[CAVO] Why CAVO recommends GPLv3 for election software

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Wed Jun 17 17:18:53 UTC 2015

[I wrote this article last November. While I sought then to encourage an
OSI-approved "FOSS" license, I also specifically recommended GPLv3. Now that
we have a discussion list, it is appropriate to circulate this proposal here
for discussion. If we're going to select a specific license for our
software, we ought to decide that here in our open source community. :-)




There are many ways to distribute software. Valuable software nowadays is
usually distributed under a free and open source license (FOSS license, in
short), both because it is usually "free of cost" software but also "free of
restrictions" on copying, making changes, and redistributing that software.


There are various open source licenses to choose from. They are listed at
the <http://www.opensource.org/>  www.opensource.org website. Unless a
license is listed at that website, most developers and potential customers
won't call it FOSS software. The OSET Foundation Public License (OPL), a
license recently proposed for an election software project, is not a FOSS
0191d0dc6912c/1398115761233/OPL_FAQ_Apr14.pdf> [1]


FOSS licenses offer several distinct ways to give software away.


Choosing among those licenses for software is not an arbitrary game of
darts. For open source election software that can be trusted and always
free, the choice of license is particularly important. That is why I
recommend the General Public License version 3.0 (GPLv3) as the best license
to use. This article gives several important reasons why.


.         Among the many FOSS licenses, GPLv3 is the most modern, widely
accepted, and best understood license available today. Its predecessor
license, GPLv2, is historically far and away the most used worldwide; GPLv3
is replacing it in the rate of license adoption for new FOSS software. 


.         GPLv3 is a reciprocal license. Once a project or distributor
releases election software under the GPLv3, it will remain FOSS software in
perpetuity under the GPLv3 license. Modifications to that FOSS software will
also be distributed in perpetuity under the GPLv3. This guarantees that our
election software won't ever be taken under commercial covers and turned
into proprietary software with unacceptable lock-in and source code
restrictions that make voting untrustworthy.


.         The GPLv3 license promotes open and shared development efforts.
While it is possible to create excellent open source software under more
permissive FOSS licenses, those licenses allow commercial fragmentation of
the software. That isn't appropriate for widely used election software.


.         The GPLv3 encourages trustworthy software. There is a law of
software development named in honor of Linus Torvalds stating that "given
enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow"; or more formally: "Given a large
enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be
characterized quickly and the fix will be obvious to someone."
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus's_Law> [2]  GPLv3 software projects
invite eyeballs on all distributed versions of the software to identify bugs
and security issues; other licenses don't always do that.


.         Although GPLv3 will specifically encourage FOSS development
practices for the election code base and its derivative works, that GPLv3
license is nevertheless compatible with successful commercial software and
support business as well. One need only refer to the robust Linux ecosystem
and its contribution to diverse commercial technology worldwide, whose basic
software is entirely under the GPLv2 and GPLv3 licenses. The GPL licenses
made that possible.


.         GPLv3 will encourage innovation because GPLv3 source code is open
to view and change.


For these reasons, CAVO recommends that election software be distributed
under GPLv3. This will inevitably create a diverse, worldwide, and
enthusiastic community of software developers to create election systems we
can all trust.




0191d0dc6912c/1398115761233/OPL_FAQ_Apr14.pdf> [1] The OSET Foundation claim
on their website that their license is "an open source software license" is
simply untrue. They can try to make it so by submitting their license to
www.opensource.org and following OSI's published license review process.
While I am merely an observer nowadays of that license review and approval
process, as former general counsel for OSI I am confident that certain
provisions in that license make it incompatible with the GPLv3 despite the
assertion on OSET's own website that it is. 


 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus's_Law> [2] Wikipedia Entry on "Linus's

*Lawrence Rosen is a CAVO member, an attorney and a computer specialist. He
is founding partner of Rosenlaw & Einschlag, a law firm that specializes in
intellectual property protection, licensing and business transactions for
software technology. Larry served for many years as general counsel of the
non-profit Open Source Initiative (OSI). He currently advises many open
source companies and non-profit open source projects. Larry's book, "Open
Source Licensing: Software Freedom and Intellectual Property Law", was
published by Prentice Hall in 2004. He also taught Open Source Law at
Stanford Law School. Larry often publishes and speaks around the world on
open source and intellectual property issues.


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