Legal Documentation Requirements for Eclipse Projects

Late last week, I pushed out an update to our documentation regarding the legal documentation requirements for Eclipse projects that Sharon Corbett and I have been working on over the past quarter. In the process, we moved the guidelines off of the main website and rolled them in to the Eclipse Project Handbook. Our primary goal in revising this documentation was to make it more generally applicable to all open source projects and bring us more in line with what the rest of the open source world does.

Update probably isn’t the right word. It’s more accurate to say that we’ve pushed out some general guidelines and that the old/existing documentation becomes instructions for how to apply those general guidelines in the case where your project builds Eclipse Platform Plug-ins and Features.  In this regard, the existing documentation was very much concerned with the technical aspects of how to provide legal documentation in a manner that they can be presented to the user via the “About Eclipse” dialog (there’s no particular value in changing how all that works).

That is, if you’re building Eclipse Platform Plug-ins and Features under the Eclipse Public License (EPL) 1.0, we’re not asking you to change anything. 

I’m going to repeat that. Don’t panic. If you’re building Eclipse Platform Plug-ins and Features, just keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re planning to update to the Eclipse Public License 2.0 (EPL-2.0), we’ll need to talk (more on this later).

The gist of it is that in the general case, project teams are required to include license and notices in both their project repositories and in the output form of their project code (generally the result of compiling/building, e.g. JAR files). For consistency across our own projects and the greater community, we’re recommending that these files be named LICENSE and NOTICE (with optional extensions). Variations based on technical limitations are acceptable. The license and notice files should be in plain text. The use of a favourite markup language is fine, but not required.

There’s a lot more information in the document, so I’ll avoid trying to repeat it here. One thing that you’ll notice is that we’ve tightened up the copyright header text a bit by removing the “All rights reserved”. There’s no need to change any headers that include this statement: it’s not necessarily wrong to include the statement, it just doesn’t really add any value.

You’ll notice that there’s an appendix in the document for projects that are building Eclipse Platform Plug-ins and Features under the EPL-2.0. There’s a few rough edges here that we still need to work out (there a link to an issue in Bugzilla if you want to contribute your thoughts). One thing that we discovered while working on these changes is that basically nobody in the open source community has anything like our Software User Agreement (SUA) which is effectively an End User License Agreement (EULA). Since a project that updates to the EPL-2.0 will have to update all of their legal documentation, we figured that we use the opportunity to drop the SUA and instead just use the license text in places that call for a license (AFAICT most third party plug-in providers do this).

To make getting the legal documentation right a little easier for project teams, I’ve started working on an experimental script that uses the information in the Eclipse Foundation database to generate at least some or all of the required documentation.

Take note that this script is experimental and may not be entirely correct (maybe consider using this as a template or a starting point; ultimately it’s up to the project teams to make sure that the notice file is correct). If you do notice something that seems wrong with the data (e.g. wrong license or trademark statement), send a quick note to; if it looks like the rendering is wrong or that there is some technical issue, please open a bug against Community/Process.

EclipseCon Europe 2017

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