[License-discuss] Reply to various recent postings on the crayon license issue

Bruce Perens bruce at perens.com
Tue Dec 20 08:45:34 UTC 2011

On 12/19/2011 09:54 AM, Tom Callaway wrote:
> nor are we the author of any of the licenses we track(1)), so we're 
> not the appropriate entity to submit what we find to the OSI for approval.
Can you tell me how many licenses are in Fedora? If it's 300, it's 
something of a self-created problem, but then you'd be in lots of company.

Robin Miller, whom I had no idea was still around our community, wrote:
 > Do we really need that many open source licenses?

Of course not.

My customers are advised to choose three for their own use. These three 
would include a gift-style license (think BSD), a sharing-with-rules 
license (think GPL) and something in-between. All three must be 
compatible with each other so that the customer is not in the situation 
of producing code that is incompatible with other of their works for no 
good reason. There are legitimate business (or personal) purposes for 
each style of license. For example, if you are making a standard, BSD is 
great because everybody loves to get a gift and everyone will be happy 
to use your standard code and do things your way. If you don't want your 
competitor to run away with your project without returning value to you, 
GPL imposes rules that bring competitors together well enough to make 
good software. And if you want to enhance the world of Free Software 
without being UNICEF to the world's richest corporations, GPL's nice for 
that, too. Or maybe Affero GPL if you are particularly concerned about 
Google and its ilk.

But way back when this was a new endeavor, we were tickled pink to get a 
new license from Mozilla or IBM, it meant that they took the Open Soure 
movement seriously! :-)

The one thing I didn't plan for was an embarrassment of riches. I hope 
you are all at some time blessed with perfect foresight. I have never 
been so blessed and am happy to have done as well as I did when we had 
to make up what we were doing as we went along and had limited 
information about fields like intellectual property and no professional 

OSI took a stab at license unification some years ago but,, as far as I 
can tell, didn't want to tip as many oxcarts as deprecating accepted 
licenses would do. And thus nothing was done. At least this is my 
surmise, I have been kept at a distance from OSI activities these last 
10 years.

Richard Fontana:
 > While there is very little in life that is certain, we can be 
reasonably certain that Red Hat will never submit that particular 
[Freedom Font] license for OSI review.

Font licenses seem to be a cesspool for some reason. The SIL Open Font 
license remains my prototype for "crayon" licenses, there is one line 
that says the license "is null and void" in regard to an embedded 
version of the covered font, which either places that version of the 
font in the public domain or makes it all-rights-reserved, depending on 
your preferred interpretation. The license is expected to magically come 
back into force if you ever remove the font from its embedded context. 
The OSI of that time certified this work of crayon and we're stuck with it.

Jeremy Reed:

Some copyright owners are stubborn and may respond negatively even on a
polite request.

Would that it were so easy. A good many of them are dead people or 
bankrupt business entities, and their assigns know nothing of Open 
Source or even that they own the property. Some (like an early but still 
relevant SSL developer) are contractually bound to never touch that 
software again.

Rod Dixon:
 > Wow! I must add that I do not think I would have seen a comment like 
this posted by Bruce Perens 10 years ago.

RMS is lucky to have had the help of Eben Moglen back then, but we had 
no help at all from legal professionals for a long time. Lawyers were 
not willing to be seen to be involved with us, it would have offended 
their normal intellectual property customers. Very much has changed, and 
it is hard for some folks to imagine the way things used to be.

Over the past 10 years I have spent a lot of time with lawyers and 
courts, indeed it is half my income of late. So, now I understand things 
that we had no clue about then.



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