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.
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.
The CDDL model has two problems. The first is that its incompatible with the GPL. The second is that it puts IP control under the company— in the CDDLs case, the company is Sun. The OSI has explicitly stating that one of its new policy goals “will be to promote unrestricted reusability of code.”
Its not just me who sees a head-on collision coming between the OSI and the CDDL, and therefore the CA Template License model.
“The changes that the OSI suggests would potentially invalidate its earlier approval of Suns CDDL,” said Stacey Quandt, senior business analyst for the Robert Frances Group.
“This is because the potential reusability clause would make it possible to revoke OSI approval for the CDDL, since it does not provide all of the freedoms comparable to the GPL, and explicitly prohibits CDDL code from being combined with files licensed under the GPL.”
Or, if not that, “even if the OSI does not revoke approval for the CDDL as an open-source license it could conceivably classify it as deprecated,” said Quandt.
Shes not the only person with concerns.
Dan Ravicher, legal director of the Software Freedom Law Center, thinks that there are “too many different categories of free software that cant be used with one another, which is entirely contrary to the whole purpose behind free software—namely, facilitating collaborative software development by society.”
Specifically, Ravicher mistrusts “companies releasing software open source with an idiosyncratically drafted license that limits the public to only developing the software in a way that benefits that company,” calling it “a perversion of the principle.”
I have a bad, bad feeling that thats what CA is up to.
Dont buy that? Greenblatt said that if the Template License becomes pervasive, the OSI will be “taken out of the licensing business.” As for the GPL, Greenblatt claims that the industry cant wait another two years for that license to be finished, which is being rewritten.
The open-source licenses battle lines being drawn.
On one side are companies like CA and Sun, which want open-source licenses that give the companies ultimate control over “open” control. On the other side are the true open-source supporters who believe that open source works best by sharing code in the widest, most even-handed way.
The battle is about to begin.
I think its time we stop, children, whats that sound
Every body look whats going down.—Stephen Stills
eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.
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