License Proliferation

Ian Lance Taylor ian at
Fri Sep 2 16:31:33 UTC 2005

Russell Nelson <nelson at> writes:

> 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
> licenses.

Who does the OSI represent?  Businesses who use open source or the
open source community as a whole?  Is what is good for one necessarily
good for the other?

I grant that for businesses that want to use open source software,
minimizing the number of open source licenses is best.  And in fact I
think that most people who release their software under an unpopular
license are making a mistake--and one of the mistakes is that it makes
it that much less likely that their software will be adopted by
businesses.  But from my perspective neither of those results is
significantly bad for the community--they are merely slightly bad.
They are not bad enough that I think the OSI should not approve
licenses merely because of proliferation.  On the other hand, they are
bad enough that I think it is appropriate for the OSI to reject
licenses which simply duplicate existing licenses, as has already been
done in the past.

> 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.

Or, to put it another way, even this strawman is a self-correcting
situation, and not a major difficulty.


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