License Counseling

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. rod at
Tue Aug 28 10:29:53 UTC 2001

I think this discussion is confronting a couple of interesting issues that
seem to be tolerating opportunities to rant. Here is my rant.

One issue that seems to come up frequently is the classification  of a
license as "open source." I think most of us would agree that it is often
easier to determine whether a proposed license conforms to free software or
the GNU GPL than it is to the OSD or the general classification of open
source. One reason might be because open source requirements tend to be
discretionary while FSF/free software requirements tend to be mandatory.  In
addition, the FSF has a license (the GPL), which exemplifies the definition
of free software. Open source has a definition, but no license. Instead,
open source tends to mount the GPL, and distinguish it. Why isn't there an
OSPL or an OS-GPL?

The OSD is not a license. Moreover, some of the OSD's sections are
discretionary, not mandatory, and I think that section 9 (quoted below for
convenience) is unnecessarily confusing. For example, it seems to me that
the GPL definitely does contaminate other software (compare, LGPL), but the
annotated definition of the OSD says the GPL "is conformant" with section 9
and then says "GPLed libraries "contaminate" only software to which they
will actively be linked at runtime, not software with which they are merely


Rod Dixon
Visiting Assistant Professor of Law
Rutgers University Law School - Camden
rod at

section 9. License Must Not Contaminate Other Software
"The license must not place restrictions on other software that is
distributed along with the licensed software. For example, the license must
not insist that all other programs distributed on the same medium must be
open-source software."

> What exactly are the criteria to get approval as an OSI
> license?  That it is not too bothersome for distributors?
> Please.  Say it ain't so!
> Greg

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