Contributors also agree that "If I am or become aware of any patent or other intellectual property right which is, or is likely to be infringed by the use of the Assigned Contributions, I will promptly notify Canonical." Never mind that most contributors would agree with KDE's Aaron Seigo, who comments in a blog entry entitled, "Copyright assignment gone wild, or why I cannot join Canonical's contributor agreement program," "That is highly onerous, and I do not have the time or financial resources to be able to commit to such an absurd burden."
Seigo goes on to comment, "The only thing worse than risk management is bungled risk management as it creates new and unintended risk (which often means it's also undefined in scope!) . . . . It's a great way of unintentionally damaging your allies and partners."
In other words, by proposing that contributors sign such an agreement, Canonical strengthens the impression that its only interest is its own advancement, and that it has no interest in interacting with the FOSS community except on terms that it dictates -- even if those terms undermine the community.
No sooner was Canonical's Mark Shuttleworth answering criticism about his company's community contributions with some high-level and largely irrelevant rhetoric, then Seigo's blog on the copyright assignment was being used by critics like Jef Spaleta as additional proof of such attitudes.
In fact, Spaleta's comments came in the comments to Shuttleworth's posting. Unfortunately, so far, Shuttleworth has not responded.
The kindest -- and most likely -- interpretation of the Canonical Contributor Agreement is that it was drafted by lawyers with no experience of FOSS. Eager to protect Canonical's rights, these lawyers have either overlooked or are unaware of community expectations.
Nor has anyone with decision-making powers at Canonical apparently noticed that a poor reputation in the FOSS community can amount to a specialized form of public relations meltdown. Or perhaps, given that many people continue to praise Ubuntu uncritically, Canonical executives assume that the company can weather such a reputation.
Whatever the reason, a pattern seems to be emerging all too clearly. Increasingly, Canonical is not balancing corporate concerns and community expectations with any grace or skill, and this oversight may eventually harm the company's chances of success.
Instead, it seems to prefer to ignore the expectations, even when they are voiced politely by people like Seigo, whose experience and expertise are beyond question, and who voice their concerns reasonably and with every sign of concern. Instead of addressing criticisms and working with the greater FOSS community, Canonical seems to prefer to go on the defensive or to answer with evasions. Such responses may be only human, especially considering the idealism and hard work that has gone into Canonical. But it is not sound business.
At this stage, the damage that Canonical is doing to itself is not irreparable. But, given a few more incidents like this one, that could change. Strange to say, perhaps what Canonical needs is a PR strategy crafted by people who understand the importance of community relations to its corporate success.
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