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GitHub, the world’s leading version control repository, has made a few changes to its Terms of Service (ToS). Most ToS popups rate an immediate click on the “yeah, whatever, agree” button, but since this is GitHub — cradle of the open source ecosystem — it behooves us to take an actual look at the boilerplate.

Doing this might actually be kind of fun, because riding shotgun to the new Terms of Service content comes GitHub’s new Site Policy repo, in which the organization is releasing most, though not quite all, of its policies under an open license.

The new working repository allows users to view, comment upon, and suggest changes. Today’s updated ToS agreement will be one of those policies open for public comment, so read on — and get ready to fire up those pull requests.

First things first: what’s new in the Terms of Service agreement?

Fortunately for those of us relying upon GitHub as a mainstay of our livelihood, these changes appear to be minor additions to, and clarifications of, existing policies. The really important stuff — code of conduct, privacy, security, anti-spambot scraping regs — remains unaltered. Given that GitHub just rewrote its ToS brand new, from the ground up, in February, large changes this soon would have been surprising.

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The current changes are basically refinements reflecting community feedback, according to Tal Niv, vice president of legal and policy at GitHub. “After we published the new version of the ToS in February, users asked us to clarify the license grant, and so we did,” said Niv. “We also used the opportunity to clarify other sections in the agreement, and to improve the readability of the entire document.”

Increased clarity and readability are always good things. Highlights from the announcement of what appear to be not-so-earth-shattering ToS changes include:

  • The addition of a “Private Repositories” entry as its own standalone section. Previously, this was rolled in under the “User-Generated Content” section. The only change was to remove “maintenance” from reasons why GitHub would ever access the content of your private repo. The language now reads, “We only access it for support reasons, with your consent, or if required to for security reasons.”
  • Since adding the private repository section bumped out the list length, section R “Miscellaneous” will now be Section S, and there is new language regarding Publicity now included therein.
  • Other small changes, including rewording of GitHub’s notification policy specifically applicable to U.S. federal government users.

GitHub Open Source Site Policies 101

If taking a gander at the new ToS leaves you with comments or changes to suggest, GitHub’s new open source Site Policies repo is the place to go.

The initiative to open source the entire site’s policy documentation was inspired by the release of GitHub’s Balanced Employee IP Agreement back in March. That agreement was provided as open source from the git go (see what I did there?), and community feedback was immediately used to improve and update it.

Changes ranged from correcting typos to clarifying the language of the agreement itself in response to questions and confusion expressed by community members. The whole experiment was so successful that the organization moved to release all of’s site policies as an open source repository, so as to encourage the same level of community involvement and collaboration in a more global scope.

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One potentially valuable aspect to the open sourcing of GitHub’s own policies: many of them are not just applicable but actually essential to any project that aims to offer online services. Creating them, however, can consume considerable time and resources probably better spent on rolling out the actual project. So now, thanks to GitHub, no need to hire lawyers or sweat out a DIY acceptable use document — just fork, customize and go live!

This is GitHub’s intent, actually. “By making all of our policies open, we hope to lower the barriers to entry for new projects,” said Niv. “We see this as one more way GitHub can offer developers all the tools they need, along the entire development cycle.”

Taking It for a Spin

GitHub is actively seeking community participation and feedback on the new Site Policies repo. “Issues and pull requests are encouraged!” reads the blog post announcement. “Comment on new changes! We recognize that our site policies can have a huge impact on you. We want our community to engage with the policies and let us know exactly how.”

Going forward, any major changes to GitHub’s site policies will be posted as a pull request, complete with diff. Members can check out the changes with ease, and leave feedback. A version of this actually happened back in February, with the last set of Terms of Service changes.

GitHub posted a diff showing the changes between the draft and final documents, which were incorporating user suggestions. This time, however, the process will be a live PR, taking place publicly and in real time, rather than retroactive documentation.

So here’s your chance, denizens of Planet GitHub: read the new Terms of Service changes. If you spot a typo, jump on it. Is there a new rule that has some unpleasant implications maybe the GitHub folks haven’t considered? Write up that PR.

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Comments on the new Terms of Service are open until 5 p.m. PST on Friday, July 28. At that time, the GitHub team will take everything into consideration, make applicable changes to improve the ToS, and go live with the final version on Monday, August 7. These changes may be small, but they also affect every single member of the open source universe. Make time to take that peek under the hood.

Feature image via Pixabay.


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