BCS OS Licence 15


I was looking at the state of OS Licences (IANAL)
and concluded that it would be useful to the
OS community if the BCS itself operated an OS Licence.

If it good enough for the The Regents of the University of California,
then why not for the BCS itself?

Advantages:
1) Open Source licencing has matured. The principles and pitfalls
are better understood. The BCS can offer a good licence.

2) The BCS can offer protection from a perceived problem with
current licences – the ability to transfer copyright and then
revoke the openness (Estoppel not withstanding).

3) The BCS would be an ideal home for the copyright for national UK
OS projects e.g. Health, Local Government, Defence, Transport.

Disadvantages:
1) The BCS charter may prevent it.
2) The BCS board may not like it.

Both disadvantages are not immutable, though they may take time to resolve.

Malcolm Kendall


15 thoughts on “BCS OS Licence

  • ptansom
    BCS OS Licence

    Personally I would discourage this. There are more disadvantages than you may think. Putting together a legal license is a nightmare of a job, and if you want one that would stand up in a global capacity (and I would suggest that one legal in only one or a few countries is of little use) then you will need significant legal consultation from people who know both the law and computers.

    In addition to this there are moves to reduce the number of open source licenses to reduce confusion, so the likelihood of getting approval of the FSF for yet another one may be slim. The FSF are also a good example of how complicated it is to create a license. They have come in for a significant amount of criticism for their documentation license (and clashed with the Debian project over the definition of ‘free’ in their respective contexts – amonts others) with the GFDL. They have spent a lot of time putting this together so that it can stand up globally and be accepted by publishers and the free software community alike.

    To sum up I would suggest that this would be a mamoth task that is largely unnecessary and would distract from other arguably more valuable things that we could do.

  • mikendall
    BCS OS Licence

    Yes there will be difficulties, but just because it is hard to do does not invalidate the desirability of doing it.

    I don’t understand the point about “getting approval from the FSF”. The FSF is not the ultimate arbiter on open source licensing.

    The FSF licences e.g. GPL at 2968 words, and LGPL at 4380 words are more complicated than e.g the BSD licence at 225 words. This complexity is due to added restrictions of their licences which the BCS OSL should not IMHO contain.

    By removing the FSF agenda from the task, making a good BCS OSL becomes easier, and hopefully smaller than a mammoth.

    The reason why FSF and others put so much effort into their licences is that they are the legal basis for the open source movement.

  • admered1
    BCS OS Licence

    mikendall wrote:Yes there will be difficulties, but just because it is hard to do does not invalidate the desirability of doing it.

    What is the need that this license would be satisfying?

    mikendall wrote:
    I don’t understand the point about “getting approval from the FSF”. The FSF is not the ultimate arbiter on open source licensing.

    Part of this point was that they are trying to reduce the number of licenses as there is a confusing array of slightly different licenses out there already.

    mikendall wrote:
    The FSF licences e.g. GPL at 2968 words, and LGPL at 4380 words are more complicated than e.g the BSD licence at 225 words. This complexity is due to added restrictions of their licences which the BCS OSL should not IMHO contain.

    This bit I find very confusing. Which added restrictions are you against? What part of the FSF agenda is it that causes you concern?

    mikendall wrote:
    The reason why FSF and others put so much effort into their licences is that they are the legal basis for the open source movement.

    I would also suggest that trying to create a license that will survive future attacks from proprietary vendors is something that is hard and so requires a great deal of effort.

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    I’ve recently finished a length investigation into the productivity and potential of open source projects, in particular those hosted on SourceForge. This formed part of my MBA studies.

    Having researched the GPL licence I found a distinct lack of compatibility with commercial useage of GPL licenced open source components. The cause of this was the vague way in which derivative works is defined. Whilst in practice this has never been a problem it still represents a huge risk for commercial organisations. I think this reason is the underlying driving force for the propogation of a vast number of more clearly defined licences. The Apache licence is beautifully clear with respect to commercial useage in comparison to the GPL.

    I analysed all the activity on SourceForge and statistically modelled the performance of GPL and non GPL projects to see if they were different. Remarkably I found no significant difference. Non GPL projects are just as productive as GPL projects. I think this indicates that the Open Source phenomenon transcends the FSF’s ideology. GPL projects are still the most numerous for sure, but they are no better or worse than other licenced open source projects.

