February 2019 License-Discuss Summary

In February, the License-Discuss mailing list discussed how to keep the mailing lists civil and to what degree the business model of a license submitter should be relevant.

The corresponding License-Review summary is online at https://opensource.org/LicenseReview022019 and covers reviews of the C-FSL, SSPL, the Twente License, plus some discussion about the review process, governance, and the OSD.

Encouraging discussion around the technicalities of licensing

Martijn Verburg offers their outside view of the License-Review list: while the license commentary may be insightful, some remarks seem to get ad hominem or hostile which is not a good look.

Many list members thank Verburg for bringing this up. Simon Phipps confirms that “Comments aimed at the submitter alone, such as about their business, business model or investors, are rarely appropriate.”

McCoy Smith couldn't find a a Code of Conduct for the mailing list. Phipps points to CoC for the licensing mailing lists, “but it's clearly due for some maintenance.”

There was some discussion to which degree license reviews should touch on the submitter's business model. For example, Lawrence Rosen thinks the SSPL cannot be separated from MongoDB's business model. In contrast, McCoy Smith advocates for focussing reviews strictly on the license and points to his talk at CopyleftConf.

Richard Fontana disagrees with Smith: “the business model of the license submitter can be a material consideration” when assessing a license. “Just the submitter's business model, or the business models of any possible user of the license?”, Phipps asks. Fontana responds attention should be focussed on “Just the submitter's, […] because it may be too hard to think about all the possible ways an approved license might be gamed […] by a future licensor”, John Sullivan doesn't think that the view should be artificially narrowed but that “the interpretations of the license author will carry weight, and the business model is an embodiment of those interpretations.” Marc Jones recasts the question as “license reusability”, but the point of this is not quite clear to me.

Brendan Hickey also disagrees with Smith's suggestion. It's really difficult to lay down bright lines what topics may or may not be considered. While the review should assume the license was drafted in good faith, context is important and the submitter's motives shouldn't be disregarded: “Charity is not a commitment to naiveté.” Smith rebukes some individual points in Hickey's argument.


In January, Bruce Perens opined that any extensions of copyright are bad for Open Source. Russel McOrmond connects this with an article they wrote in 2008 about possible unintended consequences of the AGPL, in particular that network copyleft would harm the free software community.