Friday, December 4, 2009

Faculty Publication on Open Source Software Licenses

Robert W. Gomulkiewicz, Open Source License Proliferation: Helpful Diversity or Hopeless Confusion?, 30 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 261 (2009).

Licenses govern the usage and redistribution of software and are required whether the software is proprietary (like Microsoft’s Windows) or free and open source software, aka FOSS (like Mozilla Firefox). The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is a nonprofit organization that reviews licenses based on their compliance with the Open Source Definition, which sets standards to guarantee free access to software code and free redistribution rights. The OSI “certifies” licenses submitted to it that meet the Definition’s requirements and had approved about 60 different licenses at the time of the conference. This article explores those licenses granted to software developers in the FOSS world to determine whether the sheer number of different licenses is useful or causes unnecessary problems.

Professor Gomulkiewicz uses, as a vehicle for the discussion of license proliferation for FOSS, his own experience in submitting the Simple Public License to the OSI for certification. He then outlines the pros and cons of the present system based on what he found. In the final section of the article, he offers three steps that might be taken to ameliorate the problems created by the number and variety of certified licenses.

Professor Gomulkiewicz’s article is part of the tenth anniversary volume of the Washington University Journal of Law and Policy. All the articles are taken from papers presented at a 2008 conference held at Washington University that focused on open source and proprietary models of innovation in a number of technologies. Here is a description of the issue from its introduction:
Part I of the symposium consists of introductory articles on business, law, and engineering perspectives on open source innovation. Part II focuses on open source biotechnology, while Part III focuses on open source and proprietary software development. Part IV examines collaborative innovation, the economics of innovation, and two examples of constructed commons--namely universities and a multilateral system for plant innovation for food and agriculture.
Gomulkiewicz’s is one of three papers in Part III about software development issues.

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