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Open-Source Referees Change the Rules

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The Open Source Initiative board on Wednesday adopted a new way of approving open-source licenses, as well as a new classification system for existing licensees, at its meeting at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.

The OSI (Open Source Initiative) is the organization that approves open-source licenses. While its blessing is not necessary in any legalistic way, few if any companies or developers would use a so-called open-source license without the OSI's blessing.

"License proliferation has become a significant barrier to open-source deployment," the group declares in its "License Proliferation" document, a copy of which was obtained by prior to its publication.

From now on, the group says, "Approved licenses must meet three new criteria of being a) nonduplicative, Cool clear and understandable, and c) reusable."

Additionally, the Open Source Initiative says it "will be moving to a three-tier system in which licenses are classified as preferred, approved or deprecated."

"The class of asymmetrical, corporate licenses that began with Mozilla was a worthy experiment that has failed. The new policy will discourage them," the group says.

Many companies, such as Sun Microsystems Inc. with its controversial CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), have used the Mozilla license to create their own. Critics have pointed out, and Sun admits, that the CDDL is not compatible with the GPL (GNU General Public License), which is the legal foundation of Linux and many other major open-source projects.

To prevent this kind of conflict between licenses, the group is explicitly stating that one of the new policy's goals "will be to promote unrestricted reusability of code."

But the OSI board will not be making the call on its own on which new licenses will be approved. The group "has designed a public-comment process to include community stakeholders in grading licenses."

The organization is still working on the details of exactly how this process will work, according to sources close to the board.

The board is also now publicly agreeing with what many of its members-as well as the software development community-have charged for some time: that there are already too many open-source licenses.

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