[License-discuss] Ethical open source licensing - Persona non Grata Preamble

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sat Feb 22 19:55:21 UTC 2020

Quoting Pamela Chestek (pamela at chesteklegal.com):

> In my view, this is a perfectly appropriate place to discuss this
> concept. This forum is intended for sharing ideas and getting
> feedback on them. That's how new, creative solutions to problems
> might get developed. If it's not a topic you're interested in you
> can mute the thread.

I respect your views, Ms. Chestek, as you may recall from earlier
interactions.  Please indulge my elaborating on my own view:

There has been a long history of people asking for help from
license-discuss in drafting licences to implement poorly considered
ideas.  Most of those have involved clever and inventive ways to
purportedly issue open source but with the right of commercial use
subtly or unsubtly impaired, so as to motivate recipients intending
commercial use to acquire an alternative proprietary licence.  One of
many examples would be badgeware licensing.  During that episode, I was
among the OSI regulars who was willing to help the CEO and co-founder of
Socialtext, Ross Mayfield, fine-tune his Common Public Attribution
License (CPAL) as a prototype, minimally annoying badgeware licence for
OSI Certified approval, which ensued on July 25, 2007.  I suspect most
of us regret the time and assistance we put into that discussion.  What
motivated some (speaking for myself, at least) was the strongly implied
threat from various of the closely associated Web 2.0 badgeware firms 
that if CPAL were not approved they would adopt a much worse licence,
claim it was open source, and ignore OSI.  So, CPAL got the nod after
protracted and time-wasting haggling in this space.

The crowning irony of that incident was soon to follow:  None of the
badgeware firms (nor, as far as I can tell, anyone else) actually used
CPAL.  Substantively all of them followed the lead of badgeware firm
SugarCRM (headed by my old boss Larry Augustin of VA Linux Systems) in
quietly switching to (alleged) MPL 1.1licensing with a severely
commercial-use-impairing 'Exhibit B' addendum[1], or a similar addendum
incorporated by reference as an addendum to GPLv3 -- a situation that
pertains to this day, last I checked.  So, license-discuss and
license-review regulars' time was wasted.

If I worked at it, I could probably remember at least half a dozen other 
cases where license-discuss regulars spent time helping a querent draft
an intended licence wtih questionable objectives, despite reservations.
And my point is, when one has those reservations, it's smarter in the
long term to say 'With all due respect, no, we won't help you with
that.'  I wish we'd said that to Ross Mayfield.  It would have saved a
lot of time and trouble.

It's just my opinion, of course, but IMO, the regulars' feedback to Eric
Schultz has already been damning enough to warrant 'With all due
respect, no, we won't help you with that.'  But there is also another 
particular that might be worth mentioning.  I hinted at it rather than
spelling it out in my earlier posting, but now I'll be more direct:  I
had called people's attention to Mr. Schultz's latest (December) blog
posting (https://wwahammy.com/on-safety-at-libreplanet/) concerning his
LibrePlanet effort, for a particular reason.

In his posting here, Mr. Schultz starts out with his basic idea to
'discourage and shame morally corrupt users' and then introduces what he
says is the first of two implementation notions, that of declaring
despised users personae non grata in the licence preamble.  And his two 
canonical examples struck me as having a by-the-numbers air about their
selection:  Amazon/ICE and BP (ex-British Petroleum).  Mind you, I
assume those are real examples provided in good faith, but couldn't help
suspecting an cited and rather stronger motivator.  

So, looking at Mr. Schultz's blog, one immediately finds his
most-recent, long, quite impassioned December blog post 'Is LibrePlanet
Safe?' (https://wwahammy.com/on-safety-at-libreplanet/).  In it, he
expresses alarm that LibrePlanet events have not yet been rendered
'safe and inclusive' by ensuring an official means to sanction Richard
M. Stallman.

I am making no comment about his reasons, which may have been
compelling, but it is past dispute that Mr. Schultz and his LibrePlanet
co-signers have a grudge specifically against Mr. Stallman, and it seems
very odd for him to have reached for somewhat anodyne faceless
corporations as examples of candidate personae non grata when a more
specific and emotive example was already much on his mind.

Perhaps this is coincidental, and yet another Stallman pile-on is not the
unmentioned agenda, here, but at minimum, this gives an advance picture
of what Mr. Schultz's Persona Non Grata Prelude would probably tend over
time to consist of: an ever-growing litany of named and would-be shamed
persons against whom a developer once, years ago, had a peeve against.
Mr. Stallman would, I suggest, probably be the first, and the squalid
parade would continue from there.  And it is my twice-considered view
that this is a quite bad idea, with which we regulars should not
encourage or assist.  Just as we should have spotted the Ross Mayfield
bait and switch and not wasted our time back in 2007, and just as we 
collectively said 'No, open source licensing is not a suitable vehicle
for attacking apartheid.'

I suspect Mr. Schultz's idea #2 of 2 will be in basically the same
spirit as #1 of 2, and likewise merit non-assistance, but I'll gladly
suspend judgement until he articulates it.

[1] If interested in this history, see my coverage for _Linux Gazette_:

Cheers,                          "Maybe the law ain't perfect, but it's the only
Rick Moen                        one we got, and without it we got nuthin'."
rick at linuxmafia.com              -- U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, circa 1875
McQ! (4x80)        

More information about the License-discuss mailing list