Three new proposed OSD terms

John Cowan jcowan at
Sat Mar 5 02:30:40 UTC 2005

Jason White scripsit:

> The OSL is similar [to the GPL] in that it requires derivative works which you
> distribute to be made available in turn under the OSL.

But the licenses are read differently by their authors: the FSF considers
a work of GPL code to be a derivative work if it is linked (statically
or dynamically) with compiled GPL code, whereas Larry Rosen is amply on
record as disagreeing.  So in effect the OSL is a weak copyleft only.

> Indeed, but for the class of licenses identified above, (these have
> sometimes been referred to as "reciprocal licenses") there can arise
> compatibility problems: it may not be possible jointly to satisfy the
> conditions of two such licenses while combining code distributed under
> them to form a derivative work. This may apply at file boundaries as
> in the MPL and similar licenses,

I claim that appropriate refactoring can always eliminate this problem.

> or it may preclude the sharing of code altogether.

In practice this is the case only for the GNU GPL.

>  > a) Software projects that do not take contributor agreements or 
>  > distribution licenses that allow the license on a project to be changed. 
>  > Apache has the ability to change our license in the future because 
>  > developers give us the necessary rights to do that (without assignment). 
>  > Likewise with the FSF, OpenOffice/Sun, and a few others, but notably this 
>  > is not the case for Linux, JBoss, or other projects.  Without that right, 
>  > we can't fix defects in our licenses that would allow for greater 
>  > sublicensability by other teams, and therefore greater reuse.
> I agree this opens the way to solving the problems of license
> incompatibility and code sharing, albeit on a project-by-project
> basis. It also has the advantage of allowing, in Eric Raymond's
> memorable phrase, projects to adopt new advances in "licensing
> technology". Perhaps there should be recommended terms to be used in
> distribution licenses or contributor agreements that provide the
> project with the flexibility to adopt a different license as
> circumstances warrant.

No one has ever been able to point to a legal rule that requires all
contributors to agree to a license change: on the contrary, joint creators
(collaborators, whatever) can normally grant licenses independently of
each other, as long as the profits are equitably divided.  In the case
of OSS, that last point is not at issue.

The fact that various projects go to such efforts to get permission
(either in advance, like FSF and Apache, or after the fact, like Mozilla)
from each and every contributor may be ethically laudable, but it doesn't
seem to be any sort of legal requirement.

John Cowan  jcowan at
I am he that buries his friends alive and drowns them and draws them
alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag
went over me.  I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am
Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.  --Bilbo to Smaug

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