[License-discuss] Government licenses

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Tue Jun 4 15:18:41 UTC 2019

Brian Behlendorf asked about California's funding for open source voting software:

> However, it also stipulates a 3:1 matching ($3 for every $1 spent, up to $8M of the total fund) when that software is exclusively GPLv3 licensed. I'd love to understand the arguments that led to the conclusion that GPLv3 licensed works represent a greater public good here and thus justify more subsidy than others.


Brian, I don't know how the arguments went in the California legislature. I wasn't part of that discussion. However, you may find the following article useful. I admit to the strangeness of me recommending GPLv3, but I do try to be intellectually honest about such things. /Larry




"Why CAVO Recommends GPLv3" by Lawrence Rosen (revised 9/28/2016)


There are many ways to distribute software. Valuable software nowadays is usually distributed under a free and open source license ("FOSS" license, in short), both because it is usually "free of cost" software but also "free of restrictions" on copying, making changes, and redistributing that software.


There are various open source licenses to choose from. They are listed at the www.opensource.org <http://www.opensource.org>  website. Unless a license is listed at that website, most developers and potential customers won't call it FOSS software. 


FOSS licenses offer several distinct ways to give software away. 


Choosing among those licenses for software is not an arbitrary game of darts. For open source election software that can be trusted and always free, the choice of license is particularly important. That is why CAVO recommends the General Public License version 3.0 ("GPLv3") as the best license to use. This article gives several important reasons why.


*	Among the many FOSS licenses, GPLv3 is the most modern, widely accepted, and best understood license available today. Its predecessor license, GPLv2, is historically far and away the most used worldwide; GPLv3 is replacing it in the rate of license adoption for new FOSS software.


*	GPLv3 is a reciprocal license. Once a project or distributor releases election software under the GPLv3, it will remain FOSS software in perpetuity under the GPLv3 license. Modifications to that FOSS software will also be distributed in perpetuity under the GPLv3. This guarantees that our election software won't ever be taken under commercial covers and turned into proprietary software with unacceptable lock-in and source code restrictions that make voting untrustworthy.


*	The GPLv3 license promotes open and shared development efforts. While it is possible to create excellent open source software under more permissive FOSS licenses, those licenses allow commercial fragmentation of the software. That isn't appropriate for widely used election software. 


*	The GPLv3 encourages trustworthy software. There is a law of software development named in honor of Linus Torvalds stating that "given enough eyeballs, all  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_bug> bugs are shallow"; or more formally: "Given a large enough  <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beta_test> beta-tester and co- <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmer> developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone." GPLv3 software projects invite eyeballs on all distributed versions of the software to identify bugs and security issues; other licenses don't always do that.


*	Although GPLv3 will specifically encourage FOSS development practices for the election code base and its derivative works, that GPLv3 license is nevertheless compatible with successful commercial software and support business as well. One need only refer to the robust Linux ecosystem and its contribution to diverse commercial technology worldwide, whose basic software is entirely under the GPLv2 and GPLv3 licenses. The GPL licenses made that possible.


*	GPLv3 will encourage innovation because GPLv3 source code is open to view and change. 


For these reasons, CAVO recommends that election software be distributed under GPLv3. This will inevitably create a diverse, worldwide, and enthusiastic community of software developers to create election systems we can all trust.


Since this article was first published (11/8/2014), the enthusiasm for open source election software has grown around the world. Projects now exist or are proposed whose software will be distributed under a wide variety of open source licenses. I have therefore added the following paragraph to encourage that enthusiasm.


I believe that creating free and open source election software, mostly under GPLv3, will help reassure voters everywhere that their votes will be efficiently collected and recorded fairly. But this does not mean that all election software must be created initially under GPLv3. There is a large project community we can build around many open source licenses that are compatible with GPLv3 for election system software. For example, the OSET OPL, the MPL, and the Apache License, and many others, are compatible with GPLv3. Such software can trivially be aggregated with GPLv3 software for use everywhere.




Lawrence Rosen

Rosenlaw ( <http://www.rosenlaw.com/> www.rosenlaw.com) 

3001 King Ranch Rd., Ukiah, CA 95482

Cell: 707-478-8932 

This email is licensed under  <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/> CC-BY-4.0. Please copy freely.  


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