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OSI to the European Commission: make space for patent-free standards too

Thu, 2022-05-19 08:48
One of the biggest hidden challenges facing the software and technology world is the evolving...
Categories: FLOSS Research

Memray project showcases why Bloomberg is an ‘open source first’ company

Tue, 2022-05-17 08:30
What might not be as well-known are Bloomberg’s contributions to open source software, both as a driver for its own technology and application infrastructure, as well as developing enterprise-scale tools for the broader open source community.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Join upcoming hackathon “Get plugged into education!” with Moodle

Thu, 2022-05-12 16:48
'Get plugged into education!' with Moodle will be the first project in a series of hackathons part of a joint initiative launched by The United Nations Office of Information and Communications Technology (OICT) and the Directorate-General for Informatics of European Commission (DG DIGIT).
Categories: FLOSS Research

Publicplan: Why we support the OSI

Tue, 2022-05-03 12:25
Since its founding, publicplan has been committed to the concept of open source software. For us, there is no greater good than free information.
Categories: FLOSS Research

GNOME patent troll stripped of patent rights

Thu, 2022-04-28 12:31
A recent decision at the US patent office may well give patent trolls cause to steer clear of open source projects – even more than the fierce resistance the community impressively funded and mounted in the GNOME case.
Categories: FLOSS Research

A win for open is a win for all: Interview with The Open Organization

Tue, 2022-04-26 12:36
We spoke with Bryan Behrenshausen, Community Architect for the Open Organization in the Open Source Program Office at Red Hat, about this inspiring project and get his perspective on all things open source.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Join us at PyCon 2022

Thu, 2022-04-21 10:52
We are very excited to be attending our first in-person event in over 2 years! PyCon has always been one of our favorites and we are looking forward to returning
Categories: FLOSS Research

Let’s get open source voices heard by the EU on standards essential patents

Thu, 2022-04-14 08:30
Now is a crucial time for the open source community to respond to the consultation launched by the European Commission on standards essential patents (SEPs).
Categories: FLOSS Research

Let’s get open source voices heard by the EU on standards essential patents

Thu, 2022-04-14 08:30

Now is a crucial time for the open source community to respond to the consultation launched by the European Commission on standards essential patents (SEPs). The Commission is proposing the creation of a new framework governing their use. Since this has been directed at the existing SEP-reliant industries where open source is less common, we want to be sure the voices of the open source community are heard in this public consultation.

It’s easy to misunderstand SEPs as implying that patents are essential to all standards; they are not! It is OSI’s position that many standards do not involve SEPs, that open source requires restriction-free licensing if the creators of a standard hold essential patents, and that the EU needs to harmonize its open source and standards strategies. OSI’s formal response to this Call for Evidence is forthcoming.

This public consultation came about because some standards users have found the current system for licensing SEPs has issues with transparency, predictability and efficiency. In some cases it also offers incumbents undue market control, especially over market entry. Under the current approach, patent-holders commit to license their SEPs – patents known to be inherent to implementation of a standard – to users of the standard on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms and conditions.

But “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” has not turned out to be an accurate description of SEP licensing, nor has the commitment been reliably enforceable, arising as it does from participation terms of standards consortia rather than legal mandates. Every SEP license is a matter of private bilateral negotiation with confidential outcomes. There is a drum-beat of litigation involving companies complaining they have been denied fair licenses by patent holders, such as in recent cases involving Phillips.

OSI recognises that there are places where SEPs are tolerated. In the paper I wrote for Open Forum Academy, Open Source and FRAND: Why Legal Issues Are The Wrong Lens, the terms “requirements-led” and “implementation-led” are introduced to help distinguish the differing standardization world views. SEPs tend to only be present in the former paradigm, although patent-focused technology companies treat all standards as if they are SEP-bearing. This leads them to behave as if there is no alternative to falsely characterize open source as a matter of licensing technicalities alone that can be adapted to fit their pre-existent patent-dependent business practices.

In doing so, they overlook the reality that licenses serve open source by creating an environment where those enjoying the licensed software are free to do so without negotiation with the licensors. Only SEP approaches that avoid such negotiations will be compatible with the growing need to implement standards as open source software. The EU’s 2020-2023 open source software strategy outlines a vision for encouraging and leveraging the transformative, innovative and collaborative power of open source, as well as its principles and development practices.

