Cliff Schmidt on licensing

asf licenses opensource

Cliff Schmidt, the ASF's new VP of Legal Affairs, talks about what every ASF committer contributor should now about licensing.

Here's my summary, but please refer to Cliff's presentation for more detailed info, this is only my personal view of what he said.

How are legal issues handled at the ASF?

To raise a licensing-related issue, people should email the appropriate dev or pmc list, which is the first point of contact.

Committers and pmc members can raise questions on the legal-discuss list, and get help there.

If the issue is still not resolved, the concerned PMC chair should email VP of legal affairs (currently cliffs, let's call him the VPLA) or the legal-internal list with a request for resolution.

To resolve the issue, the VPLA works with the ASF's lawyers and passes a recommendation to the Board, often in the form a Board resolution.

The PMC is then informed of the decision and can relay the information to the respective communities.

Cliff's 100'000 meter view of Intellectual Property Law

Cliff's presentation primarily refers to US law.


Copyright covers following actions: copy, create derivative works, distribute, display publicly and perform publicly. It covers expressions of an idea, not the idea itself.

In the US, everything that you express is automatically copyrighted.

Bottom line on copyright: actively get an applicable license before performing any of the covered actions with copyrighted code (beyond fair use).


Patents cover the following actions: make, use, offer to sell, sell and import.

A patent grants the right to exclude others from the above actions. Covers processes, designs, machines, manufactured articles.

Bottom line on patents: do not search for potential patents, but raise any known patent claims to PMC (e.g. WS-security patent statement).

Trademarks and trade secrets

Trademarks are generally distinctive symbols, pictures or words which identify the origin of a product or service (like the ASF feather).

Apache trademarks include "Apache Software Foundation", "Apache Web Server" and "POWERED BY SPAM ASSASSIN"

Trade secrets cover any information that derives economic value by being secret, they are as such not really applicable to open source ;-)

Trade secrets are mutually exclusive with patents.

Key points of the Apache legal docs

The Apache License

In the definitions, terms are First Letter Capitalized: Derivative Works, Contributor, Contribution, etc.

"Contribution" and "submitted", for example are defined precisely in the license.

Cliff goes over the various sections of the license, which make more sense to me after his intro on the various aspects of IP. You had to be there though ;-)


An important point is that the ASF does not distribute anything which requires more than the ASF license.

The Contributor Agreement

The CLA is a license, not a copyright assignement.

It applies to all present and future contributions, and grants license to the ASF and to recipients of the contribution.

A Corporate Contributor License Agreement (CCLA) allows the employer to make a direct agreement with the ASF and authorizes employees to contributor employer's IP.

Each contributor still needs an ICLA (invidivual) for stuff that they might contribute outside of their relationship with their employer.

The Software Grant

I missed that one while typing ;-)

Cliff has a lot of links at the end of his presentation, I won't copy them here.

Now's the time for the Wigwam session. I won't summarize this one, I'm tired of typing...