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

Ben Hilburn bhilburn at gmail.com
Mon May 20 16:09:23 UTC 2019

Just realized that my snip of the first quote from Richard in my previous
e-mail had removed the first sentence, where Richard very clearly said "I
guess I don't either," making it clear that the rest of the paragraph was
something of a philosophical reflection about the list. It's also obviously
not a statement from the OSI board, etc.,

My general questions about philosophy, goals, and mission are the same - as
echoed in Luis' original message - but I did want to make the above clear
for anyone that finds this thread in the archives later. Full original
quote below:

On Sat, May 18, 2019 at 10:38 PM Richard Fontana <rfontana at redhat.com>

> On Sat, May 18, 2019 at 4:56 PM Luis Villa <luis at lu.is> wrote:
> > Saying "OSI's list isn't very useful in contracts or scanners" does
> carry an implicit question that I've probably also said explicitly on
> occasion: if people don't, by and large, refer exactly to the OSI list in
> their documents and scanners, then what is it for? Who is the audience?
> What will they use the list for? I don't actually have good answers to this
> question, so I'm not sure how OSI should answer it.
> I guess I don't either. To me, the approval process is (at least
> potentially) more important than the list itself. Through the analysis
> and critique and approval or rejection of submitted licenses, what
> we/the community means by "open source" (or "free software") becomes
> clearer. It's an act of self-definition. It's useful to me, because I
> work *within* open source, as I and others see it, and I need to
> understand the appropriate boundary between open source and non-open
> source for what I do to make sense. 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,
> I recognize (and have in the past called attention to) the obvious
> problem with all this, that of relying on self-appointed authority
> figures to determine community standards.  This is also why for all
> its faults the OSI license-review list is commendable, because in no
> other case is there a meaningful opportunity for *anyone* to
> participate in this policymaking exercise. The alternative is to rely
> on less transparent authorities (FSF, Debian, I guess Fedora should
> also be included here) or to express one's views in some isolated and
> less effectual manner. At least the existence of the OSI and its
> approved licenses helps avoid a situation of total chaos where no one
> agrees on what open source / free software means, or where the
> definition gets significantly watered down.
> > But it does seem likely that OSI should strive to have some lists whose
> goal is explicitly about utility. (This does not imply that OSI should
> abandon the current OSD; one can imagine many lists that are more useful
> and still contain only OSD-compliant licenses. But one can also imagine
> that an effort to create those lists might helpfully serve to help refine
> the edge cases of what the OSD means in 2019 - perhaps either knocking
> things off of, or adding to, the "main" list.)
> >
> > Answering this question of utility is what drove the Blue Oak list. It
> is not a challenge to OSI's authority, simply an actually useful thing that
> I can refer to in contracts and scanner policies, which I (and my
> clients/customers) need but OSI does not provide. We'll continue to evolve
> the list with that goal of utility in mind. (For example, we've had several
> people say they can't use it until the groupings/labels are more
> informative/less vague. If the list isn't pragmatically useful, it isn't
> fulfilling its purpose, so we'll probably make them more informative.) If
> OSI obsoleted this effort by providing a deliberately useful list of
> permissive licenses I'd be thrilled.
> I guess it hadn't occurred to me that for some the main purpose of
> these kinds of supposedly authoritative license lists might be use for
> contracts and scanning tools (since for me those are not really
> interesting or useful ways of making use of such lists).  A more
> comprehensive list (like the Fedora list) can be useful if one is
> actually trying to create an open source product or distribution -- at
> least if one cares about accuracy and integrity in description of
> software as "open source". I think there may be a lot of people who
> aren't familiar with what's specifically on the OSI approved list and
> assume it is similarly comprehensive, or assume that open source
> software (that is, software generally and non-controversially
> considered to be open source) is composed from a license standpoint
> only from licenses in the OSI list.
> Richard
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