The TianoCore Contributor’s Agreement

So, I finally found some time to crawl through the TianoCore project’s Contributor’s Agreement. Here’s what I think it means.

  • Preample: So Intel has decided to release some code under what it calls the "BSD license". Personally, I have think the BSD license is something else or maybe even something like this. I don’t think a link to an incomplete license stub is enough, though. But enough of the ranting.

    Just to be clear here, I think it is safe to assume that Intel released their code under the following license (note that it’s just the stub they provide a link to, filled in with some meaningful values):

    Copyright (c) 2006-2008, Intel Corp.
    All rights reserved.
    
    Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without
    modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are
    met:
    
    * Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this
      list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
    
    * Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice,
      this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation
      and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
    
    * Neither the name of Intel Corp. nor the names of its contributors may be
      used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without
      specific prior written permission.
    
    THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS "AS IS"
    AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE
    IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE
    ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT OWNER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE
    LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR
    CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF
    SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS
    INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN
    CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE)
    ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE
    POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.
    

    In addition to their own code which they release under the "BSD license", there is some code in the TianoCore tree that is released under other licenses. Specifically the FAT32 code, which is apparently covered by some patents. If other licenses apply, and that’s the key point here, the license is either in the source files themselves or packaged with the source files.

  • Definitions: I’m a "contributor" if I hold the copyright on some code that I contribute to the TianoCore project. If I represent a company, all my employees are considered part of my company and not separate contributors. A "contribution" is anything I sent to the TianoCore project, e.g. via mail, snail mail, telephone, etc. as long as I don’t explicitly mark it as "not a contribution".
  • License for Contributions: So when I decide to contribute something to the TianoCore project, I automatically agree to provide it under a license. That can be found in the contributor’s agreement. The bullet points a) and b) are pretty clear: The permisssion to use and redistribute my contributions, provided that the three conditions laid out in the "BSD license" quoted above are met.

    The next bullet point, c), is somewhat harder to understand. I interpret is as: If I hold a patent on something, and my contribution infringes that patent, I automatically grant a patent license. I grant it to everybody, who wants to exercise his rights I granted him with the copyrigth license mentioned above. However, here’s the catch: That patent license applies only to my unmodified contribution.

    I’m not sure what to think about that. I think, Intel is trying to protect their own patents. So if they release some code to the TianoCore project which is covered by a patent they own, the only grant a minimum patent license. What remains unclear is whether the patent license is still valid, even if I modify their code as permitted by the copyright license they granted.

    The last bullet point, d), is an easy one again. It’s simply the "provided ‘as is’" part in the copyright license cited above.

  • Representations: By signing the agreement, I promise that I created the code myself. If my employer does have any rights, I promise that it explicitly permitted me to contribute my code.
  • Third Party Contributions: If I chose to contribute third party code, I need to explicitly mark it as such. It also must be separate from my own contributions.
  • Miscellaneous. The agreement is in English and translation are not authorative. If I want to take the whole thing to court, I need to to it in Delaware (US).

So what’s the conclusion here? I think Intel is pretty open about releasing their code. However, they are not so open about creating an open source project around their code. What I mean is that there are quite some legal hurdles one has to pass when contributing code to the TianoCore project. In effect, they force the BSD license on any code I contribute and I think that’s OK. On the other hand, however, they prevent me from forking the project by introducing that stupid patent clause since I have no easy way of checking whether a specific piece of code infringes one of their patents.

I really wonder if they only want to protect themselves from getting sued over some code contributed the project from non-Intel employees. Or are they really trying to create an impression of an Open Source project when it’s really not?

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