You know, it would be nice to have a serious discussion about Open-Source licensing issues; but that’s getting harder and harder every day. Herewith some feedback on Jonathan Schwartz’s latest, thoughts on the GPL, and appalled head-shaking at the bad, bad craziness going on in this space. [Update: 15 minutes after I pressed “publish”, Simon Phipps, who knows way more about licensing than I do, weighed in; definitely worth a read.]

People seem to care a lot about licenses. (At least, community leaders shout a lot; most actual OSS programmers I know think about the issues as little as possible).

The Debates We Should Be Having · Here’s an example: while I think our President/COO is right about CDDL, I disagree with Jonathan’s take on the GPL and the developing world; there are business models for those programmers that are going to be GPL-friendly.

Another debate: I’ve recently heard community rumblings about perceived imbalances in MPL-family licenses, including CDDL, between initial-contributor and subsequent-contributor rights. IANAL, but it sounds to me like this is worth exploring.

On the GPL and CDDL · I am not personally a member of the church of Free (as opposed to Open-Source) software. Having said that, I think the Free-Software stance is consistent and sane, and that we’re all in debt to that community for some pretty wonderful technology that I for one use every day. Thus, the GPL has earned its place in the world, and our respect.

We’re early on in the grand game of figuring out the right business model and culture for software, and we need to explore a lot of options. One reason I like CDDL is that it’s all about leaving options open; but on the other hand, the Free-Software folks may not play because they object to some of those options. I wonder if the dual- and tri-licensing options are going to start looking better?

These questions are interesting and they’re important, and as a community we should be sitting down and reasoning together and looking for consensus and compromise and common understanding. But that’s not happening.

Bad Craziness · (The phrase “bad craziness”, by the way, is an invention of the late, great, Hunter S. Thompson.) There’s a lot of it going on around software licensing:

  • Item: PJ over at Groklaw, who has historically earned my respect for her dogged and thorough SCO coverage, last week swerved wildly into tinfoil-hat territory, I mean way over the edge. Her comment on CDDL: “What CEO wouldn’t love that? The only thing better would be slavery. No. Slavery is worse, because you have to pay to feed slaves.” Also, “the whole point of the license is to close off the results.” I’m going to pass up the chance to quote a half-dozen howlers from the comments, because the GPL deserves much classier advocacy than it’s getting from the crazed semiliterate children there. Groklaw, we don’t blame you for your commenters and we know you can do better, because you usually do.

  • Item: Over at the Open Source Institute, there’s a statement on License Proliferation, which lots of smart people say is a problem, so let’s assume they’re right. But, among other things, it says “The class of asymmetrical corporate licenses that began with Mozilla was a worthy experiment that has failed.” The MPL has failed... that would be on which planet? Maybe I’m missing something, but it looks to me like Mozilla products are incredibly successful and there’s a vibrant community producing delightful surprises, like nearly every day.

    Later on, it says “the Mozilla Public License has been dropped by its originating organization in favor of the GPL.” Oh, really? See here and here; the MPL is in force and they’re working towards an MPL/LGPL/GPL tri-license, which sounds sensible to me. OSI, please fact-check.

  • Item: One sure way to reduce a conversation to inarticulate snarling is to bring in everyone’s favorite Intellectual-Property vultures vampires entrepreneurs over at SCO (Simon Phipps suggests that there’s a variation of Godwin’s law emerging here). Like most people, I tend to be for anything that SCO is against, and sure enough, the SCO stinkbomb’s been tossed down the OpenSolaris well; see Dana Blankenhorn’s pithy take on the situation. SCO, please go away... oh wait, they are, aren’t they.

I don’t know what to recommend. A cooling-off period, maybe? This discussion is too important to be left to the batshit license loonies.


author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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April 15, 2005
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