PJ’s bottom line–a new line for the OSI?

Pamela Jones (aka PJ), the groklaw blogger, asks and answers the question OK. But What Does It Mean? (Jacobsen v. Katzer), saying that

It means that while OSI’s handling of a list of approved licenses worked very well for a community made up of FOSS programmers, who are decent folks all on the same page overall, now that enemies of FOSS are attacking, we need a new organization to vet licenses going forward a lot more carefully, one made up of experienced FOSS lawyers, none of them with a history of hostility to, or ignorance of, the GPL, with the community as advisors.

The good news is that the OSI is actually one step ahead of the game here. We do have a legal advisory board made up of some of the most respected (and non-hostile) lawyers known to the free and open source software communities. Chaired by former Red Hat general counsel Mark Webbink, the OSI Legal Advisory Board has brough substantial legal concerns to the OSI, and they have listened and taken action on substantial legal concerns we have brought to them.

I agree with PJ that the time for amateur hour is over. The OSI has held numerous discussions with the Perl Foundation on the very subject of retiring the Artistic License version 1.0, replacing it fully with the Artistic License version 2.0. The legacy of Perl5 has made this very difficult. The Fedora Project has joined with others to deprecate the Artistic License version 1.0, which means that the large tent of OSI-approved licenses has begun to fragment into not just free-vs.-open camps, but legally taut-vs.-loose camps. And there are others as well.

The OSI has re-started its License Proliferation Committee work. The previous committee held many discussions, wrote a report, and the OSI implemented its recommendations by categorizing licenses. The new committee is expected to go further, selecting only a few licenses as representing the best of the best, and leaving most in a category recognizing that they meet the criteria of the OSD, but that they do not represent the strongest way in which to leverage the network effect that a small number of licenses, very widely used, can support. But I don’t want to prejudice their work, so I won’t say any more until they do.

The bottom line, from my perspective, is that the OSI is well equipped to meet the challenges of an increasingly sophisticated and scrutinized legal context, that we have access to very well equipped lawyers, many of whom participated in the GPLv3 drafting process, and I expect that we’ll see the GPL (and other open source linceses) further strengthened, not weakened, by our actions going forward. That is certainly one of our goals, and one of our reasons to exist. And for all the complaints that I have heard (and that I have made) about the OSI in the past, I do know that we have a great asset of institutional memory that a new organization would take a long time to replicate. So I recommended working with, rather than against, or too independently from, the OSI to preserve the integrity of every open source license promise.