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2006 Geotools decides to join OSGeo

In 2006, the Project Management Committee (PMC) governing the Geotools project decided to join the newly formed Open Source Geospatial Foundation, known informally as OSGeo.

OSGeo currently aims to serve as an umbrella organization for free and open source software projects in the domain of Geographic Information Systems.

2006-2008 Geotools in OSGeo incubation

Starting in 2006, Geotools has been undergoing the OSGeo incubation process during which all new projects resolve all outstanding issues required to be resolved prior to acceptance in the foundation. For Geotools, the remaining issues which need resolution are the clarification of the copyright situation and the cleanup of the project materials to fully document the copyright and license of all the materials. Geotools has been working concurrently on two aspects of this work:

  1. Creation of a copyright assignment document so users could assign their copyright to the OSGeo foundation.
  2. The formal review of the provenance and licensing of all the project material, principally the code.

Copyright Assignment Agreement

Many Geotools contributors had assigned their copyright to the Geotools Project Management Committee. This was intended to make it easier for the project to adapt to new legal situations by re-licensing the code as needed. Unfortunately, because the PMC has no formal legal standing, this approach to copyright assignment was apparently legally incorrect and technically the copyright has stayed with the original authors.

Part of the incubation effort has been to develop for OSGeo a copyright assignment document which geotools contributors could sign in order to give the project as much flexibility as possible to deal with future licensing issues.

In January 2008, the text of the OSGeo copyright assignment agreement was accepted by the OSGeo board thus completing a year's worth of work on the document. The final document can be obtained from the following links in PDF or in OpenOffice Document Format.

In late january 2008, a proposal will be made to have all core contributors sign the document and thus bring the bulk of the copyright to the OSGeo foundation.

Provenance Review

The provenance of the Geotools code has undergone a complete review between releases 2.2 and 2.4 to establish the origins of the code which it contains. The bulk of geotools is code contributed by individual coders. Some code was taken from previous projects, either distributed under license or existing in the public domain.

The formal document covering the review discussed below is here.

Each module should now have a file called "review.txt" which contains a list of all the code whose origins are unknown or unclear.

Geotools plans to address all of the issues documented in the "review.txt" files so as to formally document the origins of all the code in the Geotools code base.

License

The license terms covering the Geotools code has also undergone a complete review along with the provenance review. The bulk of the Geotools code is licensed under the Lesser General Public License, LGPL. The documentation will eventually be distributed under the terms of the Free Documentation License, FDL. The demo/ directory of the code contains many examples which would be placed in the public domain if that were possible and which therefore will be licensed under the terms of a highly permissive license such as the revised Berkeley Standard Distribution license, BSD.

Along with the provenance review, the "review.txt" files list all the code distributed under license terms other than the LGPL.

Geotools plans to address all of the issues documented in the "review.txt" files so as to ensure that all the code in Geotools can eventually be distributed under the terms of the LGPL. Where necessary existing code will be rewritten.

The copyright of the Geotools code has traditionally rested predominantly with the "Geotools Project Management Committee." Unfortunately, this entity does not have any legal standing so cannot legally hold the copyright to the code base.

Several solutions to this issue have been proposed:

  1. Copyright could remain with the original programmers. Formally, this is the current legal situation. For inclusion in OSGeo following this strategy, contributors would have to sign a statement formally placing their contributions under the LGPL.
  2. Copyright could be transfered to OSGeo. This has several advantages:
    • The OSGeo is a legal entity which can hold the copyright,
    • The OSGeo could represent the interests of the Geotools projects in a court of law both to defend from lawsuits and to sue those violating the terms of the license to the code base,
    • The OSGeo could re-license the code or the documentation if the legal situation changes to show that the licenses fail to protect some essential freedom or some provision of those licenses are found to be invalid.
      This last issue also raises a significant disadvantage in that contributors must trust that OSGeo will stay true to its charter and protect the code. For inclusion in OSGeo following this strategy, contributors would have to sign a statement formally granting OSGeo the copyright to their contributions.

Several of the core Geotools programmers have agreed to propose that Geotools follow the second strategy and that all contributors to Geotools sign a copyright transfer agreement to grant OSGeo the copyright over their contributions.