What's This “…And the Rest” Crap!?!

Tue, 28/06/2011 - 17:59
Tue, 28/06/2011 - 17:59

Famously, the Gilligan's Island theme song, in its first season, left out mentioning the Professor and Mary Ann characters by name, simply including …And the Rest in that lyric where their names later were heard. Mystery Science Theater 3000 even spoofed this issue during screening of This Island Earth, in which the actor Russell Johnson (The Professor) appeared. When Johnson first appears on screen while viewing This Island Earth, MST3K's Mike says over the film: Hey, what's this …And the Rest Crap!?!. Indeed, what's that all about?

Screenshot of MST3K The Movie, watching This Island Earth, as Rusell Johnson appears on screen.

Anyone would get easily annoyed if they've contributed some work but, when credit is giving, they were just relegated into … and the rest. Anyone who is thrown into that group would assume their contribution is somehow also not important, or that the contributions of the credited are somehow better.

Some Free Software projects websites, however, often relegate many of their contributors to being And the Rest, just like The Professor and Mary Ann in their first season of Gilligan's Island. This is a mistake that ought to be addressed when it occurs.

The example of this problem that was recently brought to my attention was on Fedora Project's website. At the bottom of all of the pages of Fedora's website, there's © 2011 Red Hat, Inc. and others. I've dubbed this a “Gilligan's Island copyright notice” because, while Red Hat is probably a copyright holder some of Fedora, Red Hat employees are also fond of pointing out how many contributors they have from outside Red Hat. Yet, with regard to the website, those contributors aren't considered important enough to appear in the copyright notice. They're secondary characters that Red Hat is indicating don't matter that much: like The Professor and Mary Ann in Gilligan's Island's first season.

However, the solution for this problem isn't completely clear. Obviously, listing all the copyright holders at the bottom of every web page is completely unreasonable. In projects themselves, we usually have a CREDITS or COPYRIGHT file that has everyone's notice collected, but rarely is every copyright notice put in the single files of the project. Perhaps website could do the same. Certainly, Gilligan's Island copyright notices can't continue; they relegate everyone but the main entity into a supporting character role, when in fact, in Free Software projects, everyone should be equal.

I've been discussing discussing this issue on identi.ca lately with Richard Fontana of Red Hat, and he's started a thread on Fedora list about this. I hope that it gets resolved soon, and I'm grateful to Fontana for addressing this issue.

It's worth noting that a few examples of other distributions, such as Debian, Arch Linux, and Ubuntu, are even worse in this regard, because they list only a few authors (or a single corporate entity) that may or may not have all the copyright on the project and the website; they don't do the minimal … and the Rest. For example, Debian's copyright notice says: Copyright © 1997-2011 SPI. Such notices are even worse than Gilligan's Island Copyright Notices, because they fail to even acknowledge at all that a diversity of contributors are present and hold copyrights. Note that there's a long-standing Debian bug on this issue (and the related issue of poor licensing of the site).

I suppose Gilligan's Island Copyright Notices are better than marking the work as an organization's own when in fact there has been no assignment of copyright. Still, I think Free Software projects should take more care on this issue. As is noted in the GNOME Foundation Guidelines on Copyright Assignment (which I co-authored), many developers want to see their “name in lights” under the copyright notice when they contribute to a project. It's important that we give them that opportunity.