OSI License Discuss and Review: Evolution and Improvement

The directors of the board of the Open Source Initiative recognize the process for discussion and review of new licenses proposed for approval by the organization can use improvement and would benefit from evolution. In particular, it does not appear as though all points of view on open source licensing are represented in the discussion here. To address this situation we have created a Board Committee for license approval to evaluate responses on-list, appointed more moderators, and will devise a new moderation strategy.

We anticipate that the effort to improve the quality of discussion on the license lists will be an iterative process. This email describes our first step, which is to approach the community and elicit feedback on this approach. We anticipate further steps including a review of tools, but we’re not yet at that stage.

License review vs. License discuss lists

License-review(a)lists.opensource.org is the email address for submitting a license for which you seek OSI approval following the process at https://opensource.org/approval. The list is open to the public, so anyone can give their opinion about a license. The OSI License Committee considers the viewpoints expressed on the license-review list in making its license approval recommendation to the OSI Board. Since the purpose of the list is to inform the Committee and the Board, discussion of substantive issues off-list is not recommended. If a license submitter elects to respond to a substantive question submitted to them off-list, the submitter is encouraged to copy the license-review list also on their response after redacting the identity of the person sending the communication.

License-discuss(a)lists.opensource.org is for general questions about open source licenses and for licenses in early stage development. The list is open to the public and anyone can give feedback. A moderator may decide that a license submitted to license-review isn’t sufficiently developed and will move it to license-discuss for additional work. We recommend that you carry out your license development process on a publicly viewable venue (preferably one where collaboration is also possible) and regularly seek views on license-discuss. Note that agreement on license-discuss does not guarantee agreement on license-review, as the audiences differ.

The board recognizes that the license-review mailing list would benefit from further, more concerted moderation, both to ensure appropriate conversation and to maintain the pace of discussions. This more concerted process will evolve in the following steps:

  • We will develop rules to encourage wider participation. We perceive that some are discouraged from participating because of offensive tone, frequency, or repetitiveness of messages. We will develop moderation standards to address these hurdles.
  • A moderator will also advance the conversation, by following up with the license steward on unanswered questions and ensuring that all topics of interest have been fully fleshed out.
  • We will assure observance of the Code of Conduct for the mailing lists, available at: https://opensource.org/codeofconduct/licensing.

Changes to the Website
We have also made a minor change to the language describing the license review process on https://opensource.org/approval. The page formerly said “Approve, if (a) there is sufficient consensus emerging from community discussion that approval is justified, and (b) the OSI determines that the license conforms to the Open Source Definition and guarantees software freedom.” The page now says “Approve if, after taking into consideration community discussion, the OSI determines that the license conforms to the Open Source Definition and guarantees software freedom.”

We have also clarified the timing of the review decision.

License Review Committee
The License Review Committee is an OSI Board committee made up of the following board members, as of May 2019:

Pamela Chestek, chair, pamela.chestek(a)opensource.org
Elana Hashman, elana.hashman(a)opensource.org
Chris Lamb, chris.lamb(a)opensource.org
Simon Phipps, webmink(a)opensource.org

The License Review Committee will summarize and report the license-review discussions to the Board for the Board’s approval or disapproval of a proposed license. Members of the Committee also serve as moderators for the two mailing lists.

What We’re Asking
If you have not already done so, please subscribe to the license-review and license-discuss lists. And then contribute. More participants will help us ensure that every viewpoint has been heard and considered by the collective, so that the OSI’s actions are truly representative of the open source community.