Subject: Re: For Approval: Open Source Software Alliance License
From: John Cowan <>
Date: Fri, 26 Sep 2003 08:06:13 -0400

Sean Chittenden scripsit:

> OSSAL, BSD, and MIT licenses operate under the notion of
> "take what's existing, modify it in unique and interesting ways, and
> leverage it to the best of your ability."  Writing something from
> scratch is a silly waste of effort and pointless: OSSAL, BSD, and MIT
> licenses give businesses or any developer a base to work from.

Unless we are to forget copyright altogether (which you obviously do
not want), then there are *always* circumstances in which you have
to write things from scratch.  If you want to use someone else's code,
you have to abide by his terms, whether "Pay me $$$$", "Copyleft
your code too", or "Swear you will never copyleft your code".
If you can't or won't abide by them, back to the development lab.

And the notion that you can at the same time subcontract (for money
or for nothing) part of your work to someone else, *and* not trust their
future intentions, is just unworkable in software.  You can pay the
big bucks for a proprietary license, only to have the vendor slide
down the memory hole, leaving you dependent on an unmaintained and
often unmaintainable product.  Similarly, you could get a notice
from your free software provider that all previous terms are
inoperative.  No one has ever tried this, but I'd be surprised
to find a lawyer (IANAL, TINLA) who would say it can't happen.

"Life is uncertain.  Life, I say, is not a stranger to uncertainty."
	--A.E. Housman

All that said, your intention with the OSSAL is pretty clear.  You want
to make sure that the BSD-style world can't be subsumed by the GPL one.
At present, it would be possible for the FSF (though they don't want
to, for pretty good reasons) to create a GPLed version of X Windows, and
if they somehow persuaded enough people to work on it, X Windows would be
forked.  This is already true with bison and byacc, BTW; bison is a
GPLed fork of an earlier version of what later was released as byacc.

If the BSD-style code base were instead OSSAL-licensed, this couldn't
happen.  I take no position on whether this is a Good Thing or not,
except to note that situations like bison/byacc are extremely rare in
practice for reasons that probably have nothing to do with the details
of licensing; most of the community's very small number of major-league
unmergeable forks (think Emacs/Xemacs) have nothing to do with licensing,
and the three-pronged BSD fork involves codebases that share a common

John Cowan                              <>    
Unified Gaelic in Cyrillic script!
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