    Interesting huh ? I’m hoping to give a talk to my local BCS Guernsey branchs sometime this based around my research. Any questions you have will help focus my presentation and are most welcome.

    Thanks

    Lee

  • admered1
    BCS OS Licence

    Interesting point.

    The scope of the analysis you describe was intra-project. You looked at the activity of a single project and then compared it with other single projects and then added the GPL and non-GPL projects up together.

    I would suggest that this only gives part of the picture.

    I wonder if there is a way of formally analysing the activity of the GPL codebase as a whole. and comparing it with (eg) the BSD codebase.

    To my mind, the main advantage of the GPL (and offspring) compared with BSD style licenses, is that the GPL does not allow people to rip the code off and use it without paying back to the community. A great chunk of Windows XP is actually slightly modified BSD code, but this isn’t obvious to the ordinary user.

    My personal approach is that I really don’t mind anyone using code I have contributed, but if they are going to make money directly out of selling it, I want some too. Only fair. The GPL mandates this (or close enough for my taste) and the BSD does not.

    However, I suspect a core reason for the lack of variation in activity across the projects on SourceForge is that developers for the most part don’t really care that much about the legalese and are more interested in getting the code to work.

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for your comments, but you have assumed a limited scope for my research which is not correct. Also I think you missed the essence of my findings.

    I extracted the full CVS history for all projects hosted on SourceForge and derived a statistical model for the activity performed on them. I looked at total activity, activity per month, etc. I also stripped out dud projects that never had any activity as well as ones which looked like code drops (those that the activity only lasted for less than a month).

    Then I seperated GPL from non GPL projects and remodelled the two groups. There was no significant difference between the statistical model which represented GPL and Non GPL projects. A certain level of activity on non GPL licenced projects is equally as likely as GPL. GPL projects are still the most numerous, but no more or less likely to attract a level of activity than non GPL ones. This is an important point when you are a business looking to invest in an open source project (there are many good reasons a commercial organisation would want to do this, IBM being the most active I would say).

    Note that Non GPL projects make up almost half of the active projects on SourceForge now. I disagree with your assumption that people choose other licences at random. The GPL is the most widely promoted licence and the obvious choice unless you make a conscious choice to choose another. I think people need a good reason to choose a non GPL licence. I suspect that this ‘good reason’ is generally the need for certainty. Commercial organisations are fearful of the vague definition of ‘derivative works’ within the GPL. Most of the other licences simply provide a clearer definition of this term as so commercial organisations know where they stand when using the products.

    Take the Apache foundation as an example, they have a phenomenal record in sustained, successful Open Source development and enjoy almost universal acceptance from both business and the general public. The reason IBM chooses to work with the Apache foundation when releasing projects like Derby (Cloudscape) is, I suspect, down to this clarity in their licence and commercial friendly ethos. I don’t see IBM or any other company ripping off Apache due to holes in their licencing ?

    I’m not saying I have all the answers as it is a big topic but what was pretty clear from my research was that the GPL is not ‘special’, the Open Source development model works just as well with other licences.

    There is the looming problem of interoperabilty between the ever growing number of licences and a common Open Source licence would be a definite help. We need to be asking why other licences are becoming so popular and working towards a more inclusive, common licence. I’m not sure the GPL3 will be it as it is likely to be tightly bound into the FSF ideology (which does not seem to me to be very comfortable with commercial organisations participating). This will only lead to reducing significance for the GPL as the Open Source development model becomes pervasive within software development organisations.

    I can understand your mistrust of commercial software development organisations, some of them work from traditional competition models and are fairly ruthless. Microsoft of course being the obvious example as you state. However, I think licences such as the Apache foundation and Mozilla licence are perfectly good for protecting the collaborative efforts of the community ? Companies which ‘steal’ an open source project, modify it and incorporate it into their own are then cut off from ongoing community support and enhancements. A short term benefit likely to turn into a liablity in the long run (if a company couldn’t write it sooner or later they will find they can’t maintain it either…). Better to collaborate with the community and reduce costs in the long term.