The EU’s strategy demands that open source be considered in any related consultation, and this one is no exception. Therefore, it is important for the open source community to respond to this Call for Evidence with explanations why future changes must consider open source even if this inquiry is not structured to do so. The deadline for responses is May 9, 2022. Please be sure to independently submit your response in a timely manner so it may be considered by the EU Commission.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

User beware: Modified AGPLv3 removes freedoms, adds legal headaches

Thu, 2022-04-07 10:08

In a prior post, we reported on a decision from a U.S. district court holding that it was false advertising for a company to claim that software licensed under the Affero General Public License version 3 with the addition of the Commons Clause (referred to in the case as the “Neo4j Sweden Software License”) was “free and open source” software. Unfortunately that case contains one more decision that is already raising concerns among the open source community.

Defendants in this case had forked the Neo4j software and removed the Commons Clause from their now-AGPLv3 licensed fork. They did this relying on AGPLv3 Section 7 that permits a licensee to remove any "further restriction" – such as non-commercial use – imposed beyond those listed in AGPLv3. However, the court held that the defendants were not allowed to redistribute the software without the Commons Clause license.

That conclusion goes against the intent of the drafters of the AGPLv3. The GPLv3 Second Discussion Draft Rationale says in footnote 73 that the restriction was aimed at the copyright owners themselves: “Here we are particularly concerned about the practice of program authors who purport to license their works under the GPL with an additional requirement that contradicts the terms of the GPL, such as a prohibition on commercial use.”

Nevertheless, the Neo4j district court reached a different conclusion, with the judge relying on his own opinion in another, earlier case against related defendants, Neo4j, Inc. v. Graph Foundation, Inc. The Commons Clause is not a stand-alone license but designed as a modifier to an open source license. The Commons Clause adds a restriction on “Selling” software, with “Selling” a defined term of unclear scope. There is no question that adding the Commons Clause makes a free and open source license non-free, which the FAQs for the Clause itself say.

The part of the AGPLv3 license defendants relied on to remove the Commons Clause says that “If the Program as you received it, or any part of it, contains a notice stating that it is governed by this License along with a term that is a further restriction, you may remove that term.” Why didn’t the court permit the removal of the Commons Clause, and thus hold that the distribution of the fork under the AGPLv3 alone was correctly advertised as open source software?

The trial court held that this provision in the AGPLv3 applies only to downstream licensees, not when the original licensor adds them:

Neither of the two provisions in the form AGPLv3 that Defendants point to give licensees the right to remove the information at issue. Section 10 of the AGPLv3, which is incorporated into the Neo4J Sweden Software License, states: “You may not impose any further restrictions on the exercise of rights granted or affirmed under this License.” Section 7 states: “[i]f the Program as you received it, or any part of it, contains a notice stating that it is governed by this License along with a term that is a further restriction, you may remove that term.” Defendants argue that these provisions mean that “there can be no liability for removing the further licensing restrictions which Neo4j incorporated into the license,” namely the Commons Clause. As Plaintiffs point out, however, the AGPLv3 defines “you” as the licensee, not the licensor. AGPL § 0 (“Each licensee is addressed as ‘you’”). Thus, read correctly, Sections 7 and 10 prohibit a licensee from imposing further restrictions, but do not prohibit a licensor from doing so. Indeed, it would be contrary to principles of contract and copyright law to interpret these provisions as limiting Neo4J Sweden’s exclusive right to license its copyrighted software under terms of its choosing.

PureThink has now withdrawn consideration of this question from the lawsuit, so it will be up to another party to challenge the correctness of the court’s opinion.

Why this matters

There are several lessons to be learned from this. This is an unexpected outcome. The Software Freedom Conservancy called it “erroneous.” It was the intention of the FSF (footnote 73) that if the licensor added more restrictions, the downstream users could remove them.

But at the end of the day, courts interpret the meaning of legal agreements and, no matter how skilled the drafter, the outcome may be unexpected. This is one reason why the license review process is so rigorous. An OSI-approved license may be used for decades to come and we do our best to make sure that they will be interpreted as intended.

It is also a demonstration that combining an open source license with other terms will create a new license that is neither OSI-approved nor likely one that can gain approval. Any effort to change the terms of an open source license should be met with suspicion because they are likely designed to take away freedoms, or else an already OSI-approved license would have been suitable. The subterfuge is designed to “open wash” the software, claiming to use an open source license and hoping no one looks too carefully.

