Transfers of copyright versus licensing

John C Klensin <> Thu, 10 March 2005 20:50 UTC

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Date: Thu, 10 Mar 2005 15:49:18 -0500
From: John C Klensin <>
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Subject: Transfers of copyright versus licensing
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I made a some related comments during the IPR WG meeting on 
Monday about copyright transfers.  It is clear from a few 
in-the-hall comments that my intent was not understood, so I'm 
going to try to clarify in this note.

The IETF's traditional approach toward documents, even 
standards-track ones, has been to leave copyright ownership in 
the hands of the original authors and editors but to demand, for 
the IETF and ISOC, such rights as we believe are required to get 
our work done.  That list of rights has expanded over the years, 
and some recent suggestions have been seen as wanting to expand 
it further.

An expanding list of requirements for releases/ permissions/ 
licenses to the IETF and their provisions creates an inherent 
problem, which is that earlier documents do not have same set of 
them as later documents.

Most other standards bodies have an opposite approach to the 
problem.   They claim, explicitly and with agreement from 
participants as a condition for making it in the door, either...

	* that the participants (and their organizations, if
	relevant) derive sufficient benefits from participation
	that anything written, said, or otherwise contributed is
	a work for hire and hence belongs to the standards body
	from the moment of writing or utterance, or
	* at the point that a document becomes a formal part of
	the work program, explicit transfers of copyright are
	required from all authors and editors.

They then guarantee some rights back to the authors according to 
their discretion or rules (sometimes that is a null set).  If 
new  circumstances come along, they can negotiate about any of 
their documents because they own them -- there is no question 
about what to do about old documents, authors who can't be 
found, etc.

It is not productive to debate the legality or morality of that 
approach on this list.  I am just reporting it.

I _hate_ the idea of the IETF concluding that it needs to move 
toward that model.   But, if we are going to conclude every year 
or so that we need a few more rights or a few more releases, or 
even to debate whether or not we do, there will be a point at 
which it is simply easier, and better for all concerned, for the 
IETF to own the documents and license rights back to the authors 
as appropriate, rather than continuing to try to figure out how 
to apply rules retroactively or avoid the need to do so.

I think we need to start examining whether we have already 
passed that point.


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