Many free or open source projects are developed by a community of contributors where everyone has, as author of some code or contribution, theoretically the same rights. The Linux kernel is probably one of the most famous examples of such community: the contributor’s rights are regulated by the outbound licence, which is – and will probably stay for a long time – the GPL v2. Moving to another licence or to a more formal leadership would be difficult as it would require the unanimous agreement from all authors or contributors.
However, it may be useful that all contributors license or assign rights to a specific body, leaving to it the care of adopting a convenient distribution licence and defending the rights of the community. The approach has been questioned in case the beneficiary is some enterprise that could take advantage of having “more rights” and could finally sell, or be purchased, or could appropriate the collaborative work for its exclusive profit. At the contrary, when the beneficiary is a non-profit foundation (i.e. the Apache foundation) or a public body that could never be purchased by any commercial interest (i.e. the European Union), the approach looks more efficient and sustainable.
For semantic projects, the European Commission has published the ISA Open Metadata Licence v1.1, (ISA OML) which is – compared to the EUPL – a permissive licence. The ISA OML states that the “Owner” of the distributed work is the European Union, represented by the European Commission.
The new ISA Contributor Agreement (CA) v1.1 complements the ISA OML. It is based on the 2011 work of the Harmony working group, after considering observations of the EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) and of the EU Legal Service.
- The CA assigns copyright to the European Union;
In counterpart, the European Union, which promotes and distribute the work on Joinup:
- grants back a perpetual licence on contributors;
- commits to distribute the work under the ISA OML, EUPL or (if necessary) under any licence approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), Free Software Foundation (FSF) or Creative Commons (CC)
Joinup v1.3 (released in June 2012) will support the electronic signature of contributor agreements. Used for the ADMS.F/OSS project the New CA can be easily adapted / used for other semantic or software projects.