As a consequence, using any software under a non-OSI-approved licensing combination requires professional advice on the scope of rights being granted. But this largely defeats the purpose of using an open source license, which is to rely on the community consensus that the license delivers all the rights necessary to enjoy the software without negotiating with its makers and most likely also to take advantage of the network effect that becomes available when using a license that all know and understand. Sticking to OSI-approved licenses is the way to ensure that everyone’s expectations are met.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

User beware: Modified AGPLv3 removes freedoms, adds legal headaches

Thu, 2022-04-07 03:24
Courts interpret the meaning of legal agreements and, no matter how skilled the drafter, the outcome may be unexpected. This is one reason why the license review process is so rigorous. An OSI-approved license may be used for decades to come and we do our best to make sure that they will be interpreted as intended.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Google OSPO: Why we support the OSI

Tue, 2022-04-05 08:30
We asked Google OSPO Director Chris Dibona to share the organization’s intrinsic ties to open source, its reasons for supporting the Open Source Initiative, and its hopes for the open source movement.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Google OSPO: Why we support the OSI

Tue, 2022-04-05 08:30

This week, we’re pleased to spotlight another OSI sponsor, Google, and learn why open source is important to their organization.

Google's Open Source Programs Office (OSPO) supports open source innovation, collaboration, and sustainability through programs and services. Chris Dibona has been the Director of the Google OSPO since it began in 2004. Google’s commitment to supporting open source projects, communities, and maintainers across the entire open source ecosystem has only grown stronger, doubling its public repos in the past five years and investing $1 million in open source research.

We asked Director Chris Dibona to share the organization’s intrinsic ties to open source, its reasons for supporting the Open Source Initiative, and its hopes for the open source movement. Here’s what he said:

OSPO: Google has been using and releasing open source nearly since its inception in the late 90s. Google is keenly aware of the role that open source plays as the underpinnings of so many of our services; we happily use open source licensing as it allows us to have the best possible relationships, with little friction, with our friends in the larger world of mobile, cloud, systems, and machine learning development. Computer science (and the industry) is built on open source!

OSI: What are the 2-3 reasons your organization sponsors the Open Source Initiative?

OSPO: Googlers have been part of the OSI since the early 2000s, and we see OSI as the literal standard bearer, deciding what is and is not open source, and a strong administerial OSI is one that serves the world of open source developers well. I also have aspirations for OSI’s educational mission, presenting a fair view of what open source is and what responsibilities users of open source software have when using open source.

OSI: Why should organizations that consume open source software support the mission of OSI?

OSPO: A confused world of open source represents ambiguity in what you can or cannot do with open source licensed software. Commercial organizations should support OSI’s mission so that there’s no surprises when using software. Proprietary software isn’t bad at all, but knowing and maintaining the differences between commercial proprietary software and open source is pretty important to us. For non-profit organizations in the software development space, they should see the OSI as an important specialist organization preserving what open source and free software are to the world of software development.

OSI: What is the most important goal that the open source movement needs to achieve in 2022?

OSPO: More education and more clarity as to what open source is and is not and what one can and cannot do with it. I worry that there’s a lot of commercial and regulatory moats being dug that aim to remove the freedoms we associate with free and open source software, and OSI is an important voice in preserving what open source is, and how people can use, modify, distribute and reshare it.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

Six lessons learned from 2022 OSI elections

Thu, 2022-03-31 08:30
Before I mark a major project as DONE, I always take time to write down what worked, what didn’t and fresh thoughts on how to do things better next time.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Six lessons learned from 2022 OSI elections

Thu, 2022-03-31 08:30

Before I mark a major project as DONE, I always take time to write down what worked, what didn’t and fresh thoughts on how to do things better next time. The OSI elections occupied my mind for almost all of Q1. Here is my hot take on the 2022 elections.

Consider whether to run the elections separately

This was a recommendation from consultants in 2021 and we will need to discuss with the board how to implement it for future elections. Running two events of this magnitude in parallel is demanding for the limited staff we have. It’s easy to make mistakes, like putting links to the wrong page on an email, for example. The Board already has a “fall cycle” during which appointed Directors are renewed: it may make sense to run one election around that time. On the other hand, running both elections in one quarter will free up time for the rest of the year. We’ll have to evaluate this option very carefully.

Voters’ participation is quite low

For the Affiliates election we emailed 81 representatives of Affiliate organizations. 48 of them opened the ballot email, 41 visited the voting website but only 31 voted. A total of 50 organizations (62%) didn’t vote.

For the Individual election we emailed 567 Individual members: 312 opened the email, 212 people visited the website and 164 voted. 71% of members (403 in total) didn’t vote. What’s more disturbing, half of those who opened the email didn’t vote and, worst, one out of five who visited the page (22%) gave up on voting.

These numbers are not shocking given the fact that OSI at the moment doesn’t have staff and a program assigned to maintain relationships with Affiliates and individual members. We’ll have to get creative to improve the engagement in the near future.

