Codeplex Licensing: Who controls license to my projects? Not I, apparently

Man, does this ever kill the relationship I thought I was building with the Codeplex team.   A few weeks ago I got another RSS notification from one of my Codeplex projects that the License to the project had changed (AGAIN).

In my interpretation of the world of software licensing, the License Agreement is a contract between the author of the software and the users of it.  I have the impression that these License Agreements carry the weight of law behind them, and that as such there should be restrictions on who can and cannot change the terms of the contract.

The way I see it, and unless I can find some text to the contrary in the Codeplex Terms of Use, the person who creates the Codeplex project is the only one who should be able to make any changes to the License — and even then, they should be very careful not to make frequent or arbitrary changes to the License (so as to provide as stable a set of expectations as you can with your users).

Codeplex: No Respect For Licenses

So why is it that the License for my CacheMyWork project has changed (TWICE), without my consent or participation?  I’ve looked over the Terms of Use published on the Codeplex site, and I can’t find any warning or mention of Microsoft or the Codeplex team monkeying with the License for any project:

“Microsoft does not claim ownership of the materials you provide to Microsoft…or post, upload, input or submit to any Services or its associated services for review by the general public, or by the members of any public or private community, (each a “Submission” and collectively “Submissions”).”

 

“Microsoft does not control, review, revise, endorse or distribute third-party Submissions. Microsoft is hosting the CodePlex site solely as a web storage site as a service to the developer community.”

 

“…Microsoft may remove any Submission at any time in its sole discretion.”

I see nothing claiming that Codeplex or Microsoft reserves the right to alter, update or otherwise affect any License agreement attached to any current projects.  I do not believe that this is an implicit right of the Terms they have published, nor of the kinds of services that are being provided here.

SourceForge: The Opposite Extreme

Out of curiosity, I decided to examine the Sourceforge Terms of Service:

“SourceForge.net reserves the right to update and change the Terms, including without limitation the Privacy Statement, Policies and/or Service-Specific Rules, from time to time.”

 

“In addition, the content on the Website, except for all Content, including without limitation, the text, graphics, photos, sounds, sayings and the like (“Materials”) and the trademarks, service marks and logos of COMPANY contained therein (“Marks”), are owned by or licensed to COMPANY, subject to copyright and other intellectual property rights under United States and foreign laws and international conventions.”

 

“Except for Feedback, which you agree to grant COMPANY any and all intellectual property rights owned or controlled by you relating to the Feedback, COMPANY claims no ownership or control over any Content. You or your third party licensor, as applicable, retain all intellectual property rights to any Content and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate.

With respect to SourceForge.net Public Content, the submitting user retains ownership of such SourceForge.net Public Content, except that publicly-available statistical content which is generated by COMPANY to monitor and display SourceForge.net project activity is owned by COMPANY.

By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through SourceForge.net, you grant COMPANY a worldwide, non-exclusive, irrevocable, perpetual, fully sublicensable, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, create derivative works from, publish, perform, display, rent, resell and distribute such Content (in whole or part) on SourceForge.net and incorporate Content in other works, in any form, media, or technology developed by COMPANY, though COMPANY is not required to incorporate Feedback into any COMPANY products or services. COMPANY reserves the right to syndicate Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through SourceForge.net and use that Content in connection with any service offered by COMPANY.

With respect to Content posted to private areas of SourceForge.net (e.g., private SourceForge.net development tools or SourceForge.net Mail), the submitting user may grant to COMPANY or other users such rights and licenses as the submitting user deems appropriate.”

 

“SourceForge.net fosters software development and content creation under Open-Source Initiative (“OSI”)-approved licenses or other arrangements relating to software and/or content development that may be approved by COMPANY. For more information about OSI, and OSI-approved licenses, visit www.opensource.org.

Use, reproduction, modification, and ownership of intellectual property rights to data stored in CVS, SVN or as a file release and posted by any user on SourceForge.net (“Source Code”) shall be governed by and subject to the OSI-approved license, or to such other licensing arrangements approved by COMPANY, applicable to such Source Code.

Content located on any SourceForge.net-hosted subdomain which is subject to the sole editorial control of the owner or licensee of such subdomain, shall be subject to the OSI-approved license, or to such other licensing arrangements that may be approved by COMPANY, applicable to such Content.”

My interpretation of these Sourceforge terms is that they’re at least as generous as the Codeplex terms, and they are much better specified.  It’s as if the Sourceforge leaders took their responsibilities seriously, whereas the Codeplex leaders still consider this a *Microsoft* project, where they can make arbitrary decisions just as Microsoft always does with their customers’ welfare.

Would you feel comfortable hosting your source code on the Sourceforge site?  I would.

Google: Somewhere in the Between-Space

Compare also to the Google Code Terms of Service:

“Google claims no ownership or control over any Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services. You or a third party licensor, as appropriate, retain all patent, trademark and copyright to any Content you submit, post or display on or through Google services and you are responsible for protecting those rights, as appropriate. By submitting, posting or displaying Content on or through Google services which are intended to be available to the members of the public, you grant Google a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish and distribute such Content on Google services for the purpose of displaying, distributing and promoting Google services. Google reserves the right to syndicate Content submitted, posted or displayed by you on or through Google services and use that Content in connection with any service offered by Google. Google furthermore reserves the right to refuse to accept, post, display or transmit any Content in its sole discretion.”

 

“Google reserves the right at any time and from time to time to modify or discontinue, temporarily or permanently, Google services (or any part thereof) with or without notice. You agree that Google shall not be liable to you or to any third party for any modification, suspension or discontinuance of Google services.”

