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Archive for July 13th, 2007

CUPS bought by Apple

In a surprising move, I learned that Apple has bought CUPS’s source code.

Usually, companies hire the main developer, or fork the source. Not buy the source code.
So this interest me.

Some people speculated that this move is to keep CUPS from moving to GPLv3 license. Makes sense.
GPLv2 is pretty good & proven to help the open source scene florishes. GPLv3, however, is untested; with potential from making FOSS into an even bigger success, or killing it. Apple seems to fear the later scenario, so it took a step to avoid it.

The current codebase is licensed as GPLv2 though. So, even if the copyright of its source code is owned by Apple, anyone can just fork it if they’re not happy with it, and make a better CUPS.

One lesson learned from this : Do not transfer your copyright to a single person :

Linux kernel can not be taken over by anyone exactly because of this – the number of copyright holders, the developers, are numerous. Even Linus himself can not hijack it.

CUPS, however, has required any patch submitted to it to have its copyright transferred to Sweet. Thus enabling Apple to easily taking over it.

The real issue for open source development I see was that Sweet violated an implicit understanding. Everyone transferred their copyrights to him, but there was the idea that the project was open source. How many of those developers would have done the work if they knew or thought Sweet would do this? I bet many of them would not have contributed. By giving up their copyright they lost their entire stake in the matter.

The real lesson here is that the idea that the developers should pool their copyrights into one person is flawed. That person can then cash out. The get all the profits for everyone else’s work. The other developers lose out on both getting a piece of the pie if they would have wanted that, and they lose out in the moral sense in that if they didn’t want their code to suddenly become part of a closed source project, they have no say in it anymore.

I think that in the future open source developers should be more cautious about giving away their copyrights. Also, I hope that open source developers will start forking projects that are being developed by companies and groups that require that the copyright be transferred.

Conclusion : I don’t think it will affect CUPS in any negative way, since this move is just Apple’s taking insurance against potential problems of GPLv3. However, personally I’m disappointed to learn that there’s only a single copyright holder in CUPS project. This will make it easy for any entity to do a hostile takeover. No open source project should do this.

            








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