Prioritizing software right to repair: engaging corporate response teams

by Denver Gingerich on February 3, 2024

Across organizations who develop and deploy software, there are a wide range of time-sensitive concerns that arise. Perhaps the most diligent team that responds to such time-sensitive concerns is the cybersecurity team. It is crucial for them to quickly understand the security concern, patch it without introducing any regressions, and deploy it. In extreme cases this is all done within a few hours — a monumental task crammed into less time than a dinner party (and often replacing such a social event at the last minute; these teams are truly dedicated).

Many other teams exist across organizations for different levels of risk and concern. In our experience, on average among many companies, the team that receives among the lowest priorities is the team that responds to concerns about a company's copyleft compliance. Now we can think of some reasons for this: the team is often not connected to the team that collated the software containing copylefted code, or that latter team was not given proper instruction for how to comply with the licenses (and/or does not read the licenses themselves). So the team responding when someone notes a copyleft compliance deficiency is ill-equipped to handle it, and is often stonewalled by developer teams when they ask them for help, so the requests for correct source code under copyleft licenses usually languish.

With this in mind, we at SFC are helping prioritize the copyleft compliance concerns an organization may face due to some of the above. To reflect the importance of teams responding to copyleft compliance concerns, we recommend that companies create a team that we are calling a "Copyleft Compliance Incident Response Team" (CCIRT). This will help convey to management the importance of properly staffing the team, but also how it must be taken seriously by other teams that the CCIRT relies on to respond to incidents. Where companies employ Compliance Officers, they will likely be obvious leaders for this team.

Now some companies may not need a CCIRT. Unlike security vulnerabilities, failing to comply with copyleft licenses is entirely preventable. If you know your company already has policies and procedures that yield compliant results (of the same form as compliant source candidates that we praise in the comments on Use The Source), then there is no need for a CCIRT. However, our experience shows that most companies do not have such policies and procedures, in which case a CCIRT is necessary until such policies and procedures can reliably produce compliant source candidates from the start.

We recently launched Use The Source (alluded to above), which helps device owners and companies see whether source code candidates (the most important part of copyleft compliance) are giving users their software right to repair, i.e. whether they comply with the copyleft licenses they use. We realize companies may be concerned about SFC publishing their source candidates before they have had a chance to double-check them for compliance, due to some of the issues with policies and procedures mentioned above. As a result, we are giving companies the opportunity to be notified before we post a source candidate of theirs, so that they can take up to 7 days to update the candidate with any fixes they feel may be necessary before we post it. And the sooner a company contacts us, the better, as we are offering up to 37 days from the launch of Use The Source before we publish candidates we receive. See our CCIRT notification timeline for details.

We hope that this new terminology will help organizations prioritize copyleft compliance appropriately, and that everyone can benefit from the shared discussions of source candidates and their compliance with copyleft licenses. We look forward to working with companies and device owners to promote exceptional examples of software right to repair (through our comments on Use The Source) as we find them.

Tags: GPL, security, licensing, software freedom for everyone

Please email any comments on this entry to info@sfconservancy.org.

Other Conservancy Blog entries…

Connect with Conservancy on Fediverse, X, Facebook, and YouTube.

Main Page | Contact | Sponsors | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed

Our privacy policy was last updated 22 December 2020.