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Legal Issues FAQ

The legal-discuss@lists.openstack.org mailing list is a forum for questions that have a legal aspect to them. These questions may concern (for example) licensing, third party packages, contributor agreement questions and trademark issues. The list will be used to build into an ad-hoc knowledge base in the form of this FAQ about those thorny legal issues that most commonly affect the OpenStack project.

Opinions documented here do not constitute legal advice from the OpenStack Foundation or anyone else.


Q: Should we include NOTICE files in OpenStack projects?

A: If a NOTICE file exists in a project, the Apache License requires that derivative works include the attribution notices from the file. This could be helpful for a number of purposes - (a) ensuring an attribution to the OpenStack project gets included in derivative works and (b) helping distributors of derivative works to include any required attribution notices for third party code included in the project. However, neither of these issues are deemed significant or important enough to warrant the cost of maintaining the files or requiring distributors to include an OpenStack project attribution notice.

For the full background, see this thread

Incorporating BSD/MIT Licensed Code

Q: If we include BSD or MIT licensed code in an OpenStack project, how best should we comply with the terms of the license?

A: The 2 core clauses in the BSD license make some demands about the retention of copyright notices, the license and disclaimers in both source and binary distributions of the code. The MIT license contains similar requirements. Probably the easiest thing to do when incorporating BSD or MIT licensed code is to copy the copyright/license header from the source file into the destination file, as well as copying the copyright notice, license and disclaimer into the toplevel LICENSE file with a brief explanation of which code is under that license.

For the full background, see this email.

Copyright Headers

Q: Generally speaking, what's the idea with copyright headers in source files and what should be included in them?

A: Copyright notices are not required in order to create or protect your copyright rights, but they may nonetheless be useful. (Also, copyright notices from code taken from outside of OpenStack will typically need to be preserved as a requirement of the license of that external code.) We have some overall copyright guidance on this wiki, and discussions about copyright headers in source files continue on mailing lists. In general,

  • All references to "OpenStack LLC" can be changed to "OpenStack Foundation" because copyrights held by OpenStack LLC were transferred to the Foundation when the new entity was created. (However, note that in some cases "OpenStack LLC" or "OpenStack Foundation" appear to have been included in copyright notices in error by contributors not employed by Rackspace or the Foundation at the relevant time period.)
  • If the content has been substantially updated in 2013, add the year to the change.
  • Always keep the license in the header.
  • We do not yet have guidance for when to add or remove a copyright header in source files.
  • Reviews of copyright headers may vary across projects.
  • For documentation, refer to Documentation/Copyright.

Note that the combination of our use of a CLA and per-file copyright notices from individuals or companies may be creating a confusing duplicative licensing situation.

Q: Should "All rights reserved" follow a copyright notice?

A: It is not necessary to follow a copyright notice with the words "All rights reserved". While it is harmless, some people regard "All rights reserved" as being inappropriate in conjunction with an open source license grant. Therefore it is recommended that developers not include "All rights reserved" in copyright headers.

Copyright Notices in Blueprints

Q: Should I include a copyright notice in a blueprint?

A: No.

OpenStack Foundation Copyright Headers

Q: Should I Include an OpenStack Foundation copyright header in my code?

A: Most existing OpenStack Foundation copyright headers you see in OpenStack code are likely associated with code from Rackspace developers before the OpenStack Foundation existed when OpenStack LLC was a wholly owned subsidiary of Rackspace. Once the foundation was formed, all OpenStack LLC assets (including copyrights) were transferred to the foundation and the copyright headers were updated. It's likely the only valid reason for OpenStack Foundation copyright notices on new code these days is where the code was authored by an employee or contractor of the foundation.

For the full background, see this thread.

New Project Names

Q: What sort of things should I bear in mind when choosing a new project name?

A: Some of the non-Apache-specific material in the Apache Software Foundation's guidelines "Choosing names for ASF projects" may be helpful. See also the last paragraph of section 5.1 of SFLC's A Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects.

A few categories that are best avoided when coming up with a non-generic project name are: surnames, ubiquitous words, famous trademarks in other fields, and references to famous things (e.g., superheroes, car names, movie characters, famous people).

Legal Concerns Over Project Names

Q: I am concerned that there may be legal issues around an existing OpenStack project name. What should I do?


Licensing of library dependencies

Q: Is it OK for OpenStack Projects to use GPL libraries?

A: FIXME: we don't have a clear policy on this yet

See this thread for a long discussion on the topic. There is no clear outcome from the discussion. It is safe to assume that projects should discuss openly and widely whether the community at large is happy with a specific GPL licensed dependency before adding it as a requirement.

Note - this question is about GPL libraries. LGPL libraries would not require such discussion.

Q: How about AGPL libraries ?

A: Again, no clear policy and worth discussing. However, such libraries are likely to meet more resistance.

Licensing of non-library dependencies

Q: Is it OK for OpenStack Projects to require AGPLv3 licensed technologies for production deployment?

This issue has come up in the context of Ceilometer and Marconi requiring MongoDB. The concern has been raised that some users will be unwilling to deploy any AGPLv3 technologies, but we're still trying to understand those concerns in detail. See this thread.