All of the GNUe code is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL), a strong copyleft license. Unlike the licenses for many proprietary software, this license does not seek to limit thr freedom of the typical end-user to use the software. It does, however, seek to prevent other developers (ab-)using the code in a non-free way.
To protect the code, as a matter of policy, GNU Enterprise asks all people who contribute to the GNUe code to sign a copyright assignment, assigning copyright to the Free Software Foundation (FSF). This applies to both code and documentation. Note that this is a non-exclusive assignment - you can still use the code you have contributed for any other purpose.
We know that some other free software projects are not as formal in requiring formal copyright assignment, especially for minor patches. Their rationale is that, by submitting a patch, the patch author is implicitly assigning copyright on that patch to the authors of the original code. Whilst we understand this position, we prefer the legal certainty of a formal copyright assignment.
In effect, you can look at copyright assignment as being a way of sub-contracting your right to enforce the GPL on your code to FSF. If the GPL on the GNUe code ever needed to be upheld in court, it allows the FSF to proceed against an alleged breach directly, without the defendant being able to insist that each and every person who ever contributed to the code be involved in the case.
If you are contributing code to GNUe for the first time, you will need to e-mail us at email@example.com, giving your name and postal address. We will then arrange for the FSF copyright custodian to send you two copies of the standard copyright assignment form by post. You'll need to sign both copies and send them back. Once they have been signed by the FSF, one copy will be sent back to you for your records. Depending on postal delays to and from the FSF's home in Boston, USA and your part of the world, the whole process can take from a few days to a few weeks.
Your employer might have rights over your work (for example, if you work on GNUe code as part of your employment, but sometimes in other cases as well). If so, we will need a copyright assignment from them as well, using the same process. If you are in any doubt on this, please ask. This will once again be a non-exclusive assignment, so it would not prevent your employer using the code you contributed for anything else.
Because the copyright assignment is a legal document, it therefore has to be signed 'conventionally' by both parties to be valid. (This is the position in the United States - where FSF is based). Therefore, we are unable to do copyright assignments using e-mail and some form of electronic signature such as GPG - at the moment, anyway.
We do appreciate that the need for copyright assignment may seem like a bureaucratic obstacle, especially for keen new developers eager to have their patches applied. We hope that this helps to explains why we feel the need to be so cautious. Rest assured that both the GNUe core developers and the FSF will do everything they can to make the process as smooth and quick as possible. If you have any queries about the process, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.