Contributor Agreements, technically called the Contributor License Agreement or CLA, is a definition/description of the legalities of FOSS as an intellectual property by the contributor, or the company. In simple terms they are the core of the licensing system of the FOSS project. Most Contribution Agreements fall into two common style categories- Copyright License and Copyright Assignment.
Why are they necessary?
There are twin objectives that the Contributor Agreements achieves-to ensure the project is used optimally and as a common pool of permission from all contributors to the project. It would truly be a legal hornet’s nest if every developer/contributor had to be sought for granting permission to use the project. The more popular projects that are using Contributor Agreements in one form or the other are- MySQL, Fedora/Red Hat, Canonical etc.
Project Harmony, is true to its name, a bold community driven initiative to arrive at a consensus for standard formats, templates to describe the terms of licensing/copyright of any Free and Open Source Software or FOSS by end users such as other companies etc. Now Project Harmony seeks greater community participation as well as contribution through its new website-www.harmonyaggreements.org.
What is Project Harmony?
In May 2010, Amanda Brock, from General Counsel for Canonical launched Project Harmony for greater community involvement in standardizing Contribution Agreements. There are several communication channels through which the community can contribute and are well detailed at the website.
However, the Project goes on to clarify that Contribution Agreements are only one tool of licensing amongst several legal strategies that FOSS developers can follow to distribute their work. Their attempt is only to offer a streamlined, cost-effective variable template for reviewing Contribution Agreements.
Project Harmony consists of..
Project Harmony consists of several contributing companies, projects, industry-interested parties as well as those who have personal issues on FOSS. The initial goals targeted are on two levels of Contribution Agreements and Inter-Company Agreements.
The focus in both will be to ensure the choice of words leave no room for interpretations and are easily applicable globally. The attempt is to minimize the legal review of agreements. Creating an adequate suite of standard language is the aim so that commercial aspects, community preferences are expressed rightfully. The Inter-company Agreements aim to offer the right technical descriptions for employee contributions to other company/projects. The goal of such agreements is to overcome the need for signatures of employees for Contributor Agreements and instead offer organizations an equal opportunity environment.
The website also offers sufficient additional information on Contributor Agreements, Drafts of Contributor Agreements for Review as well as Guide to the Contributor Agreements. The comprehensive set of FAQs, at the website, attempts to address some of the common queries/clarifications on Contributor Agreements. It also provides alternative resource information for those seriously considering the issue of FOSS licensing.
Project Harmony is a great step forward to simplifying and fast-tracking Contributor Agreements with minimum turnaround time in development, legal time, as well as cost-effectiveness. Perhaps this will lay the foundations for future opportunities to standardize other legalities of FOSS contributions.