License Approval Process

Ian Lance Taylor ian at
Mon Feb 14 18:34:54 UTC 2000

I see a lot of people asking on this list why their licenses are not
being approved.

I think I've been on this list since it was created--in some small way
I may have encouraged its creation-- but I don't actually remember
seeing any license receive official OSI approval.  I may well have
forgotten a few in the early days.

As I recall, the most active contributor and license commentator on
this list has been Bruce Perens, who at the time the list was created
was no longer officially an OSI member and thus presumably can not
grant official OSI approval.

I don't speak for anybody but myself.  I'm not an OSI supporter.  I
can't say that it really saddens me to see this silence.

However, I also don't like seeing people feeling rebuffed when they
try to open up their software.  So here are a few quick notes from my
own personal perspective.

First I'll note that you don't need OSI approval to put your code out
there.  Just do it.  If people object to the license, fix it.  Or

Continuing that, why do you want to put the code out there?  If you
want to get contributions from the net, then you should know that
there are already too many licenses out there.  Hackers hack code, not
the law.  If your license is different from standard licenses, you are
putting up a barrier to any contributions.  Rather than try to figure
out your license, hackers won't use or contribute to your code.

So if you want to get contributions, don't invent a new license.  Use
an existing one: GPL, LGPL, MPL, Artistic License, MIT, public domain.
If you absolutely can not stomach that, then use an existing license
with a caveat.  Say: this code is under the GPL, with the additional
exception that if you modify it, you must remove our trademarks unless
we give you explicit permission to the contrary.

(Don't lose too much sleep over legal issues, such as whether you can
enforce your license.  Most people will obey your license if they can
understand it.  The people who won't, would probably have ignored a
much more restrictive license also.)

If your code is exceptional, people will use it whatever the license
is.  However, most code is not exceptional.  You will normally be best
served by using an existing license.  Don't create a new license
merely because you can.  That will not help you, and it will not help
the free software community.

I know a lot of people aren't going to listen to this advice, and
that's too bad.  Do yourself a favor and listen to what I'm saying.
You may not think it applies to you, but it almost certainly does.

(I feel I must add a note about getting contributions from the net.
The OSI web pages at make it sound as though just
putting code out there will cause a flood of contributed patches and
will make your code stronger, better, faster than it was before.  It
ain't so.  It can happen.  I've seen it happen with my own code.  But,
these days, most of the time, it doesn't.  There's a lot of free
software out there already, and there are only so many free software

Now, let's say that you don't really care about getting contributions.
Perhaps you want to open up your code to help your customers, or to
get a competitive advantage.  Perhaps you simply want to help the free
software community, although you don't expect any return.  In that
case, it doesn't much matter what license you use, and it doesn't much
matter whether your license is approved by the OSI.  Just do something
reasonable, something which does not prevent your existing customers
do what they need to do.  Your goals will be satisfied, and you won't
have to worry about the OSI's license approval process.

The only other reason I can think of to get OSI approval for your
license is for advertising purposes.  In that case, I guess you'll
just have to wait until somebody from the OSI speaks up.  I'm no
expert, but, personally, I don't think it's worth the trouble.  So you
can't put ``open source'' on your ads.  Just say ``source code
available'' instead.  Big deal.


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