Volunteer Contracts

I’m volunteering for a few organisations and communities now. Typically IP and NDA contracts are antagonistic to FLOSSers (organisation claims anything related to them under either the IP or confidentiality clauses) and require you to be an employee receiving payment to be fully in effect, which is not the relationship of multiple independent people working together for each other for free in an organic way, maintaining, sharing, or assigning resources while respecting privacy of privileged information and data.

I’ve done up the following alternatives, let me know your feedback:


  • Mutual patent waiver implicitly achieved via the imaginary clause.

  • Liability waiver is too involved for this, as same for an employee contract, if a contribution caused harm accidentally, it is probably forgiven, however if the harm was intended, then it is probably followed with law, so omitting a liability waiver leaves action up to the instance.

Could you explain the context a bit more?

Through my volunteer work, I’ve found that:

  1. communities suffer from a lack of formal structure, be it in a centralised/organisation or decentralised/organic way; as interactions remain ambiguous and people don’t know where they stand
  2. When a community does become an organisation, or when a company is accepting volunteer work, they don’t have contracts and agreements that work for the volunteer and open-source relationship, but they need something to provide legal protections in the case of leaking sensitive information (user data, passwords, etc) or in ensuring correct ip assignments

Specifically, the above was done to facilitate cooperation with one organisation which I am volunteering to do a discourse forum setup, which I need to assign ownership to them and they need legal protection that I won’t leak user data or other secrets. In which case the CAA (ownership assignment) was done along with the volunteer contract. They originally gave me a typical employee NDA with no IP assignment, so the above effort was my response to that.

I also plan to use them with Bevry for ensuring contributions to our products/projects/podcast are claim-free and everyone knows where they stand.

Ultimately my goal is to formalise the transition away from employee relationships into organic volunteer work. Such that it is a formal thing that people are aware of, rather than just a niche thing. As what Patreon did to the donation subscription model. Such that the competitive secret keeping for shareholders over users model has an alternative that takes the best from free markets with the ethical humanity of social systems.

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Full Disclosure: I’m primary legal counsel for the company behind Discourse. They’re one of a very short list of clients I’ve allowed to put my name anywhere near a “team page”.

I guess this is the part that’s confusing me. We don’t usually do contracts with volunteers. Enforceable contracts require that both sides give and take something—anything. Contracts where only one side conceivably benefits aren’t contracts, at least under the common law as we keep here in the States.

I can’t give you personalized legal advice on a public forum.