Ellislab, you’re doing it wrong

The following is part of a mail that’s circulating to authors and copyright holders of contributions to the Codeigniter software:

If you are able to certify your prior contributions to CodeIgniter and
wish to leave them, no reply is required – your pull requests were
sufficient to imply the necessary consent.

I wonder which legal support they have, because this sound rather wrong. There is no automatic consent for a specific licensing if the repro owner changes it on it’s own, like Ellislab does for Codeigniter, as the mailing starts:

EllisLab would like to thank you for your previous code contributions
to CodeIgniter. Version 3.0 is just around the corner, and as you are
probably aware, we are going to begin using a “Developer’s Certificate
of Origin” (DCO) from 3.0 moving forward, to ensure that contributors
have a clear understanding of what their contribution to CodeIgniter
means. It will also make things simpler for contributors, rather than
using a complex and lethargic Contributor License Agreement.

(What they miss to tell is the change of the license, which is the only reason they do this paperwork)

Warm words don’t do it any longer. Straight message to Ellislab: You’re doing it wrong. We have asked for a favor and you denied it. Now you ask for a favor, and we will deny it. But it’s your problem to (not) know.

If a contributor asks me, I tell them how I do it: I don’t tell Ellislab now. I as copyright holder don’t have any rush to get my message out. And I contact other contributers and ask them to do the same. Together it’s more fun and especially more powerful.

CodeIgniter 3.0 users should be aware that they are likely violating copyright if they donwload the final product or one of EllisLabs derivates that are sold for thee monay.

My tip: Contact Ellislab support and let them give you a written guarantee/statement that the copyright/licensing is covered for the whole codebase when you plan to use 3.0.


complete mail


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8 Responses to Ellislab, you’re doing it wrong

  1. philsturgeon says:

    I think it’s pretty clear you were not a fan of the switch to OSL. It was pretty controversial at the time and while that seems to have died down I am sure this email is going to kick things off again. Now, for the record I am not an employee of EllisLab and have no reason to defend them or their choices, but this email got a +1 from me before it went out.

    You said yourself on one of your previous articles: “[the change to OSL] in itself looks violating the shared authorship copyright as a whole as it has not yet been clarified with all authors and copyright holders in concrete”. That is absolutely true. If they released CodeIgniter 3.0 without asking anyone who had submitted copyrightable work to CodeIgniter 3.0 then they would be in a massive violation of copyright law.

    EllisLab didn’t know that v3.0 was going to be OSL until after the Reactor project had opened up and started accepting contributions. The fact that OSL looked so controversial lead me to spend an entire day pulling together commits from the “develop” branch to make 2.1.0 out of what we had that didn’t involve a license change.

    Since then, more commits have come in and they WILL be going into the now OSL branch. Seeing as EllisLab don’t have a time machine, what would you suggest that they do?

    Two options here:

    1.) Revert every single commit from everyone, then try and get permission.
    2.) Ask for permission, then revert the code from anyone who doesn’t give it – IF their work is enough to consider copyrightable.

    EllisLab picked the latter and I am glad they did.

    Some frameworks force you to send in a signed contract by post just to have a patch-file accepted. F**k that.

    If you want to switch frameworks then go ahead, but OSL is not a reason to do so. I sell applications built on top of CodeIgniter and I have switched to OSL without any element of panic for the safety of my projects.

    • hakre says:

      Well it’s pretty straight forward what Ellislab needs to do: Create a list of contributions and the subjects related to those. Then verify copyright for each one. Then contact all authors/copyright holders if they are okay with changing the license. Unless all copyright holders are okay with switching, the license can not be changed.

      It’s just that this does not work by just declaring a new license on some conference keynote, right?

      Apart from that, I already see a problem that the copyright statement is wrong, as it can’t be that Ellislab alone had held the copyright on Codeigniter. That might already violate US-law, but I’m not that fluent with what the outcome of such a violation would be and right now I don’t feel in the need to differentiate more.

      However the OSL itself requires copyright ownership or having the right to sublicense. As of today it’s obvious that Ellislab know they don’t have that. Therefore offering the software under OSL already (as you say you make use of Codeigniter under OSL) is a breach of the license itself. I really wonder how you can feel save, as you should have been able to read the license text and you are close enough to the project to know how things are being handled.

