What is considered a real name?

Konstantin Ryabitsev konstantin at linuxfoundation.org
Fri Jul 8 11:44:56 EDT 2022

On Thu, Jul 07, 2022 at 11:17:52PM +0000, R. Valentim Feitoza da Silva wrote:
> Dear Kernelnewbies community,
> What is considered a real name by the Linux kernel development community?
> I've read that you have to use your real name on the Signed-off-by line, but
> this term used, "real name", is confusing.
> If a person has a preferred name (not a pseudonym, nickname, or diminutive)
> that they go by in everyday life (both online and offline) that is different
> from their legal name, and only uses their legal name when strictly
> necessary, is the preferred name considered a real name and allowed to use
> on the Signed-off-by line?
> For example, a person who goes by their middle name (and only uses their
> first name where it's strictly necessarily to use full legal name), or a
> transgender and/or non-binary person whose legal name is a deadname.

(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I don't speak for the Linux Foundation.
What follows is my personal understanding of this requirement.)

The reason behind asking to use someone's "real name" is the reason behind the
existence of DCO (the Signed-off-by trailer) -- in the case of a legal claim,
the court needs to be able to precisely identify the person who stated that
they have the right to contribute the code in question.

So, the court needs to know:

1. Who to summon
2. Once in court, they must be able to ask this person "Are you Alex Dev who
   committed this code on this date, from this email address?"
3. But, importantly, they must also be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt,
   that this is in fact Alex Dev and not someone lying about being Alex Dev,
   which can be established either by looking at their legal papers, or by
   summoning witnesses who can state, under oath, that "yes, I know this
   person as Alex Dev."

So, if your legal name is "Alexis Shannon Dev" but everyone calls you "Al Dev"
or "Shan Dev", it's your "real name" and this fact can be established in court
beyond reasonable doubt. Same goes for legal deadnames -- as long as the
person is known to their personal friends by their preferred new name and this
fact can be established by witness testimony in court, it's a "real name"
(though, for sure, this would be a lot more complicated in court if it in no
way matches the person's legal papers).

If, however, you come up with a cool hacker alias "Alix Devrandom" that you
only use for submitting code, then it's not your "real name," because the
court cannot call any witnesses who can confirm this identity beyond
reasonable doubt. Any code you submit into an open-source project under such
identity is vulnerable to litigation claims.

I hope this helps (and please see my disclaimer above).


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