License Proliferation

Russell Nelson nelson at
Fri Sep 2 06:01:53 UTC 2005

Ian Lance Taylor writes:
 > In short, my answer is that I think the OSI should take into account
 > the interests of the community, rather than simply blindly approving
 > licenses.  However, I think that the particular issue of license
 > proliferation is best handled by the process already in progress, in
 > which particular licenses are recommended.  I don't think it is
 > necessary to reject unnecessary licenses; I think it is sufficient to
 > simply not recommend them.

Perhaps.  Thought experiment: what if there are a brazilian[1]
licenses?  Every Tom, Dick, and Harry has his own Open Source license?
They would all go into the non-recommended tier.  But what would
happen if they were successful authors of open source software?  With
a not-recommended license or not, their software would go into a
distro (because the users demanded it).  In order to bring that distro
into a business (and I mention a business only because efforts like
the RIAA's to per-/pro-secute individuals is rare -- the legal
liability is still there for Aunt Tilly), the business would have to
do due diligence on the Tom Open Source License, the Dick Open Source
License, and the Harry Open Source License.  That means getting a
legal analysis, buying in services from Blackduck or Palamida, or
reading the license themselves, for each and every one of these

This scenario is Obviously Bad (or am I wrong?)

But how probable is it that there would be so many different licenses
(but history has shown that people are vain -- we rejected Dave's
Software License many years ago) applied to so much successful
software?  How many different legal jurisdictions are there?  In the
trivial case, everyone who submits a license will have it approved,
they'll use it on their own project, and because it's not recommended,
nobody else will ever use it.

I'm not convinced that approving every OSD-compliant license is a good
idea.  On the other hand, I certainly appreciate the potential risks of
of rejecting OSD-compliant licenses based on criteria external to the
the OSD.  The cleanest solution, it seems to me, is to add restrictions to
to the OSD, for example:

    #11  "Every Open Source License SHALL include a grant of all
          patents owned by the licensor which are necessary to
          use the software as distributed."

One problem with doing that is that it makes existing licenses
non-approvable.  It would also mean that one of the top licenses (BSD)
would be both Tier 1 recommended (let's say) AND non-approvable at the
same time.

[1] "12 Brazilian peacekeepers were killed in Iraq this month."
    "How many is a brazilian?"
[2] "What did the Mexican firefighter name his sons?"
    "Jose and Hose-B".

--my blog is at         | with some experience 
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521 Pleasant Valley Rd. | +1 315-323-1241       | with more experience
Potsdam, NY 13676-3213  |                       |     you know what not to do.

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