Can anyone say his or her software is open source?

Karsten M. Self kmself at
Wed Oct 31 00:30:08 UTC 2001

on Fri, Nov 30, 2001 at 06:46:20PM -0500, Tina Gasperson (tinahdee at wrote:
> Does a license have to comply with the published requirements 
> ( in order for the
> distributor or creator of the software to call it open source?

From a legal standpoint, no.  

"Open Source" is not a registered trademark, by OSI or any other
organization AFAIK, you should verify this at the USPTO's trademark
search site (and realize that this site itself may be in error).

> ACARA ( is a program
> originally developed by NASA. ACARA is now being handled by the Open
> Channel Foundation ( ACARA's
> license terms
> (
> violate at least three points of the Open Source definition (AFAIK,
> IANAL), yet the Open Channel Foundation claims all of the software it
> distributes is open source.
> Is this OK from a legal standpoint? 


From a PR standpoint, the question's more open.  Many people might take
it that the organization is misrepresenting its licensing terms, is
free-riding the OSI's OSD definition, or is just plain lacking in
judgement (often spelled C-L-U-E).

From this standpoint, it might be considered sporting to inform the
organization that it's treading a grey zone, and one likely to make it
rather unpopular.  For a similar recent situation, check this list's
archives of the past few days.

I'd definitely recommend a quiet, friendly, approach before I blasted
out in the open, guns blazing, Slashdot unleashed.  Failing that, other
approaches might be appropriate.  I've followed this track in a dozen or
more cases of various free software compliance issues, including
Microsoft, with a 100% success rate.  Copying the appropriate authority
for a dispute (OSI for use of "open source" marks, Linux International
for Linux trademark issues, the FSF for GPL enforcement) is recommended.

Despite the lack of a legal claim to the phrase, its use should be made
clear.  More importantly, people should realize that "OSI Certified" is
the mark and "Open Source Software" is the statement of goods.  The
usage is "OSI Certified Open Source Software" (thanks to Larry for
straighting me out on this).  This usage should be strongly emphasized
-- anything less is not the mark.

> disclaimer: This is a possible NewsForge story; if you don't want to
> be quoted please say so in your reply.

On the record.


Karsten M. Self <kmself at>
 What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?             Home of the brave                   Land of the free
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