Control Or Consensus?

You’re entitled to your opinion but in open source licensing only the consensus of the community really matters.

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In a recent conversation on the Apache Legal mailing list, a participant opined that “any license can be Open Source. OSI doesn’t ‘own’ the term.” He went on to explain “I could clone the Apache License and call it ‘Greg’s License’ and it would be an open source license.”

As long as the only people involved in the conversation are the speaker and people who defer to his authority, this might be OK. But as soon as there are others involved, it’s not. For the vast majority of people, the term “open source license” is not a personal conclusion resulting from considered evaluation, but rather a term of art applied to the consensus of the community. Individuals are obviously free to use words however they wish, just like Humpty Dumpty. But the power of the open source movement over two decades has arisen from a different approach.

The world before open source left every developer to make their own decision about whether software was under a license that delivers the liberty to use, improve and share code without seeking the permission of a rights holder. Inevitably that meant either uncertainty or seeking advice from a lawyer about the presence of software freedom. The introduction of the open source concept around the turn of the millennium solved that using the crystalisation of consensus to empower developers.

By holding a public discussion of each license around the Open Source Definition, a consensus emerged that could then by crystalised by the OSI Board. Once crystalised into “OSI Approval”, the community then has no need to revisit the discussion and the individual developer has no need to guess (or to buy advice) on the compatibility of a given license with software freedom. That in turn means proceeding with innovation or deployment without delay.

The authority of OSI to vouch for the software freedom value of a given license arises not from individual fiat — it’s not “just one more view” — but rather from the consensus of the whole open source community. The certainty that brought unlocked the power of software freedom and unleashed the open source revolution that now, 20 years later, has become the technology industry default. OSI is not King, ruling by fiat and whim; it is the Speaker of the House, wielding only the power delegated by the assembly.

This is not to say OSI is the only arbiter. Large communities like Apache, Debian or the Free Software foundation each have their own approaches to identifying which licenses are acceptable. They usually pick just one as the constitution for their community, delivering freedom and confidence that empowers developers to innovate. But OSI’s role as a general steward of consensus serves the wider community and as such even gets referenced in many community-internal processes, such as at Apache.

So to paraphrase the original comment: any license can be open source, but who cares until the community agrees and the OSI confirms.

 

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On Butter and Triangulation

Data protection laws are about controlling triangulation, not (just) direct privacy

Squirrel peering from behind log

At the end of May 2018, the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into effect in Europe. It creates a whole set of new responsibilities that are causing concern for businesses across the EU. It has effects outside Europe as well, because it will control the way businesses located in Europe can share data across borders, both within their company and with other companies.  Continue reading

MP3 Is Dead! Long Live MP3!

Ignore the coverage saying MP3 is dead. Now all the patents blocking it have expired, it can start to live!

Finally Free

Back in May, there was an unexpected surge in press coverage about the MP3 audio file format. What was most unexpected about it was it all declared that the venerable file format is somehow “dead”. Why did that happen, and what lessons can we learn?
Continue reading

Java EE to Eclipse: A Welcome Move

It looks like Java EE may finally be fully free.

Java Celebration

In a blog post on the venerable Aquarium blog (started by the Glassfish team at Sun a decade or so ago) Oracle has announced that it has selected the Eclipse Foundation as the new home for Java EE. They will relicense and rename it and invent a new standards process. It looks like the MicroProfile rebellion was successful as this has all been negotiated with Red Hat and IBM as well.  Continue reading

Simon’s article explaining why the Facebook license combo used for React.js and much more is a problem was published by the Red Hat OpenSource.Com site today. Because our articles are supported by Patreon Patrons and not reliant on artificial scarcity to pay the bills, we were able to offer Red Hat the article in response to the one by Facebook’s outside counsel yesterday. A win for the patronage economy!

Read and respond here.

Open Source Means Choice Of Insurance

No, using open source doesn’t automatically mean going it alone.

Small Fish

Some say that companies don’t want open source because they want the security of a relationship with a big business. But this outlook reflects misunderstandings of the real values of open source. It’s yet another consequence of the “price frame”.  Continue reading