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  1. <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
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  5. <title>SourceForge drifting</title>
  6. </head>
  7. <body>
  8. <h2>SourceForge drifting</h2>
  9. <h3>2001-10-20</h3>
  10. <p>
  11. Over the past few months the <a
  12. href="http://www.sourceforge.net/">SourceForge</a>
  13. development facility, which hosts a large number of <a
  14. href="http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html">Free
  15. Software</a> projects, has changed its policies. Features
  16. for exporting a project from SourceForge have been
  17. removed. The implementation used to be exclusively Free
  18. Software but is now <a
  19. href="http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:WxA5jbBHLMQ:sourceforge.net/docman/display_doc.php%3Fdocid%3D6267%26group_id%3D1+larry+augustin+site:sourceforge.net&amp;hl=en">based
  20. on non-free software</a>. Finally, VA Linux[<a
  21. href="#valinux">1</a>] has become rather underhand in their
  22. attempts to grasp exclusive control of contributors' work.
  23. </p>
  24. <p>
  25. SourceForge did a lot of good for the Free Software community,
  26. but it's now time to break free.
  27. </p>
  28. <h3>Locking users in a non-free software world</h3>
  29. <p>
  30. SourceForge brought to Free Software a unified and standard
  31. development methodology based on modern tools. Before
  32. SourceForge, such tools (bug tracking, cvs, web, support,
  33. forums, polls, news, etc.) were available individually, but
  34. few developers used many of them together, because they had
  35. to set up the combined facilities on their own. SourceForge
  36. made the combination conveniently available for both new and
  37. experienced developers.
  38. </p>
  39. <p>
  40. Because of the convenience of SourceForge, many Free
  41. Software developers have come to take this collection
  42. of features for granted, and would be reluctant to go
  43. back to the old way of doing things. Unfortunately,
  44. this means that when SourceForge itself takes a turn
  45. for the worse, it tends to pull Free Software developers
  46. down with it.
  47. </p>
  48. <p>
  49. The second important thing SourceForge did was to provide
  50. this environment based exclusively on <a
  51. href="http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html">Free
  52. Software</a>. By doing this, SourceForge not only provided a
  53. powerful methodology for the Free Software community, it
  54. also demonstrated what Free Software could do, and promoted
  55. the use of Free Software. And since the special software
  56. for SourceForge was itself free, anyone could set up a
  57. similar site. The SourceForge software became permanently
  58. available to developers everywhere. Developers in (say)
  59. India who can't afford the bandwidth to use the SourceForge
  60. site could have the benefit of the same features on their
  61. own server.
  62. </p>
  63. <p>
  64. In August 2001, VA Linux reversed those policies and
  65. introduced non-free software on the SourceForge server. In
  66. <a
  67. href="http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:WxA5jbBHLMQ:sourceforge.net/docman/display_doc.php%3Fdocid%3D6267%26group_id%3D1+larry+augustin+site:sourceforge.net&amp;hl=en"> announcing this</a> (the original document was removed or moved shortly after the publication of this article), Larry Augustin (VA Linux CEO) claims
  68. that SourceForge.net users will <i>"see virtually no
  69. changes"</i>. That may be true if they narrow their vision
  70. and consider only what job the site does and how to operate
  71. it. But when we consider the
  72. implications, things are very different now. Instead of a
  73. showcase for Free Software, SourceForge is now a demo site
  74. for non-free software. There is a danger that the many
  75. thousands of people registered on SourceForge will become
  76. increasingly hooked on the SourceForge site and on features
  77. implemented by proprietary software.
  78. </p>
  79. <p>
  80. As a Free Software developer, you are still free to use the
  81. SourceForge server, but you won't have the freedom to copy,
  82. modify, study and distribute the software it runs; you won't
  83. be free to set up a similar site yourself, or adapt it to
  84. your own needs. The <a
  85. href="http://sourceforge.net/projects/alexandria/"> last
  86. published release</a > of the SourceForge software is one
  87. year old.
  88. </p>
  89. <p>
  90. The move to non-free software was the culmination of a
  91. series of steps designed to lock users in. There never was a
  92. way to fully extract projects from SourceForge, but efforts
  93. were made in this direction--then this year they were
  94. removed. At present the only things you can get are the <a
  95. href="http://cvs.sourceforge.net/cvstarballs/">CVS tree</a>
  96. and tracker data <i>/export/sf_tracker_export.php</i>. Few
  97. people are aware of the later because it is undocumented.
  98. The <a href="http://www.sourceforge.net/export/">export
  99. page</a> explains how to use scripts that don't exist
  100. anymore; implementation of facilities to ease project
  101. extraction was stopped. The developer community is
  102. exclusively made of VA Linux employees and a few people who
  103. are asked not to disclose the current code.
  104. </p>
  105. <p>
  106. The <a href="http://www.geocrawler.com/about/">mailing lists
  107. archives</a>, a major service of SourceForge recently became
  108. <i>unmaintained</i>. Will it be replaced by a non-free
  109. software based solution ?
  110. </p>
  111. <h3>Contributors' work appropriation</h3>
  112. <p>
  113. Here is what happened to me shortly before the announcement
  114. that SourceForge would use and develop non-free software.
