Defining and Defending 'Open Source'

Lora Bentley

The Open Source Initiative is standing up and speaking out on the definition of "open source," according to Computer Business Review. In an official OSI blog post, president Michael Tiemann told the open source community (and anyone else who happened to read) that OSI will no longer sit back and let companies that release software under non-OSI approved licenses use the "open source" label without a fight.


Prompted by the increasing number of companies that toss around the "open source" label because it's the "in" thing to do and then create their own licenses -- which don't necessarily allow distribution or other rights as contemplated by the OSI-drafted open source definition -- Tiemann wrote:

We should never put the customer in a position where they cannot trust the term open source to mean anything because some company and their investors would rather make a quick buck than an honest one, or because they believe more strongly in their own story than the story we've been creating together for the past 20 years.

He urged the open source community, as well as vendors, analysts and the press, to "use the term 'open source' to refer to software licensed under an OSI-approved license." And he pleaded with vendors to label their products correctly. If they use an OSI-approved license to release their software, then great -- call it open source. If they don't, call it something else.

Here's the thing -- as Tiemann's readers point out in their comments, the OSI has no way to enforce proper use of the phrase "open source" until it is trademarked, which has not yet happened, as far as I understand it.

So the OSI should continue the trademark application process -- or start it again, if necessary. In the meantime, all the organization can do is continue to ask vendors to consider using other labels when they aren't using an OSI-approved license, and continue lobbying for increased adoption of its definition.

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