first draft of license proliferation committee report

Laura Majerus LMajerus at
Sat Jul 29 00:17:28 UTC 2006

FYI,the first draft report of the OSI's License Proliferation Committee.
To join the OSI's license proliferation discuss email list, send an
email to: license-proliferation-discuss-subscribe at
<mailto:license-proliferation-discuss-subscribe at> 

>From here on in, I'd like to keep discussion on the LP discuss group if
possible. This is just an email to let you know that the group exists.

Laura Majerus

-----Original Message-----

From: Laura Majerus [mailto:LMajerus at
<mailto:LMajerus at> ]

Sent: Thursday, July 27, 2006 10:28 PM

To: license-proliferation-discuss at

Cc: license-proliferation at

Subject: Draft of License Proliferation Committee Report

Inline below is the text of the OSI's License Proliferation Committee
Report. This is a DRAFT that we are submitting for community comments.
This draft was handed out at the OSI BOF at Oscon in Portland Thursday
night. Did we get the licenses in the right buckets? Please read and let
us know what you think.

Laura Majerus


DRAFT July 2006


To: OSI Board

cc: License Proliferation Committee

Subject: Report of License Proliferation Committee and draft FAQ

The purpose of this document is to report on the efforts and
recommendations of the License Proliferation committee of the OSI ("the
LP Committee").

The LP Committee is an advisory committee. Its charter states "[t]he
purpose of the Committee is to identify and lessen or remove issues
caused by license proliferation." (Charter attached). 

The members of the LP Committee were:

John Cowan,

Damien Eastwood,

Bryan Geurts,

Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (observer),

Laura Majerus,

Russ Nelson,

Karna Nisewaner,

Diane Peters,

Eric Raymond,

Sanjiva Weerawarana (observer),

Cliff Schmidt,

McCoy Smith 

This document contains a policy statement from the LP Committee about
its understanding of the definition of license proliferation and some
suggestions about what to do about it.

This document also contains a suggestion for license groups and a FAQ to
explain why the committee made groups and how it expects it will help in
lessening license proliferation.

1. What Does License Proliferation mean?

One thing that became clear as we talked among ourselves and listened to
the open source community was that different people meant different
things when they used the term "license proliferation." Comments broke
down into three main groups:

a) too many different licenses makes it difficult for licensors to
choose Some people use "license proliferation" to mean that there are
just too many licenses and that someone needs to take steps to reduce
the number. While this would be great, the OSI cannot make anyone use or
not use a particular license. All we can do is educate and urge people
to use a smaller subset of licenses. This comment generally came from
individuals and small companies.

b) some licenses do not play well together Some people use "license
proliferation" to refer to the fact that some open source licenses do
not inter-operate well with other open source licenses. While we can
urge people not to mix non-mixable licenses, we cannot keep people from
doing so. This comment generally came from larger companies.

c) too many licenses makes it difficult to understand what you are
agreeing to in a multi-license distribution This is related to the
previous comment, but is somewhat different since it doesn't complain
about how the licenses interact, just that there are too many different
individual licenses covering certain distributions and that it takes a
lot of time to read and understand them all. This comment usually came
from larger companies.

2. What the OSI Can Do About License Proliferation

The first thing we can do is to make sure that licenses calling
themselves "open source" truly meet the Open Source Definition. In 2005,
the OSI has suggested three guidelines that they would apply to proposed
licenses to determine whether they should be OSI-approved. 

i) The license must not be duplicative

ii) The license must be clearly written, simple, and understandable

iii) The license must be reusable

We propose addressing the license picking issue by making available a
license wizard, as discussed below.

We propose an on-going project to group existing open source licenses.
The goal of such categorization is to help the community determine which
licenses are useful in which circumstances.

3. The Wizard Project 

Volunteers from USC law school and San Francisco State engineering
department are currently working on a web-based wizard to allow people
to see which open source licenses meet criteria that they find
important. These volunteers are Prof. Jennifer Urban and Prof. Sameer
Verma, along with their research assistants. For example, if a user
indicates that having a copyleft license with explicit patent grants is
important, the wizard will look through the OSI-approved licenses and
output a list of licenses that meet (or almost meet) those criteria. 

The wizard assists new licensors in choosing which licenses meet their
goals. The wizard also lets licensors find licenses that almost meet
their goals. We hope that being able to generate a list of existing
licenses that meet defined goals will lessen the need for people to
create their own new licenses.

