GuidesOSI Tackles License 'Explosion'

OSI Tackles License ‘Explosion’

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The Open Source Initiative (OSI) board of directors is holding a meeting
with stakeholders Wednesday to crack down on the proliferation of open
source licenses, said Eric S. Raymond, the organization’s co-founder and
president emeritus.
The OSI will hold a meeting Wednesday to address the growing pool of open source licenses.

The goal of the meeting, which will take place at the Open Source Business Conference this week in San Francisco, is to come to terms with both the number of corporate vanity licenses forwarded by the business world and the outdated open source licenses championed by independent developers, said Raymond.

The OSI is a nonprofit organization that certifies open source licenses
abiding by the 10 criteria of the Open Source Definition for use in the
community; currently, there are 58 approved licenses, ranging from the
venerable GPL to the RealNetworks Public Source License.

“Quite honestly, my hope is that if we piss off everybody at once, we won’t
piss everybody off so much that they leave,” Raymond said. “I think it will
eventually work out because everybody involved with the problem realizes a
common material explosion of different licenses isn’t in anyone’s interests.

“It hurts the developers; it hurts the corporate types. The only people who
really benefit are the lawyers who are writing the licenses.”

Raymond, who in February stepped down from the organization he helped found, wouldn’t specify the changes
the OSI wants to adopt in regard to their licensing requirements. He did say the board of directors has spent the past couple months editing the
changes under proposal.

In attendance, he said, will be the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) and some major project leaders. The OSI board will introduce a number
of measures it feels address the problem, and if there is agreement
from those attending, they plan to move forward and adopt the measures. If
those attending don’t like the measures, Raymond said, they must make
some suggestions.

“I do think we’ll walk out of there with an action plan, and I think it will
be pretty similar to the draft that we have written,” he said. “But we need
people to look at it, smell it, and make their suggestions for improvement
and feel, genuinely, like they were part of the process.”

Diane Peters, OSDL general counsel, confirmed
the organization’s presence at the Wednesday meeting, saying the debate over open
source license proliferation is one of the most important issues of 2005.
The organization, she said, is looking forward to assisting the OSI in their
efforts to resolve the problem.

Officials at the OSDL would like to see the OSI reduce the number of new
licenses approved, as well as weed out some of the existing licenses. As it
stands right now, Peters said, there are too many OSI-approved open source licenses. A desirable outcome, she said, would be one where in
the next year or two only the upcoming GPL 3.0 and a handful of
licenses remain.

To what extent the OSDL will endeavor to assist the OSI for the latter
remains to be seen, as the chairman of the OSDL board of directors, Ross
Mauri, is a general manager at IBM.

IBM itself has two
OSI-approved licenses, the IBM Public License and Common Public License.
Computer Associates also has a board member at OSDL and
holds the OSI-approved Computer Associates Trusted Open Source License.

“Our board is behind this issue 100 percent, and so to the extent there are
acceptable alternatives to their having to create a particular license for a
particular need [the OSDL board is] supportive of that,” Peters said.

The increased use of tailored open source licenses has caused concern in the
community, particularly among companies looking at implementing open source
software into their businesses.

What started out as the “classic” licenses of
the GPL, Lesser GPL, BSD and MIT has spawned a host of intermediate licenses
that, while not a bad idea at the time, doesn’t work anymore, Raymond said.

Each license, he said, accumulates its own base of developers but is shunned
by other developers who will look for a more open license to develop their
software tools. Corporations, on the other hand, look at the proliferation
of open source licenses as a headache for their lawyers, who must review
every software license before they can adopt it within the enterprise.

“That’s a very reasonable concern,” Raymond said. “It’s not something that
an individual developer feels is a lot of pressure, because they’re only
dealing with their little patch of code, but corporations have significant
deployment problems.”

Last week, Intel became the first OSI-approved licenser
to ask to be removed from the master list of open source licenses. Officials at the company said
their Intel Open Source License, a derivative of the BSD license, saw little
pickup among developers outside the corporate walls in the five years it’s
been available.

This article was originally published on

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