    Lee

  • mikendall
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for your contribution.
    There is a summary of various open source licences,
    albeit with a Sun bias, at the following address:

    http://java.net/choose_license.csp

    The table summary is quite useful for this debate.
    Both GPL and LPGL force the consumer of the open source to publish modifications.
    Many companies wish to add value while protecting their investment
    and so are put off using any of the Free Software Foundation licences.
    Those that don’t have the publication need e.g. BSD, Mozilla, are more
    likely to appeal to business but have the disadvantage of being
    drawn up under the American legal system.
    What would be useful is a UK domiciled open source licence that is
    business friendly, sound legally and protects from copyright reassignment.
    That is not a slight against the FSF, who deserve great credit for
    helping to get Open Source to where it is today, more a means to
    improve the acceptability of businesses both using Open Source and
    publishing Open Source products.
    Both of the these aims are what the BCS, in general,
    and OSSG in particular are remitted to do.

    Addressing your particular questions/points in order:
    1)About the need; it is for a UK domiciled, business friendly licence.
    2)Reducing licences. This is very interesting subject. If you have ever read
    Wonderful Life by S.J.Gould, or witnessed the weired and diverse array of
    microprocessor machines back in the late 70’s (e.g. a Texas 9900 based
    personal computer), then look now at open source licenses, you could conclude
    that open source is going through a period of licence numbers expansion, not licence numbers contraction. IMHO the dominant licence types have not yet emerged as the conditions for doing so are not extant. So FSF attempts to reduce the number
    of licences are doomed to failure in the short term, and in the long term there
    is no guarantee that even the GPL and LPGL will survive. That is just the nature
    cruel world that we live in. :^)
    3) Which parts not liked. Well publication for one, and the complexity for another.
    4) FSF agenda. Well it is ironic that an organisation that has “Free” in the title
    has a more restrictive licence than those that don’t. This has a whiff of
    dictatorship of the proletariat about it, and the complexity in their licenses arises
    partly from an attempt to legislate this contradiction.
    5) Great deal of effort. Yes, although having clear aims for the licence will help
    enormously. Also strong backing from this group’s members would help.

    I hope that although you might not use a BCS OS licence yourself you would support
    a process for the BCS to create one. At the very least it would show that
    BCS is supporting the open source movement in a direct way.

  • ptansom
    BCS OS Licence

    Out of interest, how does your research fit in with the changes in licensing of the WINE project. They have switched from a BSD-style license to the LGPL and found a 4x to 5x increase in patches. A change from a trend that was seeing a decreasing number of patches.

    Both the links below have the same text, one is on the WINE site whereas the other is on the Kernel Traffic site.

    http://winehq.com/?issue=279#News:%20$$%20and%20Development http://kerneltraffic.org/wine/wn20050617_279.html#1

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi

    That’s interesting.

    LGPL does not have the restrictions of the GPL (I got the impression that the FSF don’t like it being used so much from some comments on their website, including referring to it as the ‘lesser GPL’). I classed LGPL projects as non-GPL as they are more business friendly.

    Anything called ‘GPL’ seems to attract more publicity so this was probably a good PR move by the Wine people.

    As mentioned GPL licenced projects are by far the most numerous. I analysed the effectiveness of those projects and found all licences quite similar in performance.

    Can you think of a rational reason why people would be more likely to contribute under LGPL than BSD other than the increased publicity ?

    An interesting topic for further research.

    Lee

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Eric Raymond (Cathedral and the Bazaar author) has given a interesting speech in which he explains why we don’t need the GPL anymore.

    My research broadly agrees with his comments in that Open Source works just as well with other more business friendly licences. I do think we could do with a one size fits all licence to simplify everything, but the GPL is not it.

    Worth a read I think, you can read it at the link below.

    http://www.onlamp.com/pub/a/onlamp/2005/06/30/esr_interview.html

    I have to say this is all great news for SourceForge if you ask me. They could easily become the biggest hub for business collaboration on open source projects. To me this would be great news as developers would have freedom to apply their development skills where most motivated plus there would be plenty of funding available so they can earn a living. Good for business, good for developers and of course because it’s open good for competition also! I don’t think anyone wants another Microsoft to emerge do they…

    Lee

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Yes interesting read.

    Things seem to be moving towards regional licences. The OSI
    has indicated that both Brazil (lots of OS related publicity lately) and the
    European commision are about to apply for OSI licence approval.

    Here’s is a rather formal analysis of why the EU needs it own OS licence:
    http://europa.eu.int/idabc/servlets/Doc?id=19296

    Most of the analysis also applies to the need for a BCS domiciled licence.

