It's Time To Reject The Latest Attack On Open Source Software

Open source software is under attack. Again. And so it's beholden on all of us to take a stand before the current scourge marginalizes the wonderous benefits of open source (which accrue to every human) and the organization which looks after both the sanctity of the open source movement and the integrity of the licenses behind it: the Open Source Initiative.

Whether you know it or not, all humans are the beneficiaries of open source software in almost everything we do in our digital lives. Most of everything we use -- the smartphones, the cable modem routers, our desktops and laptops, the Web sites and services we access, the APIs at work under the hood of it all -- is built using open source software (in all or in part). It can be easily argued that all of our user experiences would be a lot suckier and slower were it not for the open source model and how it drives innovation (much of it charitable) which trickles into every digital moment without exception. Some experiences that add value to our lives might not exist at all were it not for open source.

The API economy wouldn't be one-tenth the economy that it is were it not for open source software. For example, software development kits (SDKs) make it easier for developers to consume APIs with their favorite languages. A huge number of the SDKs for consuming APIs don't come from the API providers themselves. They come from third party developers who had to build their own SDKs (when necessity is the mother of such invention in coding circles, this activity is sometimes called "scratching an itch") and who decided others might not only benefit from the existence of their code, they knew that the code might get improved by other charitable developers. So, they licensed the code behind those SDKs (many of which can be found on GitHub) under an open source license which in turn greases the wheels of the API economy and all those who benefit from it. 

So, if you know this, then you should know that the open source model is under attack in ways that will erode your rights as an open source beneficiary and ultimately, the pace of innovation and the User Experience to which you're entitled. My friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has penned some important coverage (see Open-source licensing war: Commons Clause about this latest attack over on ZDNet) and even though it may be hard to Parse for the layman, I encourage you to read it because you'll get the basic idea. 

This is not the first such attack that attempted to derive the good will benefits of open source while cloaking the actual license in proprietary legalese. A little more than a decade ago, there was a similar attempt to pervert open source. When, as executive editor of ZDNet, I revealed that attempted perversion (see Are SugarCRM, Socialtext, Zimbra, Scalix and others abusing the term "open source?”), outrage mounted, the transgressors relented by working with (instead of around) the OSI, and a compromise was eventually reached in terms of a new OSI-certified open source license; the Common Public Attribution License.

In writing this article, I’m joining arms with Mr. Vaughan-Nichols to raise the awareness of what’s happening, what is at stake, and ultimately, to engender a rejection of this latest attempt to undermine the culture, the benefits, and beauty of open source.

Editors Note 2018/08/31: Shortly after publishing this article, OSI president Simon Phipps denounced another attempted perversion of open source licensing, this time by Lerna. Lerna has modified the OSI-certified MIT license that's attached to its JavaScript developer tool to exclude certain organizations based on political reasons. This is why I say these "attacks" on open source must be rejected both unequivocally and swiftly because as soon as one organization is not met with stiff resistance after deciding to take liberties in creating uncertified derivatives of open source licenses, then other organizations will look to take those same liberties, regardless of their motivations. And then, pretty soon, the idea of open source is wholly blurred to the point that it actually doesn't mean anything. Fortunately, the ensuing Github thread on the modified license amounted to so much resistance that Lerna backed down and is restoring it's derivation of the MIT license to the original version. Full coverage of that story has been posted on ProgrammableWeb.

Be sure to read the next Open Source article: ​Javascript Tool Maker Relents After Mixing Immigration Politics with Open Source Licensing