What is the FLA?¶
In short, the FLA is a well-balanced contributor agreement, which gives the trustee responsible for managing the rights within a FOSS project, power and responsiblity to make sure the contributed software always remain free and open. This way the project, together with all the respective contributors, are protected against misuse of power by a new holder of exclusive rights.
If you are more of a audio-visual type, you can see my 15' intro at Akademy 2013 or my 5' intro at Akademy 2015 to understand the basics of the FLA. The talks are about FLA-1.2, but the basic gist of it is the same.
Reasons for update and changes¶
In the decade since the last update of the FLA (version 1.2, back in 2007), the world of IT has changed quite a bit and, apart from copyright, patents and trade marks have become a serious concern for FOSS projects.
For my LL.M. thesis I analysed the FLA-1.2 within its historic context and use in practice. The following topics that should be improved have been identified in the thesis:
- include patents;
- better compatibility with other jurisdictions (e.g. Belgium and India);
- more practical selection of outbound licensing options;
- usability and readability of the text itself.
Trade marks were also identified as an important issue, but not a topic a CA could fix. For that a project might want to look at the FOSSmarks website instead.
To implement the changes, there were two possibilities – either modernise the text of the FLA-1.x to meet modern needs or tweak a more modern CA to include all checks and balances of the FLA.
In the true spirit of FOSS, I decided to re-base the FLA-2.0 on the best researched CA I could find – the ContributorAgreements.org templates. Luckily, Catharina Maracke was not only merely OK with it, but very supportive as well. In fact, several of the changes that FLA brought with it trickled down into the new versions of (the rest of) the ContributorAgreements.org templates as well.
Changes inherited from ContributorAgreements.org¶
With simply re-basing the FLA-2.0 on the ContributorAgreements.org templates, we inherited some very cool features:
- improved compatibility with more jurisdictions – thanks to the academic research invested already into it;
- changed to an exclusive CLA (previously: a full-on copyright assignment, with an exclusive CLA as a fall-back) – which is both easier to manage as well as less scary to the contributors;
- added a patent license (based on Apache CLA) – so the project itself can be protected from a potential patent troll contributing to it.
Further changes to FLA-2.0¶
But we did not stop there! With the combined enthusiasm of both Catharina and yours truly, as well as ample support of a number of very smart people1, we pushed onward and introduced fixes and new features both for the FLA and the ContributorAgreements.org.
Below is a list only the biggest ones:
- improved both the legibility of the wording and the usability of the CA chooser;
- compatibility with even more jurisdictions – we improved the wording even further, so it should work as expected also in countries like India and Belgium;
- narrower list of allowed outbound licenses – i.e. intersection between Free Software and Open Source licenses (instead of Free Software OR Open Source licenses as is more common);
- introduced more outbound licensing options:
- any FOSS license;
- specific FOSS license(s);
- separate (re)licensing policy – this is particularly useful for larger and longer-standing projects such as KDE, who have (to have) their own (re)licensing policies in place.
While the 2.0 is a huge leap forward, we do not plan to leave it at rest. We are already gathering ideas for a 2.1 update, which we plan to launch much faster than in a decade. Of course, the changes in the minor update will not be as huge either, but more fine-tuning. Still, for a legal document such as a license it is in general not a good idea to release soon and release often, so if you are in need of a well-balanced CLA, the FLA-2.0 is here and ready to be used.
hook out → blog is back online, and I’m in Prague for OSSEU. Woot²! \o/
At this point I would like to humbly apologise if I left anyone out. I tried my best to list everyone. ↩