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GNU Coding Standards

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2.2 Accepting Contributions

If the program you are working on is copyrighted by the Free Software Foundation, then when someone else sends you a piece of code to add to the program, we need legal papers to use it--just as we asked you to sign papers initially. Each person who makes a nontrivial contribution to a program must sign some sort of legal papers in order for us to have clear title to the program; the main author alone is not enough.

So, before adding in any contributions from other people, please tell us, so we can arrange to get the papers. Then wait until we tell you that we have received the signed papers, before you actually use the contribution.

This applies both before you release the program and afterward. If you receive diffs to fix a bug, and they make significant changes, we need legal papers for that change.

This also applies to comments and documentation files. For copyright law, comments and code are just text. Copyright applies to all kinds of text, so we need legal papers for all kinds.

We know it is frustrating to ask for legal papers; it's frustrating for us as well. But if you don't wait, you are going out on a limb--for example, what if the contributor's employer won't sign a disclaimer? You might have to take that code out again!

You don't need papers for changes of a few lines here or there, since they are not significant for copyright purposes. Also, you don't need papers if all you get from the suggestion is some ideas, not actual code which you use. For example, if someone send you one implementation, but you write a different implementation of the same idea, you don't need to get papers.

The very worst thing is if you forget to tell us about the other contributor. We could be very embarrassed in court some day as a result.

We have more detailed advice for maintainers of programs; if you have reached the stage of actually maintaining a program for GNU (whether released or not), please ask us for a copy.

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