OSI Should Close Open-Source Licenses

Opinion: Do you want to track more than 50 different open-source licenses? I know I don't, and the open-source community is getting tired of it too.

BOSTON—Its been brewing for months, but the Open Source Initiative is finally going public with an internal family feud. The cause? Almost everyone agrees that there are just too darn many open-source licenses, but no ones quite sure what to do about it.

"How many," you ask? By my count, there are over 50 of them.


No wonder Black Duck Software, which produces its ProtexIP software to manage licensing issues for developers, appears to be doing well. And I just found out today at LinuxWorld that theyve been joined by another company, Palamida, in the intellectual property license-tracking business.

Heck, with that many licenses to keep track of, maybe there will be a flood of IP management programs entering the market.

This fuss has been brewing for some time. Months ago, Larry Rosen, former general counsel for the OSI, told me that there were too many licenses. And over the years other members of the OSI board have told me the same thing.

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read more about Black Ducks announcements at LinuxWorld, click here.

Its been at LinuxWorld here in Boston that the fuss has finally boiled over. Sam Greenblatt, CAs senior vice president of Linux strategy, pointed out that 50+ licenses were just a wee bit too many.

In his keynote speech, Martin Fink, HPs go-to Linux guy, criticized the OSI for giving away licenses like Cracker Jack toys.

"Clearly, the OSI has not internalized the critical role it plays. Approving licenses based on compliance with a specification rather than the ability to further open-source business models makes...a clear and present danger."

Fink, who is also the chairman of the OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) intellectual property subcommittee, also said that OSDL has an "aggressive plan to drive [OSI] to a new direction."

It may not take much driving. The OSI members I spoke with today all acknowledge that there are too many licenses.

There was also a rumor going around the LinuxWorld floor that Rosen and former head of OSI Eric Raymond had quit the OSI because of their objections to one license in particular being passed: Suns controversial CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License).

Nope. While both are no longer officers of the OSI, as I reported more than two weeks ago, theyre both still members.

As Eric told me, "I havent resigned from OSI, just the presidency of it. And it had nothing to do with CDDL. Gad, what a silly damn rumor. No. [There] comes a point where you have to let go of the baby so it can walk on its own. Ive been looking forward to this."

That being the case, its clearly time for this OSI toddler to take new steps. While most of the licenses are barely used—Im sure someone uses the Fair License, but why youd use it instead of BSD or the MIT License is beyond me—there are more than enough that are used—GPL, LGPL, BSD, Artistic, Mozilla—to get in the way of open-source development.

Here in open-source land we like to complain about unfair patent laws and the never-ending tale of SCO and its Linux copyright claims, but lets get real: we have our own mess and its time that it gets cleaned up.

My modest proposal is to simply kill most of the licenses. I wont say which ones should get the axe—Ill leave that to wiser heads.

Yes, the people who made them will scream like banshees and the political fights will be loud and nasty. It will be a nasty and ugly process but it needs to be done. If the FSF (Free Software Foundation) can amend the GPL, the rest of the open-source community can certainly prune away some of its licensing dead wood.

Oh, and one final thought, no more new licenses. Period. OK? OK!

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