Pretty spartan, but still more specifics in their terms of what rights you receive and give up than the Codeplex service.

If I was starting over…

If I had to choose it all over again, and if I knew I had equivalent IDE integration for any of the source code management add-ins, I’d have a hard time choosing among them.  Currently, the fact that all four of my projects are hosted on Codeplex is a significant barrier to hosting any project on any other site.  The next strongest reason keeping me on Codeplex is that I understand the basics of how to check-in and check-out my code using the Visual Studio integration with TFS — not that it means I find it brainless or foolproof, but it happens to be the source code management system I know best right now.  [As well, I continue to figure that I’ll focus my development skills in .NET, which likely will work better in Visual Studio, which is investing heavily in TFS integration and adoption – and I suspect if I ever get into coding for work, that I’ll have the TFS infrastructure available to really exploit for our projects.]

What about Sourceforge?  I like that it’s the first one out there, and I imagine it’s been held to a higher standard (by the zealots of the open-source community) than any other site — which is goodness.  However, I don’t “get” Subversion or (the older source code management tool), and I must admit I’m put off by the number of stale or poorly-used projects littering the Sourceforge site.  I imagine that Codeplex will look similar, given the same amount of time, so this isn’t a knock against Sourceforge but rather just a reflection of its age and roots.

What about Google Code?  Despite my better [i.e. paranoid] judgment, I’ve become a fan of Google’s services, and I really appreciate the ability to easily leverage all their “properties” in what appears to me to be a cohesive fashion.  I’m also thrilled that most of their properties are frequently updated, and that the updates focus on the kinds of changes that I usually appreciate seeing.  At this point I haven’t looked much deeper into it, but if it was possible to test it out, I probably will.

If I was running Codeplex…

If I could sit down with the Codeplex team, I’d tell them this:

  • You should feel free to publish any updated licenses you wish, and make them available at any time
  • You should NEVER alter ANY of the properties of any of the hosted projects on Codeplex, let alone the License for any project

It’s possible the database admins are simply updating database records for the existing licenses, rather than inserting new records for each new or updated license

  • If you don’t want to make available “older” licenses because you think that would be too confusing for Codeplex users, then at least leave the existing licenses in place, but mark them such that they cannot be assigned to new projects.  There should be NO excuse why you can’t leave existing projects alone, and allow the project coordinators to choose when or if to update the license on their project.
  • If you’re simply updating the existing licenses for the purpose of streamlining, constraining or clarifying the licenses attached to Microsoft projects, then you ought to be publishing Microsoft-specific versions of these licenses, since the changes you’re making to the existing licenses are having unintended consequences on those non-Microsoft projects that also use those licenses.
  • Ideally, however, you should be able to publish and maintain multiple versions of each license, and to be able to publish new licenses as well.  If the GPL can manage three different versions of their license, and if these are really simply database records (with “published on” and “version” metadata attached to each) then there should be no excuse why Codeplex cannot keep multiple versions of its licenses online at the same time, and leave the existing projects’ licenses ALONE.

Having worked at Microsoft for six years, I saw firsthand how arrogant and ignorant Microsoft can be about the impact of sweeping decisions they make, since most of those folks have never been responsible for large populations of users before, and they rarely have had exposure to an environment where their decisions (no matter how foolish or under-thought) are openly challenged.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Codeplex team was no different; in fact, I’d be surprised if they were even measured on such end-user impact.  There’d sure be no incentive for Codeplex management to care, since (a) there’s no revenue to be gained or lost by poor or quality service, and (b) there’s no revenue to be “stolen” from a competing service (since all the major online code repositories charge nothing for their service, and their advertising revenue must be pretty thin).

I’m hopeful that the Codeplex folks wise up and take their responsibilities more seriously, but after the catastrophic database failure of last year, plus this half-arsed attitude towards the legal aspects of this service, I’m not going to make any bets on it.

If anyone has any suggestions on how I could help remedy either the Codeplex situation or my own desire for a better service (to which I could quickly adapt, given my sorry skills), please speak up – I’d love to hear it.

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2 thoughts on “Codeplex Licensing: Who controls license to my projects? Not I, apparently

  1. Hello Mike,CodePlex has a policy of never changing the license or any other content on a users project. Only the project owner is allowed to choose or change the license.I assure you that we take customer service very seriously. Please contact us using the Contact Us form on the website and we will make sure your issue is resolved: https://www.codeplex.com/ContactUs.aspxIf you would rather you can also contact me directly at 425-707-9487.Thanks,JonathanCodePlex.com

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  2. Well, I've set up a project on Codeplex. We wanted to use the GNU AGPL v3 (Affero GPL), which is not listed in their dropdown. So I write to them in order to set up a 'custom' license which they say they support. And after several days of banging my head against a brick wall, I eventually get told that they don't allow this.

    I guess my feeling is same as author above. I like the TFS features in Codeplex, but the general level of support and flexibility gives the overall impression that Codeplex really doesn't care one way or another about the users. Nobody has really explained to me whether there is a technical reason for not allowing the GNU AGPL v3. Since I have found projects with custom licenses, I am assuming it is a political decision.

    I had a look at Github, but don't understand it.

    So off to Google… their system looks a bit simpler, I love Google services (having used Google hosted mail for our company for years now) and they seem to allow us to choose what license WE want for OUR code.

    These days it really does feel like Microsoft does everything a bit half-assed and half-hearted. As a developer on the MS platform for 14 years, it's really not looking good. If we were being pulled towards non-MS solutions, it would be bad enough, but it really seems like MS are doing everything possible to help push us too. At present I still love .net and MSSQL, but the way things are going I feel it won't be long before MS is giving me compelling reasons to head away from those too.

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