    Malcolm

  • hippy
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi

    I realise that I am a little late to this discussion, but I have only just discovered the ossg.

    The discussion about licenses is all too often viewed from the perspective of a very narrow band of users. The idea that the GPL is not business friendly is an interesting case in point. What this really means is that it is not friendly to that small groups of companies who wish to take an GPL’d OSS project, make some alterations to it, and then sell it as their own work. This is a small group of OSS users but it is by far the most vocal in the software industry.

    In many respects the GPL is very friendly to business:

    1. As a business that uses an unaltered GPL’d OSS project I can be assured that I will always have access to any improvements that are made to that project.

    2. As a business that contributes to a GPL’d OSS project I can be assured that my contribution will not be used by a competitor in an unfair way.

    3. As a service provider (rather than a software seller) GPL’d OSS can be altered by me, and integrated into my systems, to give my service unique capabilities. The fact that the derived works clause is only important if the alterations, or derived works, are distributed ensures that any competitors that are selling software, rather than providing a hosted service, cannot use the GPL’d OSS to compete with me.

    As a business contributor to OSS I view GPL and LGPL projects more favourably because I have no wish to contribute my code to projects that I might have to pay for later down the line when my code has been incorporated into a commercial product. It is my code, it is my investment, it is my choice.

    The other aspect that is often overlooked in the license debate is the position of the, largely volunteer, developer. In addition to code contribution as a business, I contribute to a number of OSS projects as a private individual. I view the licenses on those projects as an expression of the desires of the developers. Most of them are GPL or LGPL but some are BSD-like licenses. The license is generally chosen by the individual that instigated the project and it is an important element in forming the culture of the project. Where projects are entirely volunteer driven the choice of license should rightly be left to the developers themselves to decide. It is appropriate that good information is available to ensure that they know the consequences of their decisions but no one has the right to criticise the developer’s choice.

    It is interesting to note (and this is not from any careful study) that the proliferation of licenses has come largely from releases of code from commercial organisations. Each company appears to want to have their own lawyers draw up the license. This is exactly the same as non-OSS software releases, where there are almost as many licenses as there are products.

    We should not complain that dedicated volunteers choose to place constraints on how their hardwork should be used. We should be vocal in our appreciation that they choose to allow us to use it at all.

    If the BCS wants to invest in helping the licensing issue it would be well advised to help establish a UK/EU equivalent of the EFF. The is a dreadful lack of good legal opinion and support on the applicability of license clauses to UK/EU law. There is a great deal of ill-informed conjecture on the subject but very little from good legal minds. How about getting some of the Profs from our university law departments to look at the existing licenses and give their opinions?

    Regards

    Richard

  • Anonymous
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi Richard

    I had very similar views to yours before I started my research. At the beginning I expected my research would conclude that the GPL was …

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi Richard

    I had very similar views to yours before I started my research. At the beginning I expected my research would conclude that the GPL was the licence which was driving innovation in the Open Source market and that businesses should support it because of this fact.

    It became clear as my research progressed that the GPL was not the sole source of the innovation which was clearly happening at a pace in the market. The reality was more that any licence which promotes public collaboration and communication was equally effective.

    The biggest example of this is the Apache Foundation. None of their products are GPL licenced and yet they are by far the most professional and widely used products in the Open Source arena. The Apache web server has held a clear market share lead over Microsoft’s offering in the same space for many years, a feat which even Linux cannot claim to match.

    The major difference between the Apache Foundation licence and the GPL is legal clarity. Whether the GPL is business friendly or not is not ‘totally’ clear, whereas it is very clear in the Apache licence. This adds perceived risk and makes it somewhat ‘business unfriendly’ even if in practice it is not. I agree with you that a formal investigation by UK lawyers would be valuable, but would probably not give the clear answers you want.

    In order to claim that the GPL (and so the FSF) is the most important licence for Open Source development you would need to explain:

    – The success of the Apache Foundation despite not using the GPL.
    – Why Apache products are not being hampered by being ‘stolen’ and used in commercial products as you claim the GPL protects against.
    – The fact that the FSF does not approve of what we now call ‘Open Source’ development, which is the driving force in this market area. See http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-software-for-freedom.html

    What I saw happening is a market driven re-balancing between the ideology of the FSF , business needs and consumer needs. This is a very good thing, it means business has to deliver what consumers want and they need to collaborate openly with each other and individuals which prevents them building large monopolies. It also vastly improves the potential for individuals to create startups because of reduced lock in (providing the curse of software patents were not present of course).

