Open-Source License Battles Are Brewing

Opinion: Just in the last week, the OSI and CA came up with different ideas on how to reform open-source licensing. If you look closely though you'll see their plans are incompatible and that we're in for major open-source licensing fights.

Theres something happening here.
What it is aint exactly clear.—Stephen Stills

But I do think I have an idea of whats happening with both the Open Source Initiative and Computer Associates suggesting how to reform open-source licensing. Their suggestions on how to handle the next generation of open-source licenses are going in different directions. And, from that, I see trouble brewing.

On the one side, you have the OSI working to stem the tide of endless new open-source licenses by refusing to approve new ones that essentially duplicate the ones that have come before. At the same time, the OSI is trying to bring sanity to the multiple older open-source licenses were already stuck with by reclassifying them as "preferred," "ordinary" (aka approved) or "deprecated."

CA, on the other hand, is backing a plan to create a single, common open-source license to which options can be added through a template: the so-called Template License.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about the Template License.

Sam Greenblatt, a CA senior vice president, explained that in the Template License plan is designed to deal with the issues of different countries having different IP (intellectual property) laws. He claims that "95 percent of the [Open Source Initiative]-approved licenses are unenforceable outside the United States."

Funny, Ive been following this stuff for more than a decade, and I hadnt noticed that.

In fact, Linux, the poster child for open source, which is based on the single most popular open-source license, the GPL, was started by a Finn. Since its start, Linuxs code has been created by developers from just about every country in the world that has a school that teaches "C" and a T-1 Internet connection.

In CAs plan, Template License open-source products would have a license with template addendum that would be customized for other countries to meet their legal, patent and intellectual property laws.

Superficially, this sounds good. But think about it. Under the Template License, your project really wouldnt have one license; it could theoretically have over a hundred slightly different licenses.

And this is going to help us how?

As it happens, I know a wee bit about this subject. My wife is a chief-level officer for the international law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham and Ive learned that there never are any cookie-cutter international licenses or agreements that also address each countrys particular laws. Each requires a great deal of work, and each is slightly, but significantly, different from the other.

Our problem is we have too many licensees. As described the Template License not only wouldnt help, it would make matters worse.

It also certainly flies in the face of the OSI stated goal of creating open-source licenses that "are written to serve people who are not attorneys, and they need to be comprehensible by people who are not attorneys."

Still it may sound like CA and the OSI are walking similar paths toward the same goal.

I dont think so.

Greenblatt said that two of the existing licensing models theyre considering for the Template License are Suns controversial CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License) and its own, not widely used Trusted Open Source License.

Funny, the OSI is clearly distancing itself from the CDDL. "The class of asymmetrical, corporate licenses that began with Mozilla was a worthy experiment that has failed. The new policy will discourage them," the OSI said last week. The CDDL is easily the most well-known example of a corporate license thats based on the Mozilla license.

Next Page: Two problems with the CDDL model.