For Approval: Transitive Grace Period Public Licence, v1.0

Michael Tiemann tiemann at
Thu Feb 19 11:16:23 UTC 2009

The purpose of the license-review list is to review licenses.

The license in question, the TGPPL, should be the subject of this review

zooko has stated the position that OSI approval is important for the
purposes of being able to make truthful statements about the validity of the
license, which is a valid concern.

I find the TGPPL to be complicated in ways not anticipated by the OSD.  I
believe that one of the goals of any new, innovative open source license is
that it can be expressed in simple terms.  For all the hatred people share
about Microsoft, the two licenses they did submit to the OSI for approval
were models of simplicity, at least with respect to the licenses themselves,
which is the subject of this list.

I believe that what people most seek when evaluating open source licenses is
the answer to two questions: does this license grant me the rights and
freedoms that I expect (thus permitting me to enjoy the fruits of my labor),
and are those rights and freedoms well understood and accepted by the wider
community (thus enabling the network effect)?  The issue of time-boundedness
is problematic because it means that an observable property may have one
evaluation at one point in time and another evaluation at another point in
time, not because of some extrinsic change in circumstances, but because of
the software in question itself.

Everybody agrees that the BSD is an open source license, and everybody
agrees that when Sun Microsystems exercised their freedom to make the
Berkeley Standard Distribution fork called SunOS prorprietary to Sun, SunOS
ceased to be open source software.  Ditto Apple when they forked BSD to
become OSX.  The OSI does not complain that Sun's proprietary license or
Apple's proprietary license is a misrepresentation of open source--it's
perfectly faithful in that they never claimed them to be open source.

For me, a rider or a waiver or an indulgence, or whatever you want to call
it, that suspends the open source property has no place in being called open
source.  It may be a wonderful thing that you have created a mechanism that
automagically creates or releases or liberates open source software from
special proprietary rights, but it is only in the state of being actual open
source software that we should make our evaluation.  We should not make our
evaluation based on the certainty of a promise that can be deferred for some
period of time.

Let me further strengthen that argument.

The OSI does not permit licenses to discriminate against people or groups
nor against fields of endeavor, which means that people we don't like (for
any definition of "we") can do things we don't like (again, for any
definition of "we"), and that's that.  Why don't we prohibit terrorists from
using open source software to make weapons that attack our cities?  First,
because there are other laws against that, and we trust those laws will be
far more relevant to the behavior in question than what is written into a
software license.  Second, because the OSI is in no position to decide where
we should draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable groups of people
nor are we in a position to decide where we should draw the line between
acceptable and unacceptable use.  We simply don't have that moral authority.

Now: the TGPPL says that the grace period is 12 months.  Who is the OSI to
say that 12 months is fair and adequate?  If TGPPL version 2 said 12 years,
how could we say "that's unacceptable"?  Even 12 seconds is problematic
because somebody could argue for 24 seconds, then 48 seconds, etc.

Instead, I believe the OSI's concern should be "what is true now?  And can
that truth be trusted for the foreseeable future?"  The TGPPL would set a
bad precedent that would encourage longer waivers, to the point where the
fact of the software is that it is proprietary, at least in somebody's
eyes.  And it would be a damn shame for the OSI to approve a license as open
source that had that property.

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