Proposal: end Gilligan's Island copyright notices in Fedora docs

Richard Fontana rfontana at
Fri Jun 24 04:32:04 UTC 2011


I think the following issue is partly one of policy so I am first
raising it here. For those who don't know who I am, I am a Red Hat
lawyer and among other things I deal with software and documentation
copyright and licensing issues.

Formal Fedora-branded documentation uses a default legal notice that
among other things uses the following universal copyright notice:

  Copyright © <YEAR> Red Hat, Inc. and others. 

followed by, typically, a CC BY-SA license notice and some trademark
notice boilerplate.

If I remember correctly, this is implemented via the Fedora Publican
brand package. 

This form of copyright notice is found elsewhere in the Fedora
universe, as in the footer of fp.o web pages. 

I recognize the convenience of a universal legal notice for purposes
of automating generation of documentation, but there is something
about it that bothers me. Consider two examples: the Fedora 14 Amateur
Radio Guide and the Fedora 15 Musician's Guide.  From what I can tell,
the actual authors of these documents are not, and were not at time of
authorship, Red Hat employees. (Moreover, it is not necessarily the
case, in any given situation, that Red Hat would be copyright holder
of all or some of the text even if they had been Red Hat employees,
but for simplicity let's ignore that issue.)

Now, the copyright notice is correct nonetheless because Red Hat holds
copyright on the Fedora logo image, and, as I recall, all
documentation includes some standard language (like the typographical
conventions section) over which, let us assume, Red Hat has some
copyright interest.

Nevertheless, why should a document that was actually written
exclusively by non-Red-Hat employees use "Copyright Red Hat, Inc. and
others" (what a friend of mine has called a "Gilligan's Island
copyright" after the original Gilligan's Island theme song which
famously referred to the important characters of the Professor and
Mary Ann as "and the rest")?

I don't think the Red Hat copyright ownership of the Fedora logo image
justifies the Gilligan's Island copyright notice, as in fact the CC
BY-SA license notice is designed (and perhaps should be improved in
this regard, even though it ought to be obvious) to make clear that
the logo image itself isn't being licensed under CC BY-SA. So if
anything it is the intention for the copyright notice *not* to refer
to the logo. (And, if you want a copyright notice because of the logo,
have a special line saying "Logo copyright <year> Red Hat, Inc.") And
while Red Hat might hold copyright on some small standard portions of
the text, the substantial part of what is creative and expressive in
the examples I gave were written by people unaffiliated with Red

So, in the case of at least that subset of Fedora documentation that
is written by those who aren't Red Hat employees (but perhaps, er, the
rest too), what purpose is the Gilligan's Island copyright notice
serving?  It doesn't provide the public notice of actual substantial
copyright ownership in at least some cases. It doesn't provide
attribution to the actual human authors. To me, all it really does is
communicate the following:

 1) Red Hat has an intimate connection to the Fedora Project.

 2) Red Hat is "first among equals" when it comes to attribution for
 Fedora project documentation; non-Red-Hat-associated contributors to
 Fedora documentation merit only second-class status.

I submit that 1) is already rather obvious to the world and is, if
anything, problematically exaggerated in the public mind. I submit
that 2) is an inappropriate use of a copyright notice even if the
policy were legitimate. Copyright notices aren't supposed to be used
for attribution - I recognize that in free software they often do
serve that purpose - but if they *are* used for attribution,
attribution ought to be given to the human authors. Or to the Fedora
Project as collaborative thing. (A nice thing about CC licenses is
that they decouple attribution from copyright ownership, as in fact
you can see in the default documentation legal notice which states
that attribution is to be given to the Fedora Project -- not Red Hat.)

I submit further that it serves no valid purpose to overemphasize the
degree to which Red Hat is the copyright holder of Fedora
documentation anyway. Fedora contributors do not assign copyright to
Red Hat. If you want to give credit to Red Hat, or overemphasize the
intimacy of the Fedora/Red Hat relationship, do so in some other way:
have a "The Fedora Project is sponsored by Red Hat" line or something
like that (though I don't see the point of that either, and if we
really cared about that I assume we would have had a requirement to
give attribution to Red Hat rather than the Fedora Project).

It may be that the only practical alternative is not to have a
copyright notice at all. That is by no means beyond consideration,
given that copyright notices have rather limited significance anyway.
In the specific examples I noted above, I would say that what little
legal value copyright notices have is not present at all. This could
well be true of other cases.

So I guess I'm interested in knowing whether there is a strong desire
(particularly among those on this list who are not Red Hat employees
yet who have contributed to Fedora documentation) to maintain the
tradition of the Gilligan's Island copyright notice, and whether
alternatives are feasible and preferable. The Musician's Guide shows
that one can prominently credit the principal human author of the
document at the beginning. The Amateur Radio Guide shows that one can
do the same thing but with "The Fedora Documentation Project" as the

If no such strong desire exists, it is my desire to recommend changes
that will eliminate the use of the Gilligan's Island copyright notice
in Fedora documentation.

- Richard

Richard E. Fontana
Open Source Licensing and Patent Counsel
Red Hat, Inc.

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