      And I must admit I can not understand your +1 if one of the most important things is not even named in that letter: The change of the licensing. It’s like they do not want to even name the license. Poor, very poor.

      • philsturgeon says:

        > Unless all copyright holders are okay with switching, the license can not be changed.

        The email clearly states:

        If for any reason you decide that you can not or do not wish to certify your prior contributions, please let us know right away at licensing@ellislab.com and we will gladly revert your patches, acknowledging your objection in the commit message.

        That seems pretty fair. If somebody does not respond then they will just assume they’re cool with it. Otherwise we’d have 100 people holding the project at ransom.

        > The change of the licensing. It’s like they do not want to even name the license. Poor, very poor.

        You’re right, OSL was not mentioned anywhere and that should have happened. Let’s not assume there was any malicious reason for keeping it out because that is just silly, the LICENSE file in root makes it pretty obvious what license is being used.

        Generally it seems like you’re annoyed at EllisLab for not doing everything perfectly the first time. EllisLab only have one open-source product and they’re trying to do the right thing. It’s a learning experience for them, and me as somebody who helps out.

        Remember a few years ago when we couldn’t submit code AT ALL? That annoyed a LOT of the community. Now we CAN submit code, and you’re going to complain about how – especially when they are trying to fix a mistake you have already condemned them for?

        • hakre says:

          Just quick:

          > That seems pretty fair. If somebody does not respond then they will just assume they’re cool with it.

          Obviously with the same argumentation you could say the exact opposite, so they can assume what they want, it’s just that this has no legal ground at all.

          > Otherwise we’d have 100 people holding the project at ransom.

          It’s not holding the project, but the change of license which are two pair of shoes. Please differentiate.

          And please don’t complain here that Ellislab is slow with opening development to their Open Sauce project. I’m the wrong contact person for such complains.

          • philsturgeon says:

            I don’t know what you mean. I am a developer on the team, I was not complaining that EllisLab IS slow, I complained that they WERE. There is nothing wrong with EllisLab asking if people are ok with the change. If somebody is not happy they have a chance to voice their concerns. If they do not voice their concerns, we’ll assume there are no concerns.

            That is really the end of it.

          • hakre says:

            I wonder for whom you speak when you say we. And objections to the change have been given.

            But probably let’s leave it at this level and see how Ellislab progresses to get approval for the license change by all copyright holders.

            For copyright owners there is no need to voice concerns, Ellislab needs to know, not guess.

            When Codeigniter 3.0 is being released under OSL, subject to that license, Ellislab as publisher will be asked to verify that they can guarantee either ownership of copyright or the rights to sub-license. We will then see what Ellislab is willing to guarantee.

  2. Noah Mormino says:

    There is a simple solution to this for you. If you haven’t made any commits to CodeIgniter, don’t worry about it. If you have and you obviously disapprove, then tell them as much so they can roll back your commits. I was a bit concerned about the license change when I read one of your earlier posts concerning it, but my fears have subsided with EllisLab interpretation of the license. A software license is only as valid as a companies desire and ability to defend it (much like a patent) and I just can’t see EllisLab pulling out the pitchforks and doing a witch hunt for suspected license violators. Likewise, those that are really opposed to the new changes are probably within their rights to fork the 2.* branch under the current license.

    • hakre says:

      If somebody takes something from me, I normally expect to be asked first. And that is only generally, in copyright, there is much more to clarify before use. Not doing so (or retroactively) is non-professional and hurting the community. It makes the application of the license looking like made in a rush w/o discussing this with their own community – which btw. was criticized.

      In the end you will see that the license problems are less of legal nature but more how Ellislab deals with their community.

      And your arguments are actually missing the point that Ellislab is not the only author. No author who has contributed can be either forced to use the OSL nor can she/he be bound to Ellislab interpretation of the OSL. She/he instead can defend their own rights they see under OSL apart from what Ellislab promotes.

      And Ellislab interpretation does not buy you anything (“It’s GPL compatible, at least Ellislab said so”) when you get it to ship.

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