International Use of Open Source Licenses

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Phil's picture

I've been traveling for 3 weeks straight now and am definitely looking forward to heading home. The experience though has risen my awareness of the challenges that licensing and legal compliance pose to organizations wanting to participate in the FOSS community that are not based in the United States.

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of being asked to participate on a panel at the first annual Qualipso conference in Rome. For those who have not yet heard of it, Qualipso's charter (from their website) is:


Qualipso is a unique alliance of European, Brazilian and Chinese ICT industry players, SMEs, governments and academics to help industries and governments fuel innovation and competitiveness with Open Source software. To meet that goal, the Qualipso consortium intends to define and implement the technologies, processes and policies to facilitate the development and use of Open Source software components, with the same level of trust traditionally offered by proprietary software.

Qualipso is the ever largest Open Source initiative funded by the European Commission, and is funded under EU's sixth framework program (FP6), as part of the Information Society Technologies (IST) initiative. Qualipso is launched in synergy with Europe's technology initiatives such as NESSI and Artemis.


While on this panel during the conference, this is one of the first questions posed by the moderator:

"The vast majority of OS licenses come from the US. Often with low legal quality and a US centric views of Law. Two main exceptions are the CeCILL family and the EUPL. They are of high (legal) quality but many people are critical about them... The OSI is also very US centric at least in its debates. Do you believe there are some forces working to keep Open Source licenses a US business, under US control ? Do you think Europe should just give up and surrender ?"

I found it to be a shocking question, but when I investigated further, I understood the dilemma that non-US entities face. In particular, non-US governments.

Since so many of the open source projects are based in the United States, the licenses that have taken hold within the community are primarily of US origin. The GPL, Apache, Mozzila, BSD, MIT, etc are all licenses that have been created in the United States. From a legal specificity (quality) standpoint, they apparently leave something to be desired for many jurisdictions in Europe and other parts of the globe. However, to participate, and contribute to these existing communities ( Linux, Apache, Firefox, etc) the organizations and developers in these non US locations must release their code under these US based licenses.

As I assured the audience at the Qualipso conference, I am certainly unaware of any "conspiracy" to keep Open Source licenses under U.S. control. However, I can appreciate their dilemma. Particularly for software being written by or for an EU governmental body, it makes sense that the software they provide is under a license that their own lawyers and courts can easily understand and interpret. The European Union Public License (EUPL) seems to be the best effort so far to address this issue. It is a strong copyleft license that has been approved by the European Commission and translated into the 23 languages prevalent through out the European Union. It also has a nice feature in that, if necessary, software under the EUPL can be re-licensed to the GPL so that it can be commingled with the large existing software base already established in the open source community.

Its funny to hear this,

Its funny to hear this, because if memory serves me correctly wasn't GPL 3.0 supposed to address these types of issues ? Based on the speed at which GPL 3.0 has been adopted, and what you heard - Its obvious that what we need is a new SIMPLIFIED Open Source License. I can't really believe this is that hard to do - if we focused on specifics and not politics ?