community where one member has more rights that the rest?

I think that you are not only entering a community: you are entering an ecology where Engineering Group is committed to create value for all, also for you!

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