Clean up the data early and often

A lot of time went to cleaning up the data to understand who is responsible for electing Affiliate representatives. Out of 81 registered Affiliates, only 47 responded confirming the contact person representing the organizations. It took us weeks to complete the process and that effort wasn’t paid off by larger participation. Ideally we’d want the Affiliates to keep their own records clean during the year. We already know that the Affiliate program needs a new approach.

Individual members' data is a lot easier to maintain because most of that is tied to payments. We also have Lifetime members (mostly former Board members and notable volunteers) who need to be reviewed manually but there are not that many to cause issues.

Reminder emails work

Any tool we use to run future elections will have to keep the reminder emails: The peaks below correspond to the nudge emails sent automatically every 3 days.

We need a better voting tool

In hindsight, we realized we didn’t dedicate enough time picking an alternative to Helios. The tool we used for 2022, Opa Vote has two major issues: It’s not Open Source although it used to be. In fact it was forked from OpenSTV and appears to be towards the end of a rights-ratchet cycle so is unsuitable for OSI to use. Additionally, it doesn’t send voting receipts to individual voters or offer them a way to ensure their vote has been counted.

We’ll need to research alternatives for the next elections, something that is as easy to use as Opa Vote for administrators and for users, is open source, doesn’t require double-opt in for the voting email, allows for different election methods, regularly sends emails and has minimal reputational issues.

The election cycle won’t restart until later this year, in Q4. We’ll start thinking about addressing these issues then. Stay tuned for more conversations on processes, tools and methods.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

Simplify Open Source License Compliance

Tue, 2022-03-29 08:30
During our POSI 2021 event Marc Jones, General Counsel at CivicActions shared some of his top-level advice for anyone looking to open source a project
Categories: FLOSS Research

Simplify Open Source License Compliance

Tue, 2022-03-29 08:30

Creative, exciting applications of open source software can be found worldwide, and who better to share the details of new use cases than the practitioners themselves. In this blog series we’ll feature guests who told their open source stories during Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021, an online conference hosted by OSI. Check this channel for more practical open source stories.

Marc Jones is General Counsel at CivicActions, a professional services firm providing design, technology, consulting and training services to the government. He started his law career at Software Freedom Law Center and has advised various open source and free culture organizations over the past nine years. In other words, he has a lot of experience in the licensing of open source software and shared some of his top-level advice for anyone looking to open source a project. Here’s what he had to say:

At the start of the project, these are the basic things to consider:

  1. What will you name the project?
  2. Where will you publish the code?

Pick a unique name that will have longevity with the project. Down the road it will need to fit into a software distribution ecosystem, so it should not be too common a name, and it should certainly not infringe on any trademarks.

Marc advises making the project publicly available from day one. Giving it to third parties is the whole point of licensing and open sourcing a project. GitHub and GitLab are the most common places to publish code with distributed version control. Coordination of many file changes is what open source software platforms like Git are designed to do. Publishing here means copies can be shared, changes can be made to those copies, and suggestions can be made to those changes. It is this exchange of drafts and changes that makes the project open source.

After your project is named and you’ve chosen a repository in which to publish the code, it’s time to look at licensing options and important steps in setting it up. Marc shares nine popular OSI-approved licenses that lawyers and engineers are most familiar with. He also suggests considering whether you want a Copyleft license, which is designed to encourage users to produce and give back to the comments, or a Permissive license, which maximizes the number of people using the code with less restrictions on how they do it.

If the project was started with a third-party library, it’s wise to license your project under the same license that library uses. If you choose a different license, make sure the licenses are compatible, and be sure to update your LICENSE file with the library’s license. And don’t delete anything from the third-party code. Remember, this is a community: if the ecosystem in which your project lives prefers a certain license, Marc suggests staying aligned with that ecosystem and going with that license.

Finally, once you choose your license, add a copy to the LICENSE file and complete the README file, including a copyright statement and a clear statement of your inbound/outbound policies. These are basic set up procedures that are best not to be overlooked.

Watching Marc’s video will offer more details if you’re serious about open sourcing your project. You can do that below:

Ospos And Lawyers Simplify Open Source License Compliance Or How Most People Do Open Source : OSI : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive This talk would walk through compliance steps from the perspective of a good faith effort to create open source software -- in other words, what most people... archive.org

The previous blog in this series features an OSI board member talking about “How to talk to your boss about open source”. This concludes the blog series for the Practical Open Source Information (POSI) 2021 event–thank you for reading along! To keep up on industry news, events, and insights from open source thought leaders and more, sign up for OSI's newsletter.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

Open source ‘protestware’ harms Open Source

Thu, 2022-03-24 08:31

This week marks one month since the start of Putin’s war against Ukraine. We stated the OSI position at that time—the OSI condemns the attack on Ukraine by the Russian army at the direction of Vladimir Putin—but there is a new development that directly impacts the open source community, and it warrants a new commentary.

