[Linux-aus] Who defines Open Source?

Jon maddog Hall maddog at li.org
Wed Feb 8 13:21:02 UTC 2006

Pardon me if I am stating what everyone knowns, but I read all the email on
this, and I have not seen anyone mention this point, so here goes
[and the typical "I am not a lawyer" applies]:

A license is an agreement between the copyright holder and the person who
is copying/distributing/using the code.

Therefore what is "free" or not, or what is "open" or not seems to be a mute
point as long as all parties agree to the terms.

HOWEVER, when you start to mix the code onto one disk, or into one program,
that is where the gotchas begin, and the different requirements of the
different licenses start to get sticky.

Every time a different license appears, the corporate lawyers of the large
companies descend like vultures and spend days pouring over it to make sure
that the company can legally use it.  This wastes time and money just because
"Timmy wanted his own license".  And lots of licenses with "twisty dark
passages" may mean that code meant to be freely and widely distributed can
not be distributed on a disk with other code licensed a slightly different

This is why OSI tried to stem the tide of thousands of unique licenses being
created, and created a bunch that people can chose from that (hopefully) are
compatible in some way, shape or form, yet give the points that people
really wanted.

Amassing these licenses onto one disk, or downloadable from one source
also creates problems with distributions.

If a distribution wants all "GPLed" code, so they can ship the system under
the GPL, does that mean that they can not ship BSD licensed code?

[I am not looking for an answer to this question, it is just the type of
question that lawyers ask.]

And finally [my personal favorite] are the people that come along and try to
change the licensing after the fact, and [usually] more restrictive.  Ugly.

I spent two days with OSF in Boston when they tried to change the licensing
for X11, and finally convinced them not to do it.  But it was UGLY.

Just because the license says "Hey, I am free software" or "Hey, I am open
source" at the top will not satisfy the lawyers.  And if the license is
really different than any other, then the lawyers go into "tracking" mode,
and it gets UGLY...and EXPENSIVE.

Jon "maddog" Hall
Executive Director           Linux International(R)
email: maddog at li.org         80 Amherst St. 
Voice: +1.603.672.4557       Amherst, N.H. 03031-3032 U.S.A.
WWW: http://www.li.org

Board Member: Uniforum Association, USENIX Association

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