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.”