David A. Wheeler's Blog

Sat, 10 Sep 2011

Ask not who holds the copyrights

Asking “who has the copyright?” for intellectual works (like software, documents, and data) is almost always the wrong question to ask. Instead, ask “what rights do I have (or can I get)?” and “do those rights let me do what I want to do?”. In a vast number of situations, those are the right questions to ask instead. Even people who should know better can fall into this subtle trap!

This became obvious to me when it was revealed that even the smart people at the Apache Software Foundation fell into this. In the recent Accumulo proposal, there were unnecessary copyright hurdles because Apache was unnecessarily asking for a copyright transfer, instead of the necessary rights (in this case, there was no copyright to transfer!).

So I’ve justed posted Ask Not Who Holds the Copyright, which I hope will clear this up.

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