restarting License (anti-)Proliferation

Russ Nelson nelson at
Tue Aug 5 16:30:04 UTC 2008

We have a committee to discuss this!

Smith, McCoy writes:
 > 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.
 > McCoy
 > -----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
 >     unanimously.
 > 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
 >     enough.
 >     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
 >     committee:
 > -- 
 > --my blog is at   | Software that needs
 > Crynwr sells support for free software  | PGPok | documentation is
 > software
 > 521 Pleasant Valley Rd. | +1 315-323-1241       | that needs repair.
 > Potsdam, NY 13676-3213  |     Sheepdog          | 

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