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Legal stuff

The Chameleon skin is currently licensed under the GNU General Public License, version 3 (or any later version). Its documentation is currently licensed under GNU Free Documentation License, version 1.3 (or any later version). Any contributions must be made under these same licenses.

However, it may in the future become necessary or desirable to change these licenses, e.g. to keep this skin legally compatible with a changed license of the MediaWiki software or to better position it in a changed legal context.

For this reason every contributor needs to provide the following statement: ``` I understand and agree that the maintainer of the Chameleon skin shall have the irrevocable and perpetual right to make and distribute copies of any contribution, as well as to create and distribute collective works of any contribution, under the current license or under any other open source license chosen by the maintainer. ```

The current maintainer of the Chameleon skin is Stephan Gambke. He may appoint another maintainer in the future.

Contributions are identified by the Git commit that introduces them.

A contributor submitting a contribution as a patch to the Wikimedia Git Server using the git review command is unambiguously identified by the use of their ssh key. For this reason it is only necessary to provide the above statement once in the commit message of one contribution. This statement will then be deemed valid for all other contributions by that contributor.

A contributor submitting a contribution using the Gerrit Patch Uploader can not be unambiguously identified and thus needs to provide the above statement with each contribution. What's more, since it can not be ensured, that successive patch sets for the same patch uploaded using the Gerrit Patch Uploader are indeed from the same person, this statement needs to be in the commit message of each and every patch set starting from the very first.

WTF!?

I discussed the above text with various people. In the course of this discussion several questions (and answers) came up that are worth being recorded here.

Why would you want to change the license?

I do not have any specific reason in mind right now, but the above paragraph gives two examples for possible situations where changing the license could be useful: Compatibility with other software and license modernization.

Some cases I can think of:

  • Right now the preferred installation method is to use Composer to install Chameleon and all its dependencies. This way I can always claim, that the skin is not distributed with the packages it depends on, and thus does not need to take care of their licenses. However, should I want to provide a tarball with the skin and all its dependencies I would have to more carefully check license compatibility.
  • Chameleon itself might become part of a tarball, e.g. some pre-build, pre-configured wiki for I don't know what purpose. Right now MW is GPL2 licensed which makes it incompatible for bundling with Chameleon at GPL3+.
  • Parts of the skin might actually be included in MW core. E.g. there is a menu-building class proposed for MediaWiki, that would have a functionality similar to what's contained in Chameleon. See https://gerrit.wikimedia.org/r/#/c/108045/ (Ok, this is rather far-fetched, but not completely impossible.)
  • If I get it right, it might be possible to use this skin (or a derivative) for other frameworks. Didn't look into that, but it's conceivable.
  • I might want to include some code from elsewhere that requires a license change. Although admittedly the GPL is at the more restrictive end of the scale, so including software with less restrictive licenses is usually not a problem. On the other hand MediaWiki on GPL2 would have for example have a major problem including Apache licensed libraries.
  • Well, and finally there may be some shiny new GPL4 in the future, that protects against whatever new scheme the big, bad industry has come up with. For an example of such a situation see the article Why Upgrade to GPLv3 by Richard Stallman.

And what would you maybe change it to?

Any open source license, that allows to maintain the Chameleon skin in a sensible way while still retaining as much of the spirit of the original license as possible. I certainly do not want to cheat contributors out of being recognized for their work, so while I like its radical simplicity I'd probably not go for WTFPL.

Don't you need to get signatures or something similar?

The written signature is indeed a critical point. Many organizations (Python, GNU, Mozilla, Apache) actually ask for that. But I certainly do not want to involve myself in a lot of paperwork. So I try to get around that by asking to add the statement to the commit message. Sure, it is possible to change the history of a git repo, but doing so over all publicly available (and private) copies of the repo (including the ones on the WMF Git server and GitHub) should be not that easy.

Isn't a MediaWiki skin (by its very nature) derivative from MediaWiki and thus infected by its license anyway?

I do not think that skins and extensions are derivatives of MediaWiki. They do not fork and change. Instead they are pluggable libraries that may or may not be used with an MW installation. You could say they provide you with the means to create a derivative, where - if you were to actually distribute it - you would have to make sure all the licenses are compatible. So you might argue, that anybody providing a package of MediaWiki and some skins/extensions, creates a derivate. The MediaWiki tarball comes to mind.

From a practical point of view, if skins and extensions actually were derivatives, it would be pointless to specify a separate license for them. And MediaWiki could never incorporate any library that does not have by chance the same license. Following that reasoning, you could even argue that all the software on a computer needs to be compatible with the OS license.

Why not just wait until you come to the point where you want to change the license and ask people then?

Two answers. First, it might just not be possible to get hold of all the people. Second, if anybody then disagrees, their contributions might have become an integral part of the software such that removing them would not be realistically feasible. And even if it were feasible it may be hard to remove their contributions and replace them with something having the same functionality. The new code will inevitably be similar to the old one and it might be hard to prove that the one was not derived from the other.