4. The Groups

Originally, the LP Committee started to divide the OSI approved licenses
into "recommended," "non-recommended" and "other" tiers. As we met and
discussed, however, it became apparent that there is no one open source
license that serves everyone's needs equally well. Some people like
copyleft. Some don't. Governmental bodies have specific needs concerning
copyright rights. As we discussed which licenses should be
"recommended," it became clear that the recommended licenses were really
the same as licenses that were either widely used (for example the GPL),
or that had a strong community (for example Eclipse). Thus, we switched
from the "recommended"/"non-recommended" terminology to a more
descriptive terminology of:

-Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong communities

-Special purpose licenses

-Licenses that are redundant with more popular licenses -Non-reusable
licenses -Other/Miscellaneous licenses

We thought that these more descriptive categories may help people
initially picking a license to use one of the more popular licenses,
thereby helping to reduce the numbers of different licenses commonly
used. We realize that the majority of open source projects currently use
the GPL and that the GPL does not always play well with other licenses.
We also realize that the GPL is a great license choice for some people
and not so great a license choice for others. Thus, we can't just
recommend that everybody use the GPL.. While such a recommendation would
solve the license proliferation problem, it is not realistic.

We encourage new licensors to use licenses in the "popular and strong
communities" group if any licenses in that group fit their needs. There
are only nine licenses in this group and if everyone considered these
licenses first when choosing a license for their project, some of the
issues relating to license proliferation would diminish. 


Here are the groups:

Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong


- Apache License, 2.0

- New BSD license

- GNU General Public License (GPL)

- GNU Library or "Lesser" General Public License (LGPL)

- MIT license

- Mozilla Public License 1.1 (MPL)

- Common Development and Distribution License

- Common Public License

- Eclipse Public License

Special purpose licenses (3)

- Educational Community License (special purpose: only suitable for
educational establishments)

- NASA (special purpose: for use by an agency of the federal government,
which has special concerns regarding some issues such as copyright
protection, copyright notices, disclaimer of warranty and
indemnification, and choice of law)

- Open Group Test Suite (special purpose: only suitable for tests or
test suites)


Licenses that are redundant with more popular licenses (9)

- Academic Free License (redundant with Apache 2.0)

- Attribution Assurance Licenses (redundant with BSD)

- CUA Office Public License (redundant with MPL 1.1)

- Eiffel Forum License V2.0 (redundant with BSD)

- Fair License (redundant with BSD)

- Historical Permission Notice and Disclaimer (redundant with BSD)

- Lucent Public License Version 1.02 (redundant with CPL)

- University of Illinois/NCSA Open Source License (redundant with BSD)

- X.Net License (redundant with MIT)

Non-reusable licenses (24)

- Apple Public Source License

- Computer Associates Trusted Open Source License 1.1

- EU DataGrid Software License

- Entessa Public License

- Frameworx License

- IBM Public License

- Motosoto License

- Naumen Public License

- Nethack General Public License

- Nokia Open Source License

- OCLC Research Public License 2.0

- PHP License

- Python license (CNRI Python License)

- Python Software Foundation License

- RealNetworks Public Source License V1.0

- Reciprocal Public License

- Ricoh Source Code Public License

- Sleepycat License

- Sun Public License

- Sybase Open Watcom Public License 1.0

- Vovida Software License v. 1.0

- W3C License

- wxWindows Library License

- Zope Public License 

Other/Miscellaneous licenses (5)

- Adaptive Public License

- Artistic License

- Open Software License

- Qt Public License

- zlib/libpng license

Superseded licenses (4)

- Apache Software License v1.1

- Eiffel 1.0

- Lucent 1.0

- MPL 1.0

Licenses that have been voluntarily retired (5)

- Historical Permission Notice and Disclaimer

- Intel Open Source License

- Jabber Open Source License

- MITRE Collaborative Virtual Workspace License

- Sun Industry Standards Source License (SISSL)


Here are our criteria for placing licenses in the various groups:

Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong communities We
used statistics obtained from public sources to determine which licenses
are widely used. We believed that there were a few licenses that, while
not the most popular, were widely used within their communities and that
these also belonged in this group.

Special purpose licenses

Certain licensors, such as schools and the US government, have
specialized concerns, such as specialized rules for government
copyrights. Licenses that were identified as meeting a special need were
placed in this group.

Licenses that are redundant with more popular licenses Several licenses
in this group are excellent licenses and have their own followings. The
committee struggled with this group, but ultimately decided that if we
were to attack the license proliferation problem, we had to prune
licenses. Thus, licenses that were perceived as completely or partially
redundant with existing licenses were placed in this group.

Non-reusable licenses

Licenses in this group are specific to their authors and cannot be
reused by others. Many, but not all, of these licenses fall into the
category of vanity licenses.

Superseded licenses

Licenses in this category have been superseded by newer versions

Licenses that have been voluntarily retired Self-defining category. No
one should use these licenses going forward, although we assume that
licensors may or may not choose to continue to use them.

Other/Miscellaneous licenses 

These licenses do not fall neatly into any category.

5. What's next?

This is a draft document. We have already advised the stewards of the
licenses of the contents of this document. We have promised to put the
groups up for public comment, possibly on the open source email list or
the license proliferation discuss email list.

After that, the Board needs to decide on a process for newly approved
licenses to be placed in a group at the same time they are approved, so
that grouping can be helpful to new licensors in the future.

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