Why is BSD OSI certified?

John Cowan jcowan at reutershealth.com
Thu Oct 17 11:21:15 UTC 2002

Rod Dixon scripsit:

> Article 2 of the OSD sets out a requirement that if the
> applicable license ignored the restriction or contained provisions that were
> contra, the license would not be consistent with Article 2. I suspect the
> OSI Board might reject such a license, if it were submitted. In that regard,
> I would not state that Article 2 of the OSD is just about software and not
> like the other articles.

I don't see how the plain language of Article 2 in any way constrains
the license: indeed, it makes no reference to any license.  It says
"Source code must be easily available", not "The license must ensure
that source code is easily available."  Whether source code is available
is a matter of fact.  This distinction is fundamental, and it is why
licenses like the BSD and the MPL are open-source even though they permit
closed-source derivatives.

> Take a look at [NS] paragraph 7. I do not know what to make of it...perhaps its
> terms are part of a concession to an earlier dispute.

AFAICS, paragraph 7 recites facts: note the absence of any modal verb
such as "shall", "may", or "must".  I don't know why it's there either,
and I don't see that it binds the licensee to anything whatever.  It is
essentially a notice.

> At any rate, one would
> have to reverse engineer their code to determine whether any of your
> assumptions are correct. How would one know whether version 7.0 is not
> "covered code" as defined by the NPL?

Trivially, NS7.0 incorporates (as opposed to merely being bundled with)
AIM, and AIM is definitely not Open Source, precisely because it
contravenes Article 2 (no source available).

As for "how would one know", the final answer is "by discovery".  :-)
The FSF, after all, deals with N complaints of GPL breach per year,
and someone has to tell them that GPLed software is being improperly
derived from; they have no magic sensors to detect code re-use in a binary.

> This is a genuine open source
> conundrum, and I thought that was the type of issue you spotted in Article 2
> of the OSD, but I stand corrected.

A strengthened Article 2 would knock out a huge amount of essential
free software.

IANAL, TINLA (but you knew that).

John Cowan                              <jcowan at reutershealth.com>
http://www.reutershealth.com            http://www.ccil.org/~cowan
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