Who Says “I Want to Contribute” ?

In recent posts, I’ve been a bit critical with Open Source. But doing Open Source is a lot of fun. The publicity of feedback is thrilling and encouraging. And then, there’s the “I want to contribute” phenomenon. Those guys that are so thrilled with your wicked product that will change the world, they want to help. They want to participate. They want to contribute. They want instructions on how to do it. And then ……….. the big void. You’ll never hear from them again. Even if you ask them a couple of times, through private messages, etc. Even if you show them a couple of easy tickets that they could resolve first. Blank.

Who are they? Where did they come from? Where do they go? Are the real? Or robots?

Whoever they are, I find them amusing and refreshing. But now, back to work. Someone has to actually write the Open Source code.

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4 responses to “Who Says “I Want to Contribute” ?”

  1. oded peer says :

    Well, sometimes the “how to contribute” entry barrier seems like too much effort. Even working with Git branches might be a steep learning curve for developers not accustomed to working with Git (think most enterprise developers).
    In my case, I wanted to send a patch to OpenJDK. Did you know that to become a contributor you need to sign a contract, scan it and email it to Oracle (http://openjdk.java.net/contribute/)?
    I gave it up.

    • lukaseder says :

      This isn’t so unusual in professional Open Source. Eclipse also has a CLA: http://www.eclipse.org/legal/CLA.php. So, if you really went through all the hassle of finding and fixing a bug in the JDK, why not just sign this little agreement with Oracle?

      The correct licensing of user contributions is indeed very challenging. Most Open Source vendors neglect application of due diligence when it comes to maintaining copyright within their products. Without any express agreement, each contributor maintains the copyright of his contribution. If this isn’t managed correctly, larger Open Source products become pretty useless, commercially. This can be very bad also for users of Open Source software, as the software may die simply because of the legal impact eventually imposed on the vendor. (I’ll have to blog about this, some time)

      With jOOQ 3.2’s moving towards dual licensing, I actually had to send out quite a few CLAs to past contributors, retrofitting copyright transfer agreements.

      In other words, from an OSS vendor perspective, I prefer to accept contributions only from contributors that are ready to go “all the way”. There might be a slight grey area when it comes to minor patches, which might not be copyright-protectable (I am not a lawyer).

      In this article, however, I’m slightly mocking those guys that disappear after realising the slightest effort they have to go through :-)

      • Miles Rout says :

        I think it’s morally wrong to say that it’s not ‘doing your due diligence’ to not ask for copyright assignment. Someone’s work is their own. They’re licensing it back to you under a copyleft agreement, not giving you ownership of it. If I had to assign my copyright back to the commercial vendor then they could just arbitrarily stop producing it as free software. That’s morally wrong, as it lets them exploit the community for bugfixes and then not contribute that code back to the community.

        • lukaseder says :

          I’m not advocating copyright transfer per se, although we’re doing this in our case. I’m only advocating proper management of copyright in CLAs (or in licenses, such as the ASL 2.0). If an OSS license does not vest the right to sublicense contributions in any way, then the end user might have a legal problem because of some third-party contribution.

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