License Proliferation - Less is More, One is Best

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ernest.park's picture
Chris DiBona from Google suffered the slings and arrows of the OSS community when he rejected the AGPLv3 license for Google Code repository, citing license proliferation as one of hte reasons. Looking back, Chris challenged the wisdom of OSI years ago when he was on their board, still at the time fighting against yet another license.
An open source software license is specifically a copyright focused on types of use permitted for electronic media.
By introducing yet another license, it create more complexity to explain, understand, and enforce the use of software governed by these licenses.
The reality is that lack of clarity and confusing, or internally contradictory terms, makes the license potentially limited in worth, as the cost to actually enforce that license increases.
If we look at any open source software license, we realize that they all are governing copyright specific to the use of software.
Use type - 1. Copying: This is the term popularized by Free Software Foundation to describe the act of moving the software from a point of distribution to a local computer, solely for the purpose of personally using the software.
2. Distribution: Once software has been collected from a distribution point, the act of making it available, either by itself, repackaging, bundling, modifying configuration files specific to a platform, and then making the resulting software available for others to "copy".
3. Modification: When a user takes code that has been copied, and implements changes to the source code, such that the program is changed, and then makes the code available through a distribution channel for others to "copy".
4. Other: This refers to license clauses that set restrictions on actions of software uses for actions outside of the direct use, as described above, of the software. Typical "other" language defines restrictions of special restrictive language specific to the use of the original developer's name and branding in marketing done by a distributor/modifier of software copied.
Restrictions -
  1. Limitations of liabilities, as is clauses
  2. Advertising restrictions
  3. Licensing fees, shared revenue, restriction of revenue activities
  4. Export restrictions
  5. Requirements around distribution of source code
  6. Downstream licensing on modified code

"Restrictions" govern "use" type. Many restrictions also only exist for specific use type. Revenue restrictions, downstream licensing requirements, and triggered by modification, and or distribution, as example. Therefrore, if you are copying and distributing, many restrictions don't even apply.
In summary, open source software licensing has become needlessly complex, FUD evolves around rumors of compatibility and interoperability without consideration and understanding of use types and specific restrictions. Open source licensing is a copyright with specific use considerations, restrictions and terms defined within the license, rahter than by copyright law. The thousands of licenses that exist have complicated the issue of using open source software far too much than the issue requires. Practically, we need only one license that specifies the use types and associated governance. Anything beyong one simple license that we can clearly explain the use and restrictions around open source software fails the future use and growth of the adoption of such software.
Reference: This work is licensed under Creative Common By SA 3.0

If you do research into the

If you do research into the actual costs of license proliferation, you'll see that the real costs are in the lack of cooperation and codesharing within our community cause by software under incompatible licensing regimes. Creative Commons has a modular licensing system like the one you describe and has scaled back licensing.

Knee-jerk reactions against new licenses because they are new aren't helpful. The problem OSI rightfully called out was unnecessary license proliferation and so called "vanity" licenses that cause incompatibility for no good reason.

The APLv3 is a verbatim copy of the GPL with a single extra clause -- similar to the type of system you describe. Its extra clause solves a real problem not addressed by another previous license and widely demanded by many members in the FOSS community.

Bruno Cornec's picture

One size doesn't fit all needs

I agree with you that useless proliferation of licenses is a problem. However, I don't think either that one size fits all in that domain. The real point for me as a software provider is the following: when I want to release a new piece of software under an open Source license,  what usagedo I want to favour, permit, and what others do I want to forbid aor restrict. Giving that, I should generally be able to find an existing license covering my needs and use it. The problem is that companies think their case is unique and requires a unique solution, which is 99% of the time just wrong. Using FOSSBazaar as a means to augment the linkage between the needs of the software provider and the potential associated licenses he can use would really be great ! 




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