Subject: Re: Questions to OSI Board quorum
From: David Barrett <>
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005 17:44:19 -0800

Ernest Prabhakar wrote:
> The old-timers (5+ years :-) may remember that the original  
> characterization of the OSD was as a way to document "existing"  
> community standards for what felt like a "free" license, in order to  
> capture in concrete form those intangible factors that led to  community 
> adoption.  In that sense, I understood it as a sort of  "compiler hint" 
> to license drafters, telling them "Look, if you want  people to take 
> your license seriously, please observe these norms."

You make a good point here, and one that I hadn't really considered 
before.  The OSD should represent "best practices" for making an open 
source project succeed, refined over the ages.

But what comes immediately to mind is the absence of any mention of 
contributor agreements, despite them proving to be a tremendously 
important tool in some of the largest, well organized, and most 
successful open source projects.

Furthermore, while what I'm proposing (and what the OVPL attempted) is 
innovative in a *drafting* sense, its net effect is little different 
than what is already common in the *practical* sense.

This list seems to focus exclusively on the "worst case" of some evil 
genius tricking a bunch of brilliant but naive programmers into giving 
him code.  But this worst case simply doesn't happen in the real world, 
while the best case examples abound.

What I liked about the OVPL (and I'm not its author; I only found out 
about it while proposing my own license that was remarkably similar) is 
how it reduces administrative overhead both for open source project 
managers, as well as individual contributors.  Less overhead == more 
time spent coding == less auditing ambiguity == lower risk of litigation.

- So again, I accept that a mandatory contributor agreement is 
un-approvable because it disallows forking.  But an optional contributor 
agreement prevents nothing.

- And I also accept that a license that names one specific individual is 
discriminatory against everyone not named.  But an integrated 
contributor agreement (where the given name is merely for the 
contributor's convenience and can be replaced or removed entirely) is 
not discriminatory against anyone.

- And I'm open to the argument that any optional provision is inherently 
discriminatory as it demands some people to take action while others 
don't.  But I'm not persuaded that this argument has relevance in the 
real world.

Thus my confusion is so far as I can tell, the concerns raised by the 
board have been addressed.  Clearly I'm wrong here, and thus can you 
please help me by precisely defining the concerns that remain?


PS: At the risk of self-promotion, I'd like to clarify that this isn't 
an academic debate for me.  I have a completely open-source VoIP 
application, developed with over 2300 hours of effort, that I delayed 
releasing for a few months waiting for the OVPL thing to settle down. 
Check out for the real deal.