Of late there have been a number of interventions sponsored by the world’s largest and most profitable tech patent holders to muddy the waters about open source and FRAND licensing of patents in standards by arguing contentious minutiae like the intent of the authors of the BSD license. This is happening because of the clash of industries I wrote about in 2016, with companies fundamentally based on extracting patent royalties unable to imagine any other way of doing business so mistaking the issue of FRAND as being about license compliance rather than as it being an obstacle to the very purpose of open source in commercial software — collaboration with others.
I found an amazing number of experienced and expert colleagues across industries failing to grasp this fundamental, so I’ve written a paper 🗎 about it. Published today by Open Forum Europe, it explains why compliance legalities are the wrong lens for studying the issue and introduces terms for exploring why representatives from different industry background fail to understand each other despite apparently using the same terminology (spoiler: they mean different things by the same words).
Many thanks to the colleagues who have made valuable suggestions that have improved the clarity of the document, and to the various patrons who have contributed to covering my time. Get in touch if you’d like me to come to your event or company and talk about these things.
Tomorrow here in Portland at OSCON, OSI will be celebrating 20 years of open source. I’ve had a few comments along the lines of “I’ve was saying ‘open source’ before 1998 so why bother with this 20 year celebration?”
That’s entirely possible. The phrase is reputed to have been used descriptively about free software — especially under non-copyleft licenses — from at least 1996 when it appeared in a press release. Given its appropriateness there’s a good chance it was in use earlier, although I’ve not found any reliable citations to support that. It was also in use in another field well before then, to describe military or diplomatic intelligence obtained by studying non-classified sources. Continue reading
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a letter from more than 70 leaders in the emerging meshed society (including me) which criticises Article 13 of the European Union’s proposed new copyright regulations. This Article starts from the assumption that the only role of an individual is to consume copyrighted works and hence deduces that any act of publication on the part of an individual must be infringing the copyrights of a corporation unless proven otherwise. The text doesn’t state things that clearly, but the effect is unmistakable. It’s as if a politician was proposing to ban syringes because addicts use them, without considering that hospitals do too. Continue reading
A group of computer experts – including me – asked a US court to think again about fair use of APIs this month.
It was an unlucky fact that Oracle’s case against Google over Android started with patents. Their initial case fell apart almost immediately, with almost all the patent claims invalidated. The implausable backstop copyright case Oracle made against Android’s use of language-essential definitions in the Java APIs (and thus against the freedom of developers everywhere) carried on though. The initial patent case meant that the appeal when Oracle soundly lost ended up at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) — the specialist patent appeals court in the USA — and not at a court competent to dispense copyright justice. Continue reading
You’re entitled to your opinion but in open source licensing only the consensus of the community really matters.
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.” Continue reading
Data protection laws are about controlling triangulation, not (just) direct privacy
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
Trying to ban clever hacks in an open source licence is not OK.
A correspondent asks about the Open Source Definition (OSD):
“Does OSD 6 mean I can’t include a clause in a new open source license that prohibits hacking?”
Yes, you are correct – that’s called a “field of use restriction” (FoU) and copyright licenses that contain field of use restrictions are not approved as open source. Open source licenses are for guaranteeing software freedom, nothing more or less. Continue reading
The Apache Software Foundation has moved the “Facebook BSD+Patent grant” license combination (FB+PL) to its “Category X” licensing list, effectively banning inclusion of any software under FB+PL from Apache projects. That included RocksDB, which has consequently just dropped FB+PL and added the Apache License v2 on Github, and React.JS which does not look like it will resolve the issue so fast.
Update, 22 September: Facebook has announced it will switch React to the MIT license.
Here’s what we know so far (subject to updates, last day’s in green, latest marked 🆕): Continue reading
Using the term “permissive” as an antonym to “copyleft” – or “restrictive” as its synonym – are unhelpful framing. Describe license reciprocity instead.
Some open source licenses implement a clever hack invented by Richard Stallman where, as a condition of the copyright license, anyone creating derived versions has to agree they will license the new version the same way as the original. In a play on words, this concept is called “copyleft” and many open source licenses implement this hack. Continue reading
You feel slighted by a comment on a mailing list, or a forum post has failed to be moderated live. How should you react?
A recent exchange on a user forum caught my eye, one that’s typical of many user interactions with open source communities. Someone with a technical question had apparently had the answer they needed and to help others in the same situation had posted a summary of the resolution, complete with sample code. When they came back later, the summary was gone. Continue reading