"Good of the Community," was For Approval: Microsoft Permissive License

Chris Travers chris at metatrontech.com
Mon Aug 20 18:12:20 UTC 2007

Hi Ian;

Here is my opinion regarding where OSI should draw the line an why.  
Others I am sure will have different views.

Ian Lance Taylor wrote:
> This comes back to an old question on this list: is the OSI simply
> responsible for *mechanically* approving licenses? [emphasis mine]
No.  Is there anyone here who thinks otherwise?
>   Or is the OSI
> responsible for, as it says on the web site, "maintaining the Open
> Source Definition for the good of the community"?
>   In my opinion,
> which I acknowledge is not widely held, the good of the community does
> not require approving every applicable license.
Agreed as far as you take it.  However, I would suggest that we ought to 
be careful about invoking the "Good of the Community" lightly and try to 
have fair and even-handed standards of acceptance.  Being fair and 
even-handed is fundamentally good for the community.  Does anyone 
honestly disagree with this premise?

Suppose someone ran an OSI-approved license such as the BSDL through a 
sed program that changed names.  Should that be approved?  Probably not 
(we might want to state that we believe that it is simply a BSDL variant 
not different enough to get a separate listing).  Same permissions might 
mean no separate approval necessary or possible.

However, the following problems occur when we look at approving licneses:

1)  If a license has different legal terms than other licenses (because 
different lawyers see things differently), are we *ever* in a position 
to reject that license simply on a nonproliferation basis?  Are we ever 
justified in saying "We don't think your attourneys'  concerns are 

My answer here is that we should work with groups sponsoring similar 
licenses to help them cooperate on consolidating their licenses for the 
future, but should not reject licenses solely on nonproliferation bases 
when license terms are arguably different.

2)  Is there ever a time when we should consider *who* is submitting a 
license as a part of the formal approval process?  I don't think so.  I 
think that being fair and evenhanded is *always* in the best interests 
of the community.

Obviously, the less individuals trust the submitter, the more scrutiny 
they might place on the license.  It is OK to say "I don't trust 
Microsoft/FSF/The Foo Corporation/Whoever else.  Therefore I am going to 
look more closely for a reason we should reject."  However that is 
different than "I don't like them so they should be forced to justify 
why we should get beyond this hurdle."
> That said, I personally would be in favor of approving the Microsoft
> licenses.  I think it is overall a benefit to the community to
> acknowledge that code under these licenses is open source.
> Of course, it also means that we need to apply extra vigilance to
> ensure that Microsoft does not attempt to use this certification to
> further confuse end-users with their non-open-source licenses.
Agreed as far as you take it.  I thought my post about the FSF said the 
same things about extra vigilance there too but some people took it as 
some sort of inquisition.

Again, distrust of the organization should not be, IMO, sufficient 
reason to reject.  It is sufficient reason to think about the licenses a 
lot more closely and ask if they are *truly* open source licenses or not 
by the terms of the OSD.  But eroding the OSD based solely on distrust 
does not serve the good the the community.  "The licensors are trusted 
by OSI" sems

>   I
> don't think is as big of a risk as it used to be, as it seems to me
> that most people tend to distrust Microsoft these days (for a long
> time hackers distrusted Microsoft, but the general public liked them).
I still don't *trust* Microsoft.  I think that their response to open 
source is disorganized and confused and this makes them dangerous 
because you don't really know which faction will win the battles at the 
end of the day.  At some point they may become trapped by the rhetoric 
they use to appease stockholders and forced to initiate patent suits.   
Make no mistake, Microsoft because their market position and possibly 
even future is threatened is extremely dangerous.  Even if they 
uniformly had the best of intentions *now* this would not make them less 
dangerous.  They are dangerous simply because at the moment they are 

Having said this, that is no basis in my mind to reject the license.  
Rejecting simply due to such concerns and hence reducing any leverage we 
may have in helping Microsoft learn how to work with open source without 
losing their revenue (yes it is possible), and establishing that there 
is a higher standard for outsiders to participate than for insiders 
would not serve the good of the community by any standard, except for 
those who see this as the sort of perpetual conflict where expediency 
must exist before ethics.

Best Wishes,
Chris Travers
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