The number of open source licenses in use today would be a good example of
"too much of a good thing." Taken individually, each open source license
represents the freedom to use, modify and redistribute code. However, many
of the licenses are incompatible, and present a hurdle for open source
projects that may want to incorporate code from other projects.
At LinuxWorld last week the Open
Source Initiative (OSI) board made it known that they are looking at
ways to reduce the number of open source licenses in use. We invited Russ
Nelson, president of OSI to respond to questions about reducing the number
of open source licenses in use.
LWN: What's so bad about license proliferation?
- A company reasonably should take a good look at the license before they
modify a piece of open source software, even for internal use. "A good
look" means a legal analysis. Every new open source license makes it that
much more expensive. Some companies want to do this even if they only *use*
open source software (but no open source license restricts use in any way).
- What happens when you want to combine software from two different
packages, but they're licensed under software with conflicting terms?
LWN: Realistically, what can be done about the problem? How can OSI "trim"
the number of licenses, or influence companies and developers that use
one-off licenses or less popular licenses that are incompatible with the
"main" open source licenses such as the GPL or BSD license?
Say "no" more often. But it's not enough for us to say "no". We have to
have community support for saying "no", so that the community won't use
software that isn't OSI Certified.
LWN: OSI has approved quite a few licenses - how many of those licenses are
one-offs or used by a handful of projects?
The vast majority. Before we can address license proliferation, we need to
understand the problem better. How many companies think they need to study
a license before they can use open source? How many before they make
internal modifications? How many before they publish modifications? We
need to understand how many licenses are actually being used, and how
widely. Lots of study needed before we take action.
LWN: Is there any consideration being given to changing the Open Source
Definition - for example, to disallow licenses that are specifically
tailored not to be compatible with the GPL?
We would have to discern intent to do that. But yes, we've changed the OSD
in the past; we may do it again.
LWN: It's been well-publicized that version 3 of the GPL is in the works.
(Well, has been for some time, but much noise has been made about it being
ready this year.) What needs to be in version 3?
Depends on what your goal is. If you went into a code tree to refactor it,
there's always changes you would make. If you want to add features, you
would make different changes. I expect that some community members would
like the GPL to be a contract rather than a copyright license. I expect
that others would like to see copyright provisions address "public
performance"; that is, web services.
LWN: In one story, Sam Greenblatt was quoted as saying "there should be
three licenses: the GPL, a commercial version of the GPL and...the BSD."
What would a "commercial version of the GPL" look like?
CDDL. Or more properly, the MPL, since it already has traction in the
community (clearly, since Sun wrote the CDDL based on the MPL). A lot of
licenses are derived from the MPL. If we can figure out why they derived
the MPL rather than using it, we can fix the problem in the MPL that caused
them to do that.
LWN: Thanks, Russ.
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