License Committee Report for September 2005

Ben Tilly btilly at
Fri Sep 9 20:31:40 UTC 2005

On 9/8/05, Eric S. Raymond <esr at> wrote:
> Ben Tilly <btilly at>:
> > Do you realize how strongly you've confirmed any qualms that people
> > might have about the way that the OSI is run?
> The only justification OSI wants or needs for the way we choose to run
> things is that we provide a service that a lot of people trust and
> value.  There is absolutely nothing to stop you from starting your own
> license-certification organization and running it any way you like.  If
> you provide comparable value, maybe people will listen to you, too.

The classic rebuttal.  It mixes the merits of being true and being
able to be said to anyone, on any occasion.  Which means that you both
have to say it from time to time, but should watch carefully so it
doesn't lead to group think

> Should you choose to start your own competing organization, one of the
> things you will discover is that there has to be some place where the
> buck stops and difficult -- occasionally unpopular -- decisions get
> made.  You will also discover that some people will get "qualms" about
> the way your organization makes those decisions -- no matter what that
> decision procedure is.

Thanks, but no thanks.  There are enough organizations out there that
certify licenses.  The OSI, FSF, and Debian all come to mind.  Plus
many companies do the same thing for their internal use.

I see little value and no point in trying to create another.  (I say
trying because I know full well that I'd be very unlikely to succeed.)

> And you will discover that there is a point beyond which you just have
> to stick to the procedures that have actually worked and ignore the
> qualms, because otherwise you can't get the job done for which people
> are relying on you.

Again, both true and universally applicable.  Bureaucrats everywhere
agree with you - and for good reasons.  I personally am wary of going
immediately to universal arguments.  It is too easy to make mistakes
that I'd regret if I ever figured out that I made a mistake.

> The OSI Board makes policy.  The license-discuss list advises the Board,
> and I promise you we do listen very carefully.  But when we have
> made a policy decision, your responsibility is to either assist us in
> implementing it or recuse yourself from the process.

What I hear when I read that is, "We think we're open to feedback. 
But if you want to actually provide us feedback on what we've done
then we'd like you to shut up."

What is particularly interesting in this case is that nobody KNOWS
what you've done.  So we often don't know when we're supposed to speak
or shut up.  Apparently right now I'm supposed to shut up.

> You knew or should have known those rules when you walked in.  They've
> worked well for us and (more importantly) for the community we serve,
> and we will therefore continue to use them.  If that makes you
> unhappy, then please do start your own certification organization run
> on radically different lines.

>From your point of view, these rules may be working well.  And if you
apply them perfectly consistently, you may never hear differently.

Incidentally I'm curious how you think that I should have known these
rules when I walked in.  I just went to the website.
describes license-discuss as a list to which anyone is invited to
subscribe if they are interested in following the process by which new
licenses get approved.  It does not say what the responsibilities and
obligations are on list members.  The side-bar on that page describes
OSI Certification as your way of certifying conformance to the open
source definition.

I just went and re-read the confirmation email, and it was likewise

Nowhere that I can find is there any link to additional information
that you'd like people to know about.  Such as a request to not say
anything that does not conform to Board policy, or any information on
where one is supposed to find the Board policy that we're supposed to
refer to to censor our speech appropriately.

So in short I am failing to find out how I am supposed to have known
your rules upon arriving here.

Normally it would be fair to say that I should have been quiet on the
list longer before talking.  But the reactions of people who've been
on the list longer than I suggest that monitoring this list would not
have sufficed to discover these rules.  And furthermore you've
indicated that I should have known these rules when I walked in.  I'm
still trying to figure out how.

> I predict you'll find it a wonderfully educational experience.

There are plenty of wonderfully educational experiences available to
me.  As I've indicated above, I'm unlikely to seek out this particular


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