[License-discuss] comprehensiveness (or not) of the OSI-approved list

Ben Hilburn bhilburn at gmail.com
Mon May 20 15:33:12 UTC 2019

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Luis and Richard. I think this discussion
is important, and I appreciate you taking the time to raise these.

First, I want to say that the topic of "what does an OSI list mean?" is
acutely important to many of the groups I work with. As Stephen mentioned,
I've started more regularly seeing the phrase "under an OSI-approved
license", and even more regularly directly observed the damage that
confusion over what "open source" means can cause - which leads me to my
second item.

This suggests that the submitted
> licenses are mostly not themselves all that important, rather they
> serve as excuses to engage in some interesting philosophical
> deliberations over what open source actually is. (Maybe to the
> annoyance of a lot of license submitters.) However, occasionally a
> submitted license *is* important because it's being submitted by an
> influential person or entity,

This statement confuses me, especially in the context of other statements
made on L-R/L-D and the information on OSI's website, so I'd like to try to
get a better understanding of what is meant.

As has been stated many times on this list, to be called "open source" (in
the view of OSI), a license must go through OSI's approval process. This is
also stated on OSI's website here <https://opensource.org/licenses> and here
<https://opensource.org/approval>. The OSI also clearly positions itself as
the maintainer (and sometimes as the defender) of the OSD, and also does
what it can to spread awareness of the importance of the meaning of "open
source" as a term of art.

Given this thread, though, I'm confused as to what the OSI's goals and
mission are regarding these topics. If "submitted licenses are mostly not
... important" other than to spur philosophical discussions, how does that
not undermine the other stated goals and mission regarding license
approval? If the only licenses that matter are those submitted by someone
of influence, how can the OSI be a community leader and the arbiter of a
term that is meant to apply to an entire field?

One thing I want to be very clear about, snipping something from another
thread that is relevant here:

> I've noticed that OSI has recently come under some attack from a
> not-insubstantial number of people in the wake of the perceived
> rejection of certain experimental business-model-facilitative copyleft
> licenses. The attack in part goes to
> *OSI's claim to say what open source licenses *are** and the fact that
> Linux distributions distribute
> packages embodying hundreds more licenses than are in the OSI's
> approved catalogue, while characterizing (most of) those licenses as
> free software/open source, is something some of these critics point to
> in what I think is an attempt to undermine the OSI's authority.

I would include myself in those that have levied criticism at OSI in recent
months, but I very much hope it has been constructive, and frankly it has
nothing to do with the outcome of L0, CC, or SSPL. Further, I absolutely am
_not_ trying to undermine OSI's authority; in fact, as I've said several
times in other places (e.g., here
<https://twitter.com/bhilburn/status/1124335856599404546>), the fact that
OSI is not a stronger authority in many circles can cause substantial harm,
in my experience.

That quote above circles back around to the same question (emphasis added
by me to the quoted text). OSI's authority, real or perceived, is very
important to me, and where I thought I understood the goals of L-R and
OSI's list of approved licenses, I'm no longer certain.

If anyone has clarifying thoughts on this, it would be much appreciated.

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