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

David Nalley david.nalley at
Fri Jun 24 04:58:40 UTC 2011

On Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 12:32 AM, Richard Fontana <rfontana at> wrote:
> Hi,
> 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
> Hat.
> 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
> author.
> 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

Hi Richard,

If I had my druthers, I'd like to see something along the lines of:
'Copyright © <YEAR> Fedora Project' if we used a copyright notice or
perhaps even better:
'Copyright © <YEAR> Fedora Project Contributors'
My initial reaction to your analysis of not needing a copyright notice
is intellectual acknowledgement, but also a thought that it seems
counter-intuitive. I guess that reaction is the question in my mind if
we seem to de-emphasize subconsciously those things that don't have a
clear statement of ownership. I may be alone in that analysis, though,
and I don't really oppose dropping the existing copyright notices, as
I think it has some of the ill unintended consequences you mention.

As for attribution to contributors. I thought long ago that we decided
that author listing was 'The Fedora Documentation Project' at the
beginning of the document (e.g. what's in Author_Group.xml) and to
have a Contributor section as an appendix. This was done for a number
of reasons, but the big one in my mind, is that with a large document
such as the install guide, no one wants to page through 3 pages of
authors, editors, and translators before getting to the content.
Perhaps this has changed. Sadly I can't seem to find the thread in the
archives where we agreed on that, but seems like it was late 2008 or
early 2009 and a discussion started by Karsten. Perhaps I have missed
a change, as I haven't been as active in Docs in the past year or so.

Thanks for bringing the discussion to the list,


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