The new development is that angry maintainers have started adding code to a small number of open source repositories to protest against the war. When deployed, this ‘protestware’ expresses the maintainer’s opposition to the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine. Most protestware simply displays anti-war or pro-Ukrainian messages when run. This is a non-violent, creative form of protest that can be effective.

But, in at least one case—the peacenotwar module in the node-ipc package—an update sabotages npm developers with code intended to wipe data stored in Russia and Belarus. In a March 16 blog post on the malicious code, Liran Tal at Snyk said, “This security incident involves destructive acts of corrupting files on disk by one maintainer and their attempts to hide and restate that deliberate sabotage in different forms.”

The “weaponization of open source” as Gerald Benischke calls it in his March 16 blog post is indiscriminate, and the collateral damage it causes damages the work of developers and operators solely because they have a Russia-assigned IP address. It harms peacemakers as much as the warmongers—even ethical hackers using a VPN to work against the invasion might become collateral damage.

Understandably, this has caused outrage. We share that outrage. Protest is an important element of free speech that should be protected. Openness and inclusivity are cornerstones of the culture of open source, and the tools of open source communities are designed for global access and participation. Collectively, the very culture and tooling of open source—issue tracking, messaging systems, repositories—offer a unique signaling channel that may route around censorship imposed by tyrants to hold their power.

Instead of malware, a better approach to free expression would be to use messages in commit logs to send anti-propaganda messages and to issue trackers to share accurate news inside Russia of what is really happening in Ukraine at the hands of the Russian military, to cite two obvious possibilities. There are so many outlets for open source communities to be creative without harming everyone who happens to load the update.

We encourage community members to use both the freedoms and tools of open source innovatively and wisely to inform Russian citizens about the reality of the harm imposed on Ukrainian citizens and to support humanitarian and relief efforts in and supportive of Ukraine.

Longer term, it’s likely these weaponizations are like spitting into the wind: The downsides of vandalizing open source projects far outweigh any possible benefit, and the blowback will ultimately damage the projects and contributors responsible. By extension, all of open source is harmed. Use your power, yes—but use it wisely.

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Categories: FLOSS Research

Open source ‘protestware’ harms Open Source

Thu, 2022-03-24 04:31
There is a new development that directly impacts the open source community, and it warrants a new commentary. Angry maintainers have started adding code to a small number of open source repositories to protest against the war.
Categories: FLOSS Research

Comcast: Why we support the OSI

Tue, 2022-03-22 08:30

This week, we’re pleased to spotlight another OSI sponsor, Comcast, and learn why open source is important to their organization.

Comcast is a global media and technology company that operates as three primary businesses: Comcast Cable in the U.S., Sky in Europe, and NBCUniversal globally. In addition, Comcast also provides communications services, including residential high-speed internet, phone, and wireless services.

Comcast embraces open source technology as a means of collaborative development toward digital transformation in a very interconnected world. Its Open Source Program Office (OSPO) is very active, and dedicated to being a part of the open source community and continuing to transform while delivering exceptional services to their customers.

We asked our sponsors at Comcast to share the organization’s intrinsic ties to open source, its reasons for supporting the Open Source Initiative, and its hopes for the open source movement. Here’s what they said:

Comcast is committed to open source software. We use it to build products, attract talent, and evolve the technology we use to improve the customer experience. We also encourage and support our software engineers in open-sourcing the projects they develop. We know the collective development ethos behind robust open source projects makes our products better and more powerful and we’re committed to being part of the global open source community now and into the future.

Beyond using open source technologies to build our products and experiences, we contribute actively to a wide range of open-source and open standards groups, including the Open Source Initiative. We believe open source is no longer optional, it is a business imperative and critical for innovation across our entertainment platforms. We also support and encourage the Open Source Initiative to sustain its work in maintaining the definition of Open Source.

OSI has been central to creating more trust in the open source community through its work on license due diligence which we all rely on. At a foundational level, the continued success of the OSI is important to the success of open source. We hope that the ongoing innovation in this space will help encourage more companies to give back to an industry we all benefit from significantly.

The open source movement is expanding globally, and it provides an excellent platform for people that are willing to utilize their skills. With an increasing number of users, we see growth in the contributors, projects, and the community. Because of this, we see sustainability as a fundamental goal to focus on in 2022.

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