Addressing Proliferation: Deeds not just Words
When I started getting the new Open Source Office ready a while back, my attention was drawn to the topic of license proliferation as being a crucial issue for the community of open source communities. Sun has already made an important contribution to reducing license proliferation by providing a new, OSI-approved open source license that renders continued cloning of the Mozilla Public License unnecessary. That license – CDDL – may have had a controversial first outing but in fact is a well-received license that makes any future attempt to build yet another MPL-clone vanity license much less likely.
Back in the early days of the Open Source Initiative, Sun created an open source license called the Sun Industry Standards Source License (SISSL). It’s actually a very fine license, designed to encourage forks and derived works to support the same file formats and standards as the original work. However, it’s not been used by very many projects and I don’t think having it on Sun’s list of preferred licenses is appropriate any longer.
Announcement: SISSL Retired
I’m therefore announcing today that Sun is ‘retiring’ the SISSL. I’m writing to OSI to ask them to place the license on the “not recommended” list being created by the License Proliferation Committee. It’s my intention that Sun will not use the license again for future projects. Furthermore, I’d encourage any project that’s currently using it to make other plans at the time of their next major release.
I spoke with Laura Majerus, who is OSI’s Director of Legal Affairs, and asked her about the step. As well as giving me the appropriate OSI form to complete and return, she told me that reducing needless diversity and simplifying license choice is a key objective of the OSI and she told me I could quote her: “Sun’s move is a welcome step that we’d like to see copied by the originators of many other OSI-approved licenses.”
Promoting Best Practice
I consider license proliferation a key issue for open source. We need unnecessary licenses to be retired in favour of a smaller number of more modern ones, and we need the sort of consensus that Laura’s committee is building to create best practice. The sort of erudite comment Larry Rosen is encouraging is essential. In my view, best practice involves:
- keeping license choices simple,
- helping communities each build a code commons that promotes contribution while protecting from patent attacks, and
- making inter-community re-use as simple as possible.
Steve Mills may not think it’s worth his time to worry about this – he considers it “wishful thinking” – but I plan to devote some time and attention to the issue of license proliferation. Shallow and attention-grabbing rhetoric like that employed by Martin Fink is not the answer either – no single license addresses all open source models. We’re taking a practical step today, the first of several I hope, and committing Sun to actually help with the issue. I’d encourage other companies to do the same.