Letting go | Opensource.com

Letting go

Posted 11 Dec 2009 by 

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When I came to Red Hat, I had to make about a 180-degree shift in my approach to my work. My practice is in trademarks, copyrights and patents, fields that are traditionally all about excluding others. Counseling clients was about how to keep anyone else from using what was yours.

At Red Hat I had to readjust my thinking. I had to eliminate my knee jerk reaction and canned responses and rethink how the world should look when you are trying to encourage availability rather than deny it.

But what I find fascinating is how hard that is to let that feeling of ownership go completely. The desire for recognition of creation seems to be a strong human impulse. The Creative Commons licenses acknowledge that; you can't do a Creative Commons license without a “BY” limitation, except to dedicate to the public domain altogether. It's also entirely consistent with open source software licensing to put a burden of attribution on downstream users.

The most recent demonstration of this is an article by Ars Technica about the recent spate of BusyBox lawsuits. The article discusses a dispute between Bruce Perens, one of the original authors of the BusyBox software, and the current maintainers, over the origin and ownership of the code. Bruce Perens believes he is still the owner of some of the code and is unhappy he wasn't consulted on the lawsuit; Ars Technica considers it sour grapes. Whether Ars Technica's characterization of the dispute is accurate or not, this point is an interesting one: “People who have otherwise disconnected from a project still feel a sense of ownership after they stop contributing, and they can sometimes become a burden on the active maintainers who have new goals and a different philosophical vision.” Sharing is harder than you would think.

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Pam, formerly Manager, Senior Intellectual Property Counsel for Red Hat, is now the principal of Chestek Legal in Raleigh, North Carolina. She works with creative communities, giving practical legal advice on branding, marketing, and protecting and sharing content. Pam has authored several scholarly articles, has a legal blog at

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