Contributor Agreement

Earlier this year, I read a post to one of Jonathan’s blogs in which the author complained vigorously about the complexity of Sun’s Contributor Agreement. I responded not with an email or a blog, but rather by pounding my head repeatedly and forcefully against my desk.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this area, contributor agreements are used by most open source companies and communities to set forth the terms under which contributions can be made to an open source project. Sun’s Contributor Agreement, for example, is the contractual vehicle for contributions to Sun open source projects like OpenSolaris, OpenJDK and Glassfish.

Now the reason I was banging my head was because if there is one agreement that should be a model of simplicity and clarity, it should be our Contributor Agreement. After all, we are asking developers around the world (most without formal legal training) to contribute their time, energy and intellect to open source projects like those mentioned above. The least we can do in exchange is to provide contracts that clearly describe the terms of our relationship. In the hope of forestalling a nasty headache, I took a look at our Contributor Agreement and immediately I agreed with the author of the post. The agreement was wordy and needlessly complicated. So, I asked one of our team to revise it.

Now, a few months later, we’ve released the redrafted Sun Contributor Agreement. The process took longer than I had hoped, but much of the time was spent soliciting feedback from the open source community about our proposed changes. And, in the end, the revised agreement is substantially improved from its predecessor. If you’re interested, you can find it here.

My only regret is that the person who originally posted the comment to Jonathan’s blog did so anonymously. I would have liked to have sent him or her a note expressing what I’ll now say here: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ll do better in the future.”


Filed under Personal

6 responses to “Contributor Agreement

  1. Sue Weber

    The revised SCA is definitely an improvement. I would make two additional improvements. First, please revise the first sentence so that it does not contain a sentence fragment. Second, the purpose of a "contributor agreement" should be explained within the agreement, before the terms.

  2. Mike,
    Thanks for this. Holy smokes this will make things SO MUCH easier. I really appreciate this.

  3. Nice work!
    Wouldn’t it be a good thing to publish this under a Creative Commons license? That would help other companies to Open Source their products.

  4. [Trackback] Some small prints are awfully written by lawyers and other people who are more interested in covering their behinds than explaining things clearly. I found the following two rare exceptions that set some good examples and I would like to share them wit…

  5. Tobias

    Doesn’t this Contributor Agreement enable SUN to dump the Open Source-Licenses it is using right now and going back to closed source?
    If I contribute I’d like to contribute under the license you redistribute in. Say GPL for example.

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