  115. Because I'm listed as a contributor (in the <a
  116. href="http://chris.from.lu/SF2.5/AUTHORS">sources</a> and <a
  117. href="http://sourceforge.net/docman/display_doc.php?docid=751&amp;group_id=1">documentation</a>)
  118. to the SourceForge software, I received a request from VA
  119. Linux to assign copyright to them. I was not surprised or
  120. unhappy with this; many Free Software projects ask
  121. contributors to assign copyright of their changes to the
  122. main author. Assigning copyright to a single holder is a
  123. strategy for defending the <a
  124. href="http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html">GNU GPL</a> more
  125. effectively, and I would have been happy to cooperate in
  126. that regard.
  127. </p>
  128. <p>
  129. But when I read the details of their copyright assignment, I
  130. saw major problems. I was asked to assign copyright of
  131. my work that "<i>is, or may in the future be, utilised in the
  132. SourceForge collaborative software development
  133. platform</i>". The assignment was not limited to my
  134. contribution to the SourceForge code, it potentially covered
  135. all my past and future work if it was of some interest to
  136. SourceForge.
  137. </p>
  138. <p>
  139. I was also expecting a promise that my work would be
  140. released under the GNU GPL, but the assignment said nothing
  141. about Free Software. VA Linux would be allowed to release
  142. the software I wrote under a non-free software license and
  143. not let the community have it at all. But I wasn't sure at
  144. the time if this was a real concern, because VA Linux only
  145. produced and used Free Software. Two weeks later they
  146. decided to introduce non-free software on SourceForge
  147. and that cast a different light on the question.
  148. </p>
  149. <p>
  150. VA Linux told me that they only sent the assignment to two
  151. people, in the hope to refine it. We started a long
  152. discussion that lasted two months. I assumed this
  153. discussion was to make the copyright assignment more
  154. palatable to the Free Software community, so I worked hard
  155. to give constructive feedback. Finally I was sent the
  156. version of the copyright assignment produced by the legal
  157. department. I quote it here in its entirety:
  158. </p>
  159. <blockquote>
  160. SourceForge Copyright Assignment
  161. <p>
  162. <i>Thank you for your interest in contributing software code
  163. to SourceForge.</i>
  164. </p>
  165. <p>
  166. <i>In order for us to include the code in our product, we will
  167. need you to provide us with the rights to the code.</i>
  168. </p>
  169. <p>
  170. <i>By signing this agreement, you, the undersigned, hereby
  171. assign to VA Linux all right, title and interest in and to
  172. the software code described below, and all copyright,
  173. patent, proprietary information, trade secret, and other
  174. intellectual property rights therein. You also agree to take
  175. all actions and sign all documents (such as copyright
  176. assignments or registrations) reasonably requested by VA
  177. Linux to evidence and record the above assignments.</i>
  178. </p>
  179. </blockquote>
  180. <p>
  181. This was even more of a power grab than the first draft. "<i>You
  182. give us total control; we promise nothing</i>". At this point,
  183. I knew that the attempts to clarify the copyright assignment
  184. were a waste of time; VA Linux clearly wasn't collecting
  185. copyright assignments in order to enforce the GNU GPL.
  186. </p>
  187. <h3>Escape entrapment</h3>
  188. <p>
  189. It's time for people who value freedom to escape from
  190. SourceForge. It has become a tar pit from which escape will
  191. become increasingly difficult. Development hosting platforms
  192. based completely on Free Software flourish all over the
  193. world. You can create your own, join an existing one or
  194. help write the underlying software. Some months ago I helped
  195. to launch <a href="http://savannah.gnu.org/">Savannah</a> for
  196. the GNU project because I felt the need of a collaboratively
  197. run platform. With friends and co-developpers we are now
  198. re-writing and packaging <a
  199. href="http://savannah.gnu.org/docs/savannah-plan.html">distributed
  200. development hosting</a> software. The idea is to be able to
  201. install and operate a SourceForge-like site within hours.
  202. Savannah will run this software at the end of this year. At
  203. first it may have less functionality than SourceForge, but
  204. it has a bright future because it is rooted in a cooperative
  205. effort of people sharing Free Software.
  206. </p>
  207. <p>
  208. SourceForge is free as in free beer because it was designed
  209. this way. It was a very expensive and ephemeral gift to the
  210. Free Software community. We could resent VA Linux for such a
  211. poisoned gift. On the contrary I think we should thank
  212. them. They brought us methodology, and taught us that a
  213. development hosting facility must be built in a distributed
  214. and collaborative way, not by a single company controlling
  215. everything from top to bottom. Of course that means everyone
  216. needs to spend a little time developing and maintaining these
  217. hosting facilities. We've finished our beer, it's time to win
  218. our freedom.
  219. </p>
  220. <p>
  221. <i><a href="mailto:loic@gnu.org">Loïc Dachary</a></i>
  222. </p>
  223. <ol class="fn">
  224. <li id="valinux"><a href="http://www.valinux.com/">VA Linux</a> is the
  225. owner of the <a href="http://www.sourceforge.net/">SourceForge</a> domain
  226. name, provides and owns the hardware, pays for the bandwidth, hire people
  227. maintaining SourceForge. VA Linux is also the owner of most <a
  228. href="http://www.osdn.com/">OSDN</a> sites, the largest concentration of
  229. Free Software related resources in the hands of a single company.</li>
  230. </ol>
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