    So, we have a lot to be grateful for from the FSF and GPL licence. They are fresh thinking innovators in their field and set in motion a cultural shift which has lead to better products in all senses.

    note (If anyone is not totally familiar with the FSF ideology it is worth researching fully on their website (http://www.fsf.org). They are up front and honest about their thoughts on a great many things, which is refreshing.)

    However, whilst we needed a strong ideology like the FSF’s to provide some inertia to start the cultural shift it does not automatically follow a total re-alignment to that ideology will yield further benefits.

    I think the interaction of Business and the Open Source development model is mutally beneficial, something the FSF does not seem to share my optimism on.

    – There is no great incentive for business to ‘steal’ open source software as the resultant product would be competing in a market with a no cost competitor !
    – There is real incentive for them to collaborate via an Open Source process to provide infrastructure on which to build ‘value added’ services / products at lower cost.

    The balance a business has to consider is the potential reduction in costs from using / collaborating on Open Source products against the inability to lock in customers to your product to enable higher prices. More and more businesses are seeing this balance as favourable to them, which is good news for innovation in the industry as a whole (in my opinion of course).

    Lee

  • Anonymous User
    BCS OS Licence

    Hi Richard

    I had very similar views to yours before I started my research. At the beginning I expected my research would conclude that the GPL was the licence which was driving innovation in the Open Source market and that businesses should support it because of this fact.

    It became clear as my research progressed that the GPL was not the sole source of the innovation which was clearly happening at a pace in the market. The reality was more that any licence which promotes public collaboration and communication was equally effective.

    The biggest example of this is the Apache Foundation. None of their products are GPL licenced and yet they are by far the most professional and widely used products in the Open Source arena. The Apache web server has held a clear market share lead over Microsoft’s offering in the same space for many years, a feat which even Linux cannot claim to match.

    The major difference between the Apache Foundation licence and the GPL is legal clarity. Whether the GPL is business friendly or not is not ‘totally’ clear, whereas it is very clear in the Apache licence. This adds perceived risk and makes it somewhat ‘business unfriendly’ even if in practice it is not. I agree with you that a formal investigation by UK lawyers would be valuable, but would probably not give the clear answers you want.

    In order to claim that the GPL (and so the FSF) is the most important licence for Open Source development you would need to explain:

    – The success of the Apache Foundation despite not using the GPL.
    – Why Apache products are not being hampered by being ‘stolen’ and used in commercial products as you claim the GPL protects against.
    – The fact that the FSF does not approve of what we now call ‘Open Source’ development, which is the driving force in this market area. See http://www.fsf.org/licensing/essays/free-software-for-freedom.html

    What I saw happening is a market driven re-balancing between the ideology of the FSF , business needs and consumer needs. This is a very good thing, it means business has to deliver what consumers want and they need to collaborate openly with each other and individuals which prevents them building large monopolies. It also vastly improves the potential for individuals to create startups because of reduced lock in (providing the curse of software patents were not present of course).

    So, we have a lot to be grateful for from the FSF and GPL licence. They are fresh thinking innovators in their field and set in motion a cultural shift which has lead to better products in all senses.

    note (If anyone is not totally familiar with the FSF ideology it is worth researching fully on their website (http://www.fsf.org). They are up front and honest about their thoughts on a great many things, which is refreshing.)

    However, whilst we needed a strong ideology like the FSF’s to provide some inertia to start the cultural shift it does not automatically follow a total re-alignment to that ideology will yield further benefits.

    I think the interaction of Business and the Open Source development model is mutally beneficial, something the FSF does not seem to share my optimism on.

    – There is no great incentive for business to ‘steal’ open source software as the resultant product would be competing in a market with a no cost competitor !
    – There is real incentive for them to collaborate via an Open Source process to provide infrastructure on which to build ‘value added’ services / products at lower cost.

    The balance a business has to consider is the potential reduction in costs from using / collaborating on Open Source products against the inability to lock in customers to your product to enable higher prices. More and more businesses are seeing this balance as favourable to them, which is good news for innovation in the industry as a whole (in my opinion of course).

    Lee

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