“Why Do I need To Sign This?” : Alex Russell on contributor agreements

Anyone who runs a significant open source project should read this, especially if you don’t currently require your contributors to send in any kind of agreement:

So why have it? Why create the barrier to entry for newcomers who just want to pitch in? I have great sympathy for the impatient potential contributor huffing “why do I need to sign this, anyway?”, so this blog post is an effort to boil it down.
[From “Why Do I need To Sign This?”]

I’ve spoken with Alex a couple of times about open source intellectual property, and he’s definitely given this a lot of thought. For a project the size of Dojo, involving many very large contributors, having something like Dojo’s CLA seems critical for keeping the IP clean.

With TurboGears, from the beginning, I’ve required people to send in a simple contributor agreement and this sums up why: “One of the best aspects of the CLA process is that it gets people who are contributing to think about what it means to contribute.”. Significant open source projects that people depend on need to have contributors that are serious about maintaining the project’s quality and the project’s IP. Making people aware of this responsibility from the get-go is a big positive.

I’m posting this in hopes that more of my friends in open source software will keep these things in mind as their projects grow and the outside code contributions increase.

One thought on ““Why Do I need To Sign This?” : Alex Russell on contributor agreements”

  1. For turbo gears, which includes many other projects source code, did you have agreements from all of those projects contributors as well? What about wiki edits, or mailing list contributions? Do you have people sign agreements to use your software?

    Did you have international lawyers draft your agreements? Different agreements for each set of countries? Are they being updated as the laws change?

    Do you have lawyers ready to enforce the agreement in different countries? Do you have the money to run a case against large corporations – or even small businesses?

    If not, you’ve wasted your time, and money.

    I think that contributor agreements are just benefiting lawyers trying to make some more money out of the open source/free software ‘markets’.

    Many successful FOSS projects have run for a long time (many over a decade) without needing contributor agreements. However, of course some major projects also use contributor agreements.

    But sure, if it makes you feel safer get those agreements signed! Other projects will just keep the barrier to entry low, and get more contributors.

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