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OpenChain and copyleft

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  • How OpenChain can transform the supply chain

    OpenChain is all about increasing open source compliance in the supply chain. This issue, which many people initially dismiss as a legal concern or a low priority, is actually tied to making sure that open source is as useful and frictionless as possible. In a nutshell, because open source is about the use of third-party code, compliance is the nexus where equality of access, safety of use, and reduction of risk can be found. OpenChain accomplishes this by building trust between organizations.

    Many companies today understand open source and act as major supporters of open source development; however, addressing open source license compliance in a systematic, industry-wide manner has proven to be a somewhat elusive challenge. The global IT market has not seen a significant reduction in the number of open source compliance issues in areas such as consumer electronics over the past decade.


    The OpenChain Project, hosted by The Linux Foundation, is intended to make open source license compliance more predictable, understandable, and efficient for the software supply chain. Formally launched in October 2016, the OpenChain Project started three years earlier with discussions that continued at an increasing pace until a formal project was born. The basic idea was simple: Identify recommended processes for effective open source management. The goal was equally clear: Reduce bottlenecks and risk when using third-party code to make open source license compliance simple and consistent across the supply chain. The key was to pull things together in a manner that balanced comprehensiveness, broad applicability, and real-world usability.

  • Software Freedom Strategy with Community Projects

    All of those led me to understand how software freedom is under attack, in particular how copyleft in under attack. And, as I talked during FISL, though many might say that "Open Source has won", end users software freedom has not. Lots of companies have co-opted "free software" but give no software freedom to their users. They seem friends with free software, and they are. Because they want software to be free. But freedom should not be a value for software itself, it needs to be a value for people, not only companies or people who are labeled software developers, but all people.

    That's why I want to stop talking about free software, and talk more about software freedom. Because I believe the latter is more clear about what we are talking about. I don't mind that we use whatever label, as long as we stablish its meaning during conversations, and set the tone to distinguish them. The thing is: free software does not software freedom make. Not by itself. As Bradley Kuhn puts it: it's not magic pixie dust.

    Those who have known me for years might remember me as a person who studied free software licenses and how I valued copyleft, the GPL specifically, and how I concerned myself with topics like license compatibility and other licensing matters.

    Others might remember me as a person who valued a lot about upstreaming code. Not carrying changes to software openly developed that you had not made an effort to put upstream.

    I can't say I was wrong on both accounts. I still believe in those things. I still believe in the importance of copyleft and the GPL. I still value sharing your code in the commons by going upstream. But I was certaily wrong in valuing them too much. Or not giving as much or even more value to distribution efforts of getting software freedom to the users.

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