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

Richard Fontana rfontana at redhat.com
Tue Feb 25 19:43:38 UTC 2020

On Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 7:13 AM Eric Schultz <eric at wwahammy.com> wrote:

> From any understanding I've had of FOSS, I don't see how a preamble saying the community's opinion is that an organization is unwelcome violates any principle behind FOSS. The condemned organization is legally able to exercise all the rights that one expects of FOSS-compliant software.
> While I didn't explain it well in my initial email, listing the name with the reason they are excluded is the most aggressive of a set of different ideas. Other options could be:
> * List the names of organizations who are unwelcome but don't explain why.

> On Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 3:04 PM Richard Fontana <rfontana at redhat.com> wrote:
> > A license that has a preamble that singles out a particular
> > individual, or organization, or even a specifically-described group,
> > might have the effect of discouraging exercise of the
> > nominally-granted license permissions by the singled-out
> > person/entity/group. I mean, I think that is actually one of your
> > goals, right?
> I mean, that is the goal in this scenario. That said, I don't think that means the license is in and of itself non-OSD compliant. Discouraging use-cases that the copyright holder doesn't want is a pretty common reason why copyleft licenses are chosen. That doesn't make the license or the software non-OSD compliant; if the rights are protected, I don't see see why discouraging those use-case more explicitly is out of line.

So, suppose a PNG preamble says "Members of $marginalized_group are
not welcome in our community" (I think from your initial message you
recognize that your approach could be used in such a way). If I could
demonstrate that an effect of that language was that members of
$marginalized_group avoided the software altogether, isn't that almost
as bad as an outright prohibition on use by those members?


> On Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 3:04 PM Richard Fontana <rfontana at redhat.com> wrote:
> > They could, but would such licenses be OSI-approvable? I'd assume and
> > hope not. I guess you're assuming that they would be, since there's no
> > obvious objective principle to explain why (for lack of a better
> > label) "progressive" persona-non-grata-preamble licenses are
> > acceptable from an OSD-conformance perspective, but anti-progressive
> > ones aren't -- similar to a concern I have about some of the ethical
> > source licenses.
> I think in these cases, OSI would have to approve the template not the specific license or have a standard on which ones can be submitted for approval (used by enough software, meets some standard of quality, doesn't explicilty violate the OSI code of conduct, etc.).  Otherwise, you would have nothing to do BUT review licenses. :)
> On Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 1:26 PM Brian Behlendorf <brian at behlendorf.com> wrote:
> > One more practical and probably negative impact: it will always be easier
> > to add new names than to remove old ones, because adding new names is a
> > simple sublicense that can be done by anyone, but removing a name will
> > require a relicense with the consent of every contributor who contributed
> > under that license. So, in my facial-recognition example, I would likely
> > as for assignment of the right to relicense from any contributor, so that
> > I might be able to remove a name once they've cleaned up their act.
> > Otherwise a list that can only grow becomes an embarrassment and
> > ineffective at actually changing behavior, it just becomes a howl in the
> > night. But centralizing IP (rather than a mere right to redistribute a la
> > DCO / CLA) is something I think we've done well to avoid.
> A few people mentioned this topic too. I had considered this but forgot to mention it. One solution would be to have a versioning process controlled by whoever the author designates. That would seem to imply that the license would have to be modified though. That said, I don't think whether the list of condemned entities is well maintained over time is relevant to OSD-compliance. It does seem to be more of an issue of whether it's a wise idea to use the license or whether someone should draft it.
> On Sat, Feb 22, 2020 at 3:50 PM John Cowan <cowan at ccil.org> wrote:
> > That is true, but not yet applicable.  So far we have only seen a request to discuss the idea, and we have discussed it.  No request to draft a license has been forthcoming.
> As John said, I'm not drafting a license, this is more of a thought experiment. I was encouraged by folks in the community, some of whom are on this list, to bring this idea here for discussion.
> Thanks to all who provided constructive contributions,
> Eric
> On Fri, Feb 21, 2020 at 3:28 PM Seth David Schoen <schoen at loyalty.org> wrote:
>> John Cowan writes:
>> > In order for the attachment to propagate with the work, the license has to
>> > specify that it can't be removed, though.   So, for example, you can't
>> > attach it effectively to the GPL, because the GPL only says the GPL must be
>> > preserved, and any additional terms that restrict the user's powers (in
>> > this case the power to remove the attachment) can be deleted by anyone.
>> It's more like the "front-cover texts" and "back-cover texts" in the
>> GFDL, I guess.
>> "... with the Front-Cover Texts being 'yay Republicans boo Democrats' ..."
>> /
>> "... with the Front-Cover Texts being 'yay Democrats boo Republicans' ..."
>> Or maybe like the charityware notes in, say, vim, except with a
>> discouragement to work with a particular group rather than an
>> encouragement?
>> In the old days I think I remember how much people appreciated that FOSS
>> was collaboratively developed by people who had enormous disagreements
>> with each other in other ways.  Sometimes it seemed like a point of
>> pride or fascination -- "sir, I detest what you say (or do), but I run
>> your code and you run my code", to misquote a misquotation of Voltaire.
>> --
>> Seth David Schoen <schoen at loyalty.org>      |  Qué empresa fácil no pensar
>>      http://www.loyalty.org/~schoen/        |  en un tigre, reflexioné.
>>   8F08B027A5DB06ECF993B4660FD4F0CD2B11D2F9  |        -- Borges, "El Zahir"
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> --
> Eric Schultz, Developer and FOSS Advocate
> wwahammy.com
> eric at wwahammy.com
> @wwahammy
> Pronouns: He/his/him
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Richard Fontana
He / Him / His
Senior Commercial Counsel
Red Hat, Inc.

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