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Google demands more openness from the Open Source InitiativeMatthew Aslett, May 27, 2010 @ 5:04 am ET
Google’s open source programs manager, Chris DiBona has asked the Open Source Initiative to delay consideration of Google’s WebM license, and in doing so has called on the OSI to be more open. Specifically, DiBona said Google “will want a couple of changes to how OSI does licenses” and that he thinks “that OSI needs to be more open about its workings to retain credibility in the space”.
DiBona statement came in response to Bruce Perens’ request for the OSI’s License Discuss mailing list to consider the WebM license introduced by Google for its VP8 video codec, and follows the declaration by Open Source Initiative board member, Simon Phipps, that WebM is “not open source”.
DiBona’s request reads as follows:
“Please hold off on submitting this while we determine certain compatibility issues internally at google. We’ll engage with osi in a couple of weeks, likely as not. I would also point out that we’re uncomfortable with make licesne proliferation worse and in the event we do submit it, we will want a couple of changes to how OSI does licenses.
1) We will want a label explicitly deterring the use of the license.
2) We will want the bod list archives open for any discussions of webm. We are not comfortable with OSI being closed.
3) We need to know OSI’s current corporate status. I heard that osi was a california corporation again, but I would like to know, from the group, that this is true for 2010 and that there aren’t any issues there.
This might sound stridant, but I think that OSI needs to be more open about its workings to retain credibility in the space.”
The request led to a predictably, and some would say justifiably, forthright response from OSI board members, including Simon Phipps and Russ Nelson, while Larry Rosen expressed his support for DiBona’s comments. Peace appears to have been quickly restored – for now – thanks to a level-headed comment from Josh Berkus.
451 CAOS Theory opinion:
Earlier this week we argued that the OSI’s license review process needs to be overhauled but while we agree that there is a need for debate over the OSI’s processes, the License Discuss mailing list is not the place for that debate to occur. Google has shown poor judgment and a lack of respect for the OSI in directly linking debate over the license approval process to discussion of a single license. It is hard not to read DiBona’s request as a list of demands (even if that was not the intention).
Google could, and arguably should, have used an existing OSI-approved license for WebM. Google could also have discussed the license with the OSI prior to its publication, although we would note that Google did not itself submit the license to License Discuss and the WebM website makes no claim that WebM is “open source”, that we are aware of. At the very least Google should have worked through its “compatibility issues internally” before publishing the license, although clearly time was of the essence given the current politics surrounding video codecs.
However, we would also note that much of what Google is asking for is already available from the OSI’s processes. What the Open Source Initiative needs is not more openness, but more initiative. This episode further highlights that the current open source license approval process is unable to keep up with the pace of software development and licensing trends and needs to be reviewed if the OSI is to continue to be held in the respect it deserves.
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