[License-discuss] objective criteria for license evaluation

Richard Fontana rfontana at redhat.com
Mon Dec 10 15:58:00 UTC 2012

On Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 10:57:10AM +0000, Gervase Markham wrote:
> On 09/12/12 18:46, Luis Villa wrote:
> >So let me restate the question to broaden it a bit. If you had a
> >*blue-sky dream* what subjective information would you look at?
> >
> >For example, if you had the resources to scan huge numbers of code
> >repositories, what numbers would you look for?
> >
> >* ranking by LoC under each license
> >* ranking by "projects" under each license
> >* ... ?
> If we are blue-sky dreaming, then I would like to rank by "_useful_,
> unique lines of code under each license". "Useful" in the sense that
> some half-finished barely-compiling "my first Windows CD player" on
> Sourceforge counts for nothing, whereas jQuery counts for a lot.
> "Unique", in the sense that I shouldn't be able to game the stats by
> going to github and forking every project with my preferred license.

I can also imagine other metrics of license popularity. Download
statistics are problematic but it is the usual metric for distro
popularity. One might be able to measure the size of contributor and
user communities (numbers of committers, numbers of unique patch
authors for a given release, subscriptions to mailing lists...?).
> I think there is also a place for "lawyers generally think it's
> vague and has sub-optimal word choice", which might apply to e.g.
> Artistic v1.

I think that's highly problematic. I really don't think one can
successfully attempt to measure consensus among lawyers regarding
specific open source licenses. You could probably find enough lawyers
to criticize features of any number of OSI-approved licenses, and
there is also the problem (to which the GPL family is especially
vulnerable for historical reasons) of 'popular' licenses being
scrutinized for flaws more severely than less widely-used licenses. 

As for 'suboptimal word choice' that seems unavoidably subjective, and
probably can be legitimately applied to every single OSI-approved
license, including all of the ones assumed to be the most popular, and
probably every software license that's ever been drafted. 

- RF

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