OSI enforcement?

John Cowan cowan at ccil.org
Wed Jan 9 03:34:45 UTC 2008

Donovan Hawkins scripsit:

> I think a distinction is needed between the FSF's free software license 
> list and the FSF's position on free software licensing.


> There are deep philosophical divides between advocates of copyleft
> licenses (such as the FSF's GPL) and advocates of permissive licenses
> (such as BSDL),

There are indeed, but there are also people who advocate the use of
both in different circumstances, and those who don't actually advocate
anything but just use one kind of license or another for one reason or
another particular to themselves.

> but I don't think that reflects any fundamental difference between
> the FSF definition of "free software" and the OSI definition of "open
> source software".

Let's distinguish between (a) the list of licenses, (b) the software
governed by those licenses, (c) the goals of the movements, and (d)
the people who support those movements.

On (a) there is very little substantive disagreement: there are few
licenses that are FSF-free but not OSI-open or vice versa.  On (b)
there is even less: the amount of software licensed under such licenses
is minuscule.  The main license that is discrepant is the original
Artistic License, which is not FSF-free but is OSI-open; however,
almost all the software under this license is also under the GPL.
This large body of software, now amounting to many terabytes of code,
may be neutrally known as FLOSS (free/libre and open source software).

As for (c), I think it is non-partisan to say that the Free Software
movement supports free-software licenses and FLOSS software in pursuit
of its goal, which is to maximize the freedom of software users (not
developers except insofar as developers are also users) to use software
in all the ways that are socially useful.  The Open Source movement
supports the creation of FLOSS software in pursuit of various ends,
including but not limited to "improved quality, high reliability,
more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in"
(from the OSI home page).  For this reason the Free Software movement
generally considers proprietary licenses and software to be a Bad Thing,
whereas the Open Source movement takes no such position.

Lastly, there are many people (among whom I include myself) that support
both movements, considering the goal of freedom for software users and the
goals of the OSI both to be important.  I would guess that these people
outnumber the anti-OSI and anti-FSF radicals, though they make less noise.

> Regardless of the reason, it is not impossible for the two definitions to 
> merge at some point in the future.

Multiple definitions may well be a strength and are not obviously a weakness:
having more than one set of eyes scrutinizing FLOSS licenses is probably
a Good Thing, especially given the remarkable consistency of the results.

There is no particular reason for organizations with distinct goals to
merge, however, and I doubt they will.

> As for your statement above, I'd say the FSF is advocating not the right 
> of free software to exist but rather the ability of free software to 
> compete against proprietary software.

Both movements clearly support that.  However, the Free Software movement
(as distinct from all of its supporters) would be willing to support
technically inferior free software over superior proprietary software,
whereas the Open Source movement (as distinct from all its supporters)
would not.  That is not to say that the Open Source movement would *favor*
proprietary software in such circumstances, merely that it abstains from
opposing it.

> Their GPL creates a separate and 
> distinct commons in order to prevent proprietary software from gaining the 
> advantage of using GPL software without GPL software gaining the 
> reciprocal advantage.

It's "our GPL" too, except in the sense of mere authorship.  Many works
are placed under the GPL by people who do not support the goals of the
Free Software movement as such, notably the Linux kernel.

> Legally there is no restriction on using GPL sofware in commercial works, 
> but it requires you to release the source code to your work and allow it 
> to be given away for free by anyone who wishes. Practically speaking that 
> means you cannot sell your work (or at least, can't sell it more than 
> once). 

Many organizations do in fact sell GPLed software, starting with the FSF
itself and going on to Red Hat and others.

All Norstrilians knew what laughter was:        John Cowan
it was "pleasurable corrigible malfunction".    cowan at ccil.org
        --Cordwainer Smith, Norstrilia

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