License Proliferation

Chris Zumbrunn chris at
Tue Sep 6 09:48:19 UTC 2005

On Sep 6, 2005, at 10:34 AM, Ben Tilly wrote:

> On 9/5/05, Chris Zumbrunn <chris at> wrote:
> [...]
>> True, but another argument by "the other camp" is that easing code
>> reuse should be a goal of the OSI and that this is the true motivator
>> for license tiering and non-proliferation efforts. I'm saying, if that
>> shall be true then the OSI needs to amend the OSD accordingly and move
>> the GPL to the second tier of licenses that no longer meet the new 
>> OSD.
> This is an argument that neither I, nor many others, will ever agree
> with.  If someone attempts to define "open source" in a way that
> excludes the most famous open source license of all, they've just
> tried to hijack the word and will be ignored.

I agree this would shift OSI-approval away from being synonymous with
"open source", but especially strong-copyleft licenses are a distinct
sub-group of open source, one that requires a different kind of 

If OSI shies away from putting the GPL into a "second tier" then it 
*group* the licenses rather than (or in addition to) tiering them. In 
group, OSI would work to make sure code is reusable and can be combined
to form larger works. In the other group would be the GPL and other
strong-copyleft licenses, which are incompatible with all other OSD
compliant licenses (in the sense that BSD is GPL-compatible, but the GPL
is not BSD-compatible).

> Secondly there is a very large body of work under the GPL already.  No
> matter how anti-social it may be when it comes to other licenses,
> GPLed code can be freely reused in lots of places.

This is not a tirade against the GPL. Strong-copyleft licenses optimize
code reuse towards the inside. There is little work the OSI can do to
optimize code reuse and work against license proliferation in this
category. In a sense, by definition, the strong-copyleft licenses take
care of that themselves. It is the other licenses that require the 
attention of the OSI and that ideally should be bound together by a
seal of approval that requires compatibility.

Non-strong-copyleft ("open") and strong-copyleft ("free") are the Yin
and Yang of the open source movement. Attempting to hide that fact
through muddling the two concepts together by applying the same
approval criteria to both concepts is not in the interest of the open
source community and stands in the way of optimizing code reuse and
the license non-proliferation effort.

> Third, there are many business purposes for which the GPL is ideal.
> It is perfect if you want to create a "commons" to which people can
> contribute without worrying that competitors will see something that
> you didn't and turn that into a proprietary improvement.  The phrase
> "open source" was created to create a business-friendly label for a
> phenomena that already existed.  Given that the GPL is perfect for at
> least some business uses, it is part of the whole open source
> phenomena.



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