Page created on March 15, 2022 | Last modified on February 25, 2023

Modernizing licenses publication and discussions

OSI’s top priority is to modernize how the open source community identifies which licenses have gained OSI approval. We’re developing an Approval Registry, a comprehensive and authoritative resource of all licenses, with links to the canonical approved text, the documentation of the discussion of the license and the consequent Board approval, and with information on any status transitions. 

This resource will be accessible both as a web application and via an API.  Open source contributors and facilitators will be able to use OSI’s authoritative data as the base for their own approvals, compliance, categorization and potential license development.

OSI intends to use an iterative approach that will result in early community engagement with a minimum viable deliverable so that community feedback can be secured as early as possible but without waiting for an extensive design consultation first.


The project is expected to move through two phases – prerequisite work and then workflow modernisation.

Pre-Requisite Work

OSI has operated for two decades using a evolving ad-hoc process that has accumulated valuable resources that need curating and modernising.

Data-Driven “Licenses” Web Site

OSI will hire contractors to design and build a “draft” for a new that is auto-generated from a new API service based on the existing license API and mark it “experimental only” while we evolve it in the open. The work will involve user experience design as well as web site and code development.  We also expect redesign work in the API and in the systems used to deliver it, resulting in a new Approval Registry that will be maintained within an appropriate process by OSI staff going forward. 

Evidence Mining

While OSI is confident the license list is correct, there is no uniform record that supports that belief. For each license it will be necessary to study the e-mail archives for the last 20 years along with the Board minutes and possibly other sources and collect firm evidence to support each approval. This evidence will then be lastingly archived and made available through the API.  This is likely to be 4-5 months of work for a person with legal training.  Going forward we expect to redesign the license approval process (in another work item) so that evidence is accumulated and archived as part of the workflow.

License Environment

OSI is aware that there are licenses that some community members believe to qualify as open source licenses but which OSI hasn’t had the chance to approve. Accumulating all the evidence related to these licenses is too great a scope for a single project, so OSI intends to start by retaining a contractor for about 6 months to devise and populate a repository of unapproved licenses together with any contact they may have had historically with OSI.  This initial collection will then be reviewed to determine which of those can be submitted to the license review process for approval, therefore creating a more comprehensive list of OSI-approved licenses.

Workflow Phase

Going forward, a transparent, community accessible system is needed for evaluation and approval of licenses.

Transparent workflow system

OSI hopes to seamlessly migrate from the proposal and evaluation system currently conducted on the license-review mailing list to a license submission workflow process that manages the status of applications for approval and progresses through through the full cycle from application to publication.

Community venue for license discussion and evaluation

OSI recognises the challenges of evaluating increasingly nuanced license submissions and the moderation of public processes. To address these, a system to allow both clause-by-clause and systemic evaluation of license submissions will be commissioned.

System and staff for license approval, classification and publication

Once community consensus has been reached, license need Board approval and eventual publication in the Registry and hence on the API and web site. OSI will recruit staff and retain contractors to supervise and perform these steps within the workflow and registry systems.