Contributor agreements are agreements between an open source or open content project and contributors to the project that set out what the project can do with the respective contribution: code, translation, documentation, artwork, etc. The purpose of such agreements is to make the terms under which contributions are made explicit and thereby protect the project, the users of the project’s code or content, and often the contributors themselves. Contributor agreements provide confidence that the guardian of a project’s output has the necessary rights over all contributions to allow for distribution of the product under either any license or any license that is compliant with specific principles. In a nutshell, contributor agreements avoid, as far as possible, any future legal issues regarding the individual contributions, such as disputes over origin of ownership or respective rights.
The Fiduciary License Agreement recommended by FSFE
The Fiduciary License Agreement (FLA) was released by FSFE in 2002 as a well-balanced contributor agreement, which gives the trustee responsible for managing the rights within a Free Software project power and responsibility 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 copyright holder.
Since the release of the first version in 2002, the world of IT has changed and the FLA has been reviewed and revised by a group of international IT and IP experts, most recently in October 2017 to join forces with the team behind contributoragreements.org. As a result of the discussions and revisions, the new FLA 2.0 can now be generated directly through the agreement chooser. Alternatively, the agreement chooser still offers to create your own contributor agreement, including a non-exclusive copyright license or a patent pledge option.
Because of the growth of open content and open source projects from the start-up mode to mainstream recognition, the discussion around the necessity to clarify copyright terms, respective contributor agreements, and especially their possible language, is getting more attention. A growing number of open content and open source projects, as well as established product and service companies, are considering and adopting contributor agreements. Consequently, there are some standard terms that are copied between projects already, but there are also concerns about the overall need for standardization of contributor agreements based on the argument that no single set of terms can serve for all projects and meet their specific needs and ideals.
Respecting arguments for both views, the next generation of standardized contributor agreements has combined the growing demand for a standard agreement to increase efficiency and reduce transaction costs for collaborative projects with the obvious need to reflect each project’s specific requirements. By offering a set of pre-defined agreements using a standardized language, which can be tailored to reflect specific needs, we aim to build the bridge between the benefits of standardized terms and the necessity to serve a variety of adopters, who are as diverse as the world of openness itself. This compromise includes the possibility to choose between exclusive and non-exclusive inbound licensing models, different outbound licensing options, and different patent options.
Contributoragreements.org was founded and is currently driven by a group of international IT and IP experts, who not only contribute to the development of the standardized contributor agreements, but also support the discussion around a global copyright reform. Special thanks to Tim Engelhardt, Andres Guadamuz, Florian Idelberger, Sylvia Jacob, Till Jaeger, Catharina Maracke, Axel Metzger, Andrew Rens and Matija Šuklje. The team be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.