An explanation of the difficulty of solving licenseproliferation in one sentence

Fink, Martin R martin.fink at
Wed Mar 9 17:32:12 UTC 2005

Well Evan - I have to say - you made my day :)  I seriously considered
conjuring up a picture of me and gimp'ing it to a visual representative
of your comments.... I just didn't have the time.

I guess what bothers me the most as I look at the overall tone of the
messages that have been written on this topic is one where a theme of
"good vs. evil" is developing.  The community being the "good", and the
corporation being the "evil".  I guess I just don't look at the problem
that way.

In my view, the community creates loads of really cool software.  I will
note at this point that the community is now also made up of lots of
people from those evil corporations.  My entire motivation is that I
want that cool software to be used.  I want it to continue its
successful path at redefining the business model of the industry.  I
think that the community process of developing software is a really
powerful one.  Now, when I think about who uses all that cool software,
I think of individuals, governments, academia, and yes, all those evil

This last one is the one that causes me heartache.  While you might
think that these corporations have unlimited funds to decipher the
encrypted OSI code of licensing, you're dead wrong.  I fear that if the
current system continues down its current path of exponentially
increasing complexity, the evil corporations will just give up - not
hire more lawyers to deal with it.  You may violently disagree with
this, that's fine... time will tell.

So, all my actions are motivated by trying to make sure that over the
long haul, open source software gets used more, and more, and more.
Now, you may not agree with my methods (I think "stupid" was one
reference), and that's fine.  I also understand that this isn't going to
get fixed overnight, and that there isn't an easy magic pill that's
going to make it all go away.  And yes, heaven forbid, we might actually
have to let a few more licenses through the system in the meantime.

So, if we can stop the "open source community vs. the big bad corporate
world" mindset that would be a really good start.  Next, if it's helpful
I'd gladly spend some time going through a set of reasons why an
infinite number of licenses will stifle open source utilization rather
than foster it.  Finally, if you believe that an infinite number of
licenses is not a problem and it's all hogwash, then ignore this
dialog.... just let the people who care about it come up with a proposal
that deals with the perceived problem.  When one or two proposals are
put forth (maybe by OSDL, OSI, and others) and if you think that those
proposals are actually harmful, then chime in.  The last thing I want is
to change the system into something that makes it worse.

Now, if you really want to move Heaven and Earth to save me, have at it,
I'd love to watch :)


| Martin Fink                  | Email: martin.fink at |
| Vice-President, Linux        | Phone: (970) 898-7076     |
| Hewlett-Packard Co.          | Fax:   (970) 898-4302     |
| 3404 East Harmony Road, MS43 | Asst:  Ingrid Busch       |
| Fort Collins, CO 80528       | Phone: (970) 898-0782     |

-----Original Message-----
From: Evan Prodromou [mailto:evan at] 
Sent: Wednesday, March 09, 2005 7:35 AM
To: Russell Nelson
Cc: Open Source License Discussion List
Subject: Re: An explanation of the difficulty of solving
licenseproliferation in one sentence

On Tue, 2005-08-03 at 16:54 -0500, Russell Nelson wrote:
> But more than anything else, it points to the difficulty of getting to
> a world with only a handful of licenses.  If there really are to be
> fewer licenses, projects must relicense, as painful as that is.

I think that's a completely unacceptable burden on the people who put
time, money, blood, sweat, and tears into creating Open Source (but
perhaps not OSI-certified) software. There's a big difference between
asking a lawyer armada from CA, Sun, or IBM to select one of the
existing licenses when making their big PR announcement, and forcing a
12-year-old project to relicense all their software.

I realize that everyone's supposed to move Heaven and Earth to save
poor, starving Martin Fink, poster boy for license proliferation. But
relicensing a work with any but a trivial number of authors is a huge
undertaking. I bet Martin can raise his shaky, hunger-weakened hand to
rubber-stamp one more license, if we ask him nicely and give him a bowl
of millet afterwards.

I predict that a close reading of the Open Source community's
give-a-shit-o-meter for the Handful of Licenses Crusade will hover just
barely above 0.00. Keeping the books tidy is all fine, but twisting the
arms of little projects on the shaky theoretical grounds that "There
shouldn't be too many licenses! Save Martin Fink!" is wrongheaded and
boorish. Don't do that.

Software that meets the Open Source Definition is Open Source. OSI
should do its job and certify it.


Evan Prodromou
evan at

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