For Approval: NASA Open Source Agreement Version 1.1

Ian Lance Taylor ian at
Fri Feb 13 20:24:52 UTC 2004

Richard Schilling <rschi at> writes:

Again, I understand that NASA's proposed license does not require
tracking, it merely encourages it.  We are discussing tracking in the

I could write a much longer response, but I'll try to stick to most
salient points.  If you think that I dropped something important, let
me know.

> > 1) Tracking presumably requires reporting back to some organization.
> >    What happens if that organization disappears?  Does it then become
> >    impossible to distribute the code?  If it does, the code would
> >    clearly no longer be open source.
> Detailed tracking is done anyway through web logs.

That merely tracks the people who downloaded it directly from your web
site.  It does not track the people to whom those people redistributed
it.  If that is all you mean by tracking--keeping track of the
original downloaders--then I agree that that is benign.

However, I note that that is not the form of tracking which the NASA
license requests (not requires).  The NASA license states

    F. In an effort to track usage and maintain accurate records of the
    Subject Software, each Recipient, upon receipt of the Subject
    Software, is requested to register with NASA by visiting the following
    website: ______________________________.  

Note that each recipient is requested to register, not merely each
recipient who downloads the software directly from NASA.  If this were
a requirement rather than a request, then I think the license would
not be OSD-compliant.

> And, companies
> dissappear all the time - no big deal there.

In this example, the company which I am concerned about disappearing
is NASA itself.  If the license had a tracking requirement, then
suppose the above web site disappeared.  It would no longer be
possible to legally receive the software, as it would no longer be
possible to comply with the license.  It is probably possible to
adjust the license to not require tracking if NASA disappears, but
there are a lot of cases to consider, like a private spin-off, or
incorporation into another government entity.  For that matter, if the
license were to really mention a web site, what would happen when we
would no longer use the web, but use the next big thing instead?  It's
important to ensure that such potential problems down the road do not
cause the software to no longer be open source at that time.

> GNU specifically states that changes will be submitted back to the
> authors.

No, it doesn't.

If it did, software under that license would be neither free nor open

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