restarting License (anti-)Proliferation

Smith, McCoy mccoy.smith at
Tue Aug 5 15:06:15 UTC 2008

At the risk of proliferating categories, shouldn't there be a category
(or perhaps a subcategory within "compliant") for "retired" or
"deprecated" licenses?  Those to me seem like they should be of an even
lesser status than the "compliant" ones.

-----Original Message-----
From: Russ Nelson [mailto:nelson at] 
Sent: Tuesday, August 05, 2008 7:00 AM
To: license-proliferation at;
license-proliferation-discuss at;
license-proliferation-2 at
Cc: license-discuss at; osi at
Subject: restarting License (anti-)Proliferation

[ Note the Reply-To.  Please join the new list to do the work of the
committee, or if you want to discuss the committee, do it on
license-discuss.  -russ ]

[ I also want to call out explicitly Larry Rosen, Bruce Perens, Chris
Dibona, and Van Lindberg as people who have expressed a strong opinion
on the subject of license proliferation.  Apologies to anyone whom
I've left out. -russ ]

I got a motion through the OSI board to restart the License
(anti-)Proliferation committee.  Here's the text of the motion:

    Mr. Nelson moves that we form a license proliferation committee to
    evaluate all existing licenses into two tiers - an upper tier and
    a lower tier of licenses (e.g. "recommended" and "compliant"). The
    role of this committee would be to establish criteria for
    assigning the tier for each license, use a new
    license-proliferation mailing list for discussion and come up with
    a final list of two tiers of licenses. Mr. Nelson will be chairing
    this new committee. The Board will select the two terms that are
    used. The deadline for presenting the draft recommendations from
    the committee back to the board will be October 2008. Ms. Cooper
    calls the vote, Mr. Tiemann seconds and the motion is passed

You may ask "aren't we doing a rewind?"  No.  Here's why:

  o We asked the previous committee to do the wrong thing, at which
    they proceeded to do a good job, but which was still wrong.
    Ask a wrong question and you get a wrong answer every time.
  o This committee is standing; the previous was ad-hoc.
  o This is going to be a public process, unlike the previous effort.
  o This committee will create a process to categorize the licenses;
    The previous committee categorized the licenses.

Here's the problem statement:

    The problem of license proliferation has two countervailing
    aspects.  Too many approved licenses increases the cost of using
    Open Source because of the quantity of licenses that must be
    understood.  Each one fragments the community and reduces code
    sharing between projects.  On the other hand, too few approved
    licenses means that others will claim "but our software's license
    complies with the OSD; read it for yourself" which weakens the
    brand name.

    The trouble is that we have only one flavor of cookie to hand out
    (a single "OSI Approved" trademark).  With two flavours, we can
    give one to all licenses which comply with the OSD, and the other
    one to all licenses which we recommend to reduce licensing costs.
    But how to make this distinction?  How do we do it without
    alienating somebody because their favorite license didn't make the
    list?  How do we do it so that new licenses, which start off as
    merely Compliant and not Recommended, can get promoted?  How do we
    de-Recommend some licenses, such as the Artistic 1.0 (currently on
    the losing end of a legal battle)?
    Answering these questions is the work of the committee.

    I suggest that this committee should come up with a published
    criteria which anyone can apply against the licenses to decide
    which ones we recommend.  It should be a process for which anyone
    can understand the rationale.  Yet, it will likely need tweaking,
    thus a standing committee. We have laws because human judgement
    isn't fair enough, but we have judges because laws are never fair
    Once the committee is satisfied with its work, it will present its
    results to the Open Source Initiative for approval as policy.  The
    board has requested that this be accomplished by the October board
    meeting (2nd Wednesday).  I'm the chair of the committee.
    Membership of the committee is open to all, although disruptive
    members will be invited to comment on license-discuss instead.

    Join the committee by sending any piece of email to
    license-proliferation-2-subscribe at  You will
    receive a subscription confirmation.  Reply to it.

    Please start the discussion by reviewing the work of the ad-hoc

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