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

VanL van.lindberg at gmail.com
Mon May 20 20:53:06 UTC 2019

Hi Nicholas,

Let me start by explaining my mental model: "Open Source" is basically like
the "UL" mark for electronics. It is a certification made by a third party
(here the OSI) that a certain product (the software) conforms to certain
standards in terms of what is included in it (only software under
particular licenses). It does not matter whether something is potentially
approvable under a UL mark or under the OSD. It is a binary: either
something is, or is not, and the OSI is the body that gets to make that

On Mon, May 20, 2019 at 3:20 PM Nicholas Matthew Neft Weinstock <
nweinsto at qti.qualcomm.com> wrote:

> Hi Van, in pondering your claim that only portions of Debian can be called
> "Open Source" based on whether they are under an OSI Approved License.  I
> think the logic is backward.  I agree that everything in the list of OSI
> Approved Licenses is Open Source, but I don't think that means that a
> license can't be Open Source unless it is in the list of OSI Approved
> Licenses.

> The OSD is, literally, the definition of the phrase "Open Source."  It's
> not the OSBMQ (Open Source Bare Minimal Qualifications), nor the OSFC (Open
> Source Factors for Consideration).  It is a published definition. If a
> license fits within that definition, it should be able to be called the
> phrase being defined.  In this case, "Open Source."

I am familiar with this argument, but disagree with your conclusion. The
OSI is the arbiter of whether something meets the definition or not. It may
be an easy call, or it may be a harder call, but in my view it is the
/OSI's/ call to make. Software under those licenses could become open
source if the OSI approved the licenses. I do think that those works are
probably Free Software.

> The OSI Approved License list is very helpful because any license on the
> list has been reviewed by the maintainers of the definition and confirmed
> to be within that definition.  But if a license isn't on the list, that
> doesn't mean that it doesn't fit the Open Source Definition.

Agreed. The absence of certification does not mean that a license would not
be certified if it were proposed.

> Let's consider your statement a bit more...
> If Debian includes portions that cannot be called "Open Source" then how
> would you refer to the Debian project as a whole?  Are you saying that
> Debian shouldn't be called "Open Source"?  What should it be called?
> "Partially Open Source"?  "The project formerly considered to be Open
> Source"?

"Debian" itself refers to the collective work made up of the selection and
configuration of the packages. That work, to the best of my knowledge, is
licensed under an approved open source license, so "Debian," the work, is
Open Source.

As for all the packages in Debian (excluding non-free), they are Free
Software, by virtue of having been examined for compliance with the DFSG.
The majority are also Open Source, by virtue of being licensed under
recognized Open Source licenses.

> What would you call the parts of Debian that are not under an OSI Approved
> License, but their license objectively fits the Open Source Definition?
> For example, there are components/files under the FSF Unlimited License (
> https://spdx.org/licenses/FSFUL.html).  Would you claim that portions
> under this license should not be called "Open Source"?

Yes. Those parts are Free Software, and as such would be trivially
recognizable as also being Open Source. But they are not at this point.

> [snip portion about deprecated licenses]
Right now, if a license is certified once, even if not currently
recommended, it is still Open Source. I think a deprecation policy would be
helpful, but the OSI does not currently have one.

This may seem somewhat absolutist, but this is the logical extension of the
OSD actually having a particular meaning. If everyone gets to interpret the
decision as they wish, the value of "open source" as a contracting tool
disappears. As evidenced on these lists, without an arbiter, you and I can
disagree on whether a particular license or set of licensing terms actually
meets the definition of being Open Source.

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