The Legal Tower of Babel, was Re: WebM license resolution.

Chris Travers chris at
Mon Jun 7 02:51:20 UTC 2010

On Sat, Jun 5, 2010 at 4:26 AM,  <mdtiemann at> wrote:
> Chris - thanks for your continued dialog on this. I especially appreciate
> your efforts to contain the license proliferation problem, and wish others
> were as sensitive to the problem as you.
> Russ has been trying to address the proliferation problem by defining
> license templates. Perhaps the bsd license is an ideal place to prototype
> that idea, and webm is the ideal test to validate such an approach. I'm all
> for a better set of licensing policies that recognize the changing nature of
> copyright and patent laws and interpretation without forcing the osi to
> maintain a tower of legal babel.
This brings up an interesting question about "The BSD License" (in
scare quotes for a very specific reason here).

The fact is that there are a large number of subtle variations on the
BSD license.  For example, the version PostgreSQL uses is not the one
that is OSI approved.  I am wondering if it would be more beneficial
for the OSI to maintain a set of criteria as to what makes an
acceptable BSD license rather than approving each individually.  For
example, I doubt that PostgreSQL will ever change their license
variant because they feel that it's not responsible to change licenses
in this way.

I guess the issue here is that I don't think it's appropriate for
folks to assume that BSD-style licenses are not open source, but what
is someone supposed to do when trying to, say, show that the
PostgreSQL variant of the BSD license is open source from OSI's
perspective?  It seems to me that the emphasis on preventing license
prevention means that one can't reasonably do this without ruffling a
lot of feathers even when a license has been in use for years by a

It seems to me that license templates would be a step in the right
direction but it might be a good idea to really think this through at
the outset.  Given that the cat has long fled the bag here, maybe a
better solution would be to allow approval for "variant" licenses
through a similar process but categorize them as "not recommended due
to proliferation reasons?"

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