compatibility and the OSD

Chris F Clark cfc at
Fri Sep 24 15:56:01 UTC 2004

Bob wrote:

> I wanted to understand the factual/logic arguments, based on what
> the OSD actually says, or failing that how it is officially
> interpreted.

Well, as you can see, you are going to be disappointed.  The only way
to get an official interpretation is to submit a license for review
and get it accepted or rejected.  However, you will find that the same
arguments as you have seen and have found useless will be the basis
for that acceptance or rejection (or at least for the discussion that
leads up to acceptance or rejection).

While I expect the majority of the members of this list are involved
in either the programming or legal profession, however, as it has been
repeatedly stated, the OSD is not a computer program nor a contract.
It is more like a position paper or a creed, which attempts to
embodied the principles of Open Source, but the actuality of Open
Source is "I know it when I see it."

Thus, the arguments you have seen are an important part of its
definition, as a license is accepted as Open Source when the consensus
of the committee members accept it as Open Source.  That involves
getting them to believe that the license is Open Source, and that is
an advocacy process, where the members bring up reasons why said
license should or should not be construed as Open Source.  It is not a
point by point examination of the license against the detailed wording
of the OSD document. The document forms more of a framework that
outlines the terms in which such arguments are framed.

BTW, most license discussions procede vaguely like your hypthetical
one did, as most licenses impose some new restriction on how specific
new open source software can be used or redistributed.  The
restrictions on use are generally rejected out-right, as clear
violations of specific OSD clauses.  The license authors usually try
to argue that their use restriction is some how noble or valid and
thus should be OSD compitible, but such licenses are univerally

Licenses which impose redistribution restrictions have a better
chance, since some redistribution restrictions are acceptable.  That
is the "gray area".  However, the gray area is not decided based upon
the wording of the OSD, but upon whether the restrictions will match
the more abstract and less well-defined underlying model of the OSD.
This is the model that is only in the committee (and by extension list
members) heads.  This is the case where the members are less likely to
point out exact words from the OSD (although they may point out
specific clauses).  Those clauses examplify exactly what the member
thinks is wrong.  However, it is the impression of the committee
member which is more important than the actual words of the OSD.  For
it is the committee members who decide whether to vote for approval or
rejection and in doing so, the members are not bound by the words of
the OSD, but only by their own consciences.


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