Project Harmony: Red Hat and Others are Early Critics

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 20, 2011

Recently, one of the biggest topics in the open source arena has been whether businesses and organizations are giving back to the projects and communities that they benefit from. In this post, we discussed how many organizations that now use open source aren't giving back at all. While this debate is ongoing, though, there is a coordinated effort to establish rules and guidelines for making contributions to open source. It's called Project Harmony, is heavily backed by Canonical, and is stirring up quite a bit of controversy.

As we noted here, Project Harmony is purportedly intended to confront the fact that contributor agreements are confusing, and open source contributors are not always sure what rights, privileges and licenses pertain to their contributions. It has gathered critics. Late last year, Bradley Kuhn had this to say about Project Harmony:

"Canonical, Ltd. has launched a manipulatively named product called 'Project Harmony'. They market this product as a 'summit' of sorts — purported to have no determined agenda other than to discuss the issue of contributor agreements and copyright assignment, and come to a community consensus on this. Their goal, however, was merely to get community members to lend their good names to the process."

The 1.0 version of the Harmony contributor agreement templates launched on July 4th, 2011, and you can get on a Project Harmony mailing list and participate in the effort in other ways. It is notable, though, that not everyone is on board with the effort.

Red Hat's licensing and patent counsel has weighed in on Harmony's problems:

"In opting to follow the maximalist model of contributor agreements, Harmony inherits, and thereby legitimizes, all of that model’s problems. There is growing awareness that the maximalist approach can impair the effectiveness of the open source community development model, creating unnecessary barriers to contribution. Rather than attempting to address those problems, Harmony merely hides them in attractive packaging."

The Project Harmony contributor guidelines are still very new, and like any version 1.0 technology, the Harmony proposals may be adjusted over time. It is notable that Red Hat is a holdout, though, and the next few months may bring big changes to the Harmony guidelines.