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The Curse of Open Source License Proliferation

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By Mark Hinkle

I remember when the big open source debate was whether a piece of software was really open source, meaning it was released under an OSI-approved license.

Open Source License ProliferationThe tides are shifting, debates now center around which open source license to use. Adding to the complexity of the debate is proliferation of OSI-approved licenses. Now discussions are rising over the open source licenses that are in the best interest of all stakeholders of an open source project. In the case of collective software works there is also the added intricacies of license compatibility.

Part of the problem is that companies are trying to drive their own vanity licenses that reinforce their branding and leverage the goodwill associated with the open source seal of approval. SugarCRM once mounted an offensive asking for acceptance of their Sugar Public License (a derivative of the OSI-Approved Mozilla Public License) that for a brief time was gaining popularity among commercial open source developers. The license was rejected and Sugar has since moved to the GPLv3. Ironically the Common Public Attribution License (CPAL) submitted by Social Text, which bears many similarities to the Sugar Public License, was accepted by the OSI. Even Microsoft has successfully lobbied the OSI-board for approval of two licenses. The Microsoft Public License (M-PL) and the Microsoft Reciprocal License (Ms-RL) which are very similar to the BSD and GPL licenses.

The number of open source projects has grown considerably over the last ten years, actually exponentially according to a paper delivered by Amit Deshpande and Dirk Riehle in March of this year.

According to Black Duck Software knowledgebase the most common open source license used by open source projects is the GPL version 2.0. According to that same source 94% of open source projects use 10 licenses.

For more Mark Hinkle, visit his Socialized Software blog.


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