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Winners and losers in Sun's OpenDS spat

Not sticking it to the man

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The brouhaha (here and here) surrounding Sun Microsystems and ex-employee Neil Wilson over governance of the OpenDS project - first reported in The Register - continued to bubble this week, not least among Reg Dev's readers.

Many of you took the harsh, but arguably fair, point of view that Sun was in the right as work done during the employer's time belongs to, guess who, the employer. Others adopted the slightly provocative stance that open source developers are "chumps" because what they are really doing is unpaid open source development for companies like Sun that have the money to pay.

"Open source and for-profit companies have got an irreconcilable conflict of interests - you just end up as an unpaid proxy working for The Man who makes a profit from your efforts," according to one reader.

So is everyone getting ripped off here? What is the legal position, and who wins?

The goal of OpenDS is to build a free, open-source directory service. Wilson, who helped found OpenDS, claimed he and four other laid-off Sun employees who were also project committers were threatened by Sun into relinquishing governance of the project.

Sun claimed a change in governance of OpenDS had been improperly made months earlier, and that if left in place, would leave Sun, the project sponsor, with no say.

Both sides are throwing around a lot of terms, like "owner" and "copyright." We ran this past a couple of experts to define terms.

Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative (OSI), primary author of the Open Source Definition and a project lead for the Debian GNU/Linux, told Reg Dev that an open-source project's "owners" are the copyright holders. "If the developers are applying another sense of the term to the project, they are probably confused.

"They don't teach very much about copyright and business law in engineering school, so a lot of programmers are confused about it. If the developers brought the project to Sun from outside - if they were hired after they were already working on it or if they initiated it on their own time - they own some portion of it, or the whole thing. If they initiated it at Sun, and did the work on Sun's time, it would belong to Sun.

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