[License-discuss] [License-review] Evolving the License Review process for OSI

Richard Fontana rfontana at redhat.com
Sun Jun 2 05:52:11 UTC 2019

On Fri, May 31, 2019 at 7:47 PM Luis Villa <luis at lu.is> wrote:

> From the updated https://opensource.org/approval:
> "the OSI determines that the license ... guarantees software freedom."
> I still have seen no coherent explanation of what software freedom means in the OSI context. Richard has asserted on Twitter that it isn't necessarily the same thing as FSF's definition, but OSI has not (as best as I can tell) proposed an alternative either, so we're left with a limbo of having some idea what FSF means, but knowing that OSI's definition is somehow, in unknown directions, different.

Tangent: I was surprised that you apparently assumed at first that the
invocation of "software freedom" was an attempt to reference FSF
authority, as though the FSF has some sort of intellectual monopoly on
the concept. I don't primarily associate the term "software freedom"
with the FSF.  It was not popularized by the FSF, "free software" was.
Yes, "software freedom" is in a sense derivative of "free software",
but the difference in the terms is historically significant. Contrary
to what I had thought, and as you and Pam pointed out, the FSF has
itself used the term "software freedom" on its website for several
years now, but I think they may have picked the usage up from outside,
possibly only after the founding of SFLC, and in any case I think
their public use of the term is fairly limited. Larry Rosen, of all
people, used the term "software freedom" in the subtitle of his
influential early 2000s book on open source licensing, not long after
the period of his own involvement in the OSI and prior to the founding
of SFLC. Bradley Kuhn was the early champion of the term [1],
beginning during his tenure as FSF executive director, but I believe
he personally preferred the term over "free software" and I understand
that RMS never really took to the term "software freedom" himself. I
assume that the use of the term in SFLC's name is ultimately due to
Bradley's influence. In more recent times, but well before this change
to the approval process, "software freedom" rhetoric has been
especially emphasized publicly by people associated with the OSI, most
notably Simon Phipps but I think also some past board directors such
as Allison Randal and Stefano Zacchiroli. It seems to me "software
freedom" is now as much an OSI term as it is an FSF term, if not more

And as for "free software", which admittedly the term "software
freedom" is intended to evoke, RMS may have coined this term and the
FSF may have done more than anyone else to popularize it, with limited
success I suppose, but Debian adopted a non-FSF-endorsed set of "free
software" guidelines (with conclusions about certain licenses
departing from the FSF's, as for example with respect to the Artistic
License 1.0 and the GFDL) which of course were essentially rebranded
with some modifications as the OSD. So "free software" -- free in the
FSF sense -- has not been an FSF monopoly concept in FLOSS since 1997
if not earlier.

I may respond more substantively to your comments in a separate response.

[1] I recall that Bradley preferred to change the prefatory sentence
in the stock GNU license notice ("This program is free software") to
"This software gives you freedom".


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