Sunday, May 26, 2024

Does Open Source Licensing Matter?

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SAN FRANCISCO — At the heart of many open source debates is the issue of
licensing. Is one license better than the other? Is a particular open
license actually open source? In the final analysis, according to a panel at
LinuxWorld, it may not matter at all.

The real debate may well be around who is the final arbiter of what is
technically referred to as open source and what is not. The Open Source
Initiative (OSI) has been the body that determines what is or isn’t Open
Source and it’s a group that fell under harsh criticism by panel member John Roberts CEO of SugarCRM.

“Don’t’ get me wrong; I like what OSI represents,” Roberts began. “How are
they elected, though? If you’re going to be supreme court of what open source
is, how did you get to become elected? That’s the question that we
have to ask.”

Roberts has been at the opposing end of the OSI spectrum with his SugarCRM
application, which has used a non-OSI-approved license while still calling
the application open source. SugarCRM currently uses the Sugar Public
license, which is the Mozilla Public License with an attribution clause.

For its next release, SugarCRM has stated that it will be
moving to the GPLv3

The GPLv3 is expected to be an officially approved OSI license soon. Danese Cooper, who holds the
official title of Open Source Diva at Intel, is also on the board
of the OSI and was quick to debate with Roberts.

“The OSI exists so that developers don’t have to be lawyers,” Cooper said.
“OSI has provided the service for 10 years of blessing open source licenses.”

Cooper never looked at Roberts directly during their confrontation; rather
she sat in her panel chair. Knitting. Cooper argued that OSI
participation is self selecting and that anyone can join the mailing list.
She never directly answered Robert’s questions about how the board is chosen
or for how long their terms exist.

From a legal point of view, whether a license is OSI approved may not
matter all that much, either, according to panelist Virginia Tsai Badenhope,
an associate with legal firm Smithline Jha LLP.

“Whether an application has an OSI-approved license or not does not impact
our analysis,” Badenhope said. “The goals of the OSI are different than a
typical legal department.”

Badenhope added that OSI approval does make it somewhat easier for developers, though, as it tells them what rights they have.

It is license clarity and the OSI approval that may well be the most
important aspect from an end user perspective.

“We’re looking for lack of ambiguity in what we’re licensing,” panelist
Oliver Marks, senior manager of Web portal for Sony PlayStation, said.

While the title of the panel was “Why Open Source Licensing
Matters,” panel moderator Matt Asay, vice president of business development at
Alfresco, said it does matter, though maybe not for all the
people on this panel. Asay recently helped to move Alfresco from a SugarCRM-type attribution license to the GPLv2.

Though the panel didn’t agree on the value of OSI-approved open source
licensing, it did agree on the value of the open source model.

“Open source as a community matters,” Asay said.

This article was first published on

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