compatibility and the OSD

Rick Moen rick at
Fri Sep 24 21:18:24 UTC 2004

[Voicing my impression; speaking for nobody else, least of all the OSI
Board, to whom I have no institutional connection:]

Quoting Chris F Clark (cfc at

> 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).

My impression is that the Board cannot be, for reasons externally
imposed upon it, arbitrary in criteria used for its certification
mark and program (which operates as per regulations over trademark law).

So, hypothetically, someone might submit some ingenious licence that
is OSD-compliant on its face but nonetheless substantively fails to
convey the right to either independently maintain the code under the 
same terms or to use it freely (as the term "freely" is understood
around here).  I expect such a licence _would_ get Board approval --
and that the Board would immediately revise OSD to correct whatever 
oversight had lead to its temporary approval.

> It [the approval process] is not a point by point examination of the
> license against the detailed wording of the OSD document.

Quibble:  It actually is -- but prevailing on those terms alone won't
get you anywhere in the long term, for reasons cited (and possibly
others that don't occur to me at the moment).

> 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.

Same quibble.

Further to the above, the Board may be obliged by sundry external
contraints to deal impartially with licences that are purposeless, 
redundant, or substantively proprietary in their effect -- but the rest
of us aren't.  If a notably repugnant licence were ever able to wield
the "OSI Certified" mark for some period (brief or not), that mark would
completely fail to impress the community, resulting in its advocates
finding themselves living in a Potemkin village software world, and
simply not accepted as open source at all.

(All of the above is speculation about hypotheticals, and no more.  As
noted, getting results from the OSI Board requires submitting an actual
licence.  As _also_ noted, submissions that are particularly dumb are
likely to get ignored or actively mocked by everyone _but_ the Board.)

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