OSI's war on corporate licenses

Joel West svosrp at gmail.com
Tue Apr 12 01:22:32 UTC 2005

The list has discussed the problem of the proliferation of "vanity" licenses. But it seems the OSI board has gone far beyond license proliferation, to actively discourage firm-sponsored OSS licenses of any kind.

At the new policy
I found this statement troubling:

>The class of asymmetrical corporate licenses that began with Mozilla was a
>worthy experiment that has failed. The new policy will discourage them.

and particularly

> But seven years later, we think it is is significant that the original
> corporate open-source license, the Mozilla Public License, has been dropped
> by its originating organization in favor of the GPL. It is becoming
> increasingly clear from this and other examples that the "middle way"
> represented by Mozilla and other corporate open-source licenses is not
> a stable, effective solution even from the point of view of selfish
> corporate agents.

I don't know anything more than what's on these webpages. But from reading these statements, it's not clear what planet the authors are on.

Mozilla is no longer a corporate-sponsored OSS project, but instead is an independent stand-alone project that in most respects is indistinguishable from projects that began as community-founded projects (e.g. Apache). So since they are organized more like Apache or Project GNU, it's not surprising that they have a community license. All it proves is that AOL gave up on selling browsers.

>These licenses put a hard brake on the growth of development 
>communities around their products without actually delivering 
>measurable advantages in revenue, market control, or risk 
>management. Because these licenses have largely failed to deliver, 

Were any of these people at EclipseCon? There's a lot of development, community, revenue and adoption going on in Eclipse as the .NET alternative. It's all based on the CPL (soon to be EPL), a slightly cleaned up MPL. New strategic developers were announced including a good portion of the major ISVs in the tools area (with the notable exception of Sun and Microsoft).

So has Eclipse "failed to deliver"?

As Evan said, there is a problem with license incompatibility. This may be as much a problem with the conditions of the GPL as it is with the problem of the other licenses. And maybe Martin Fink is right, there's a problem with license proliferation.

But how does this lead to the conclusion that firm-sponsored OSS licenses or projects are a failure? There's a logical leap that's been left out.

Or is this just an attack on asymmetric open source business models? And if we're going to attack asymmetric models, why the MPL/CPL/CDDL? Why not attack the dual license GPL model? In both cases, corporations that object to viral (aka copyleft) provisions can pay to escape them. In both cases, big bad corporations own the IPR rather than the broader community.

We are just beginning to see a huge experimentation in open source business models. It's hard to see how OSI or the open source movement are helped if those involving dual license get to call themselves "open source" but those involving the CPL do not. For that matter, if OSI kicks out the CPL crowd (and/or GNU kicks out the dual license crowd), we might have a new movement formed with Sun, IBM, HP, Microsoft and others. And if that's where all the investment is going, it's hard to see how that helps OSS or OSI at all.

Disclaimer: I teach in a business school and believe in market incentives to promote maximum innovation and investment. I think the original 1998 group (immortalized by "Revolution OS") was brilliant in leveraging this principal to create the Open Source movement.


Joel West, Research Director
Silicon Valley Open Source Research Project	http://www.cob.sjsu.edu/OpenSource/

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