OSI and FSF Licence Approval Comparison

The Open Source Initiative and the Free Software Foundation are probably the two authorities on what is free and open source software that are better respected than the debian project. It’s fairly easy to see that the famous licences (GNU GPL) appear on both lists, but how similar are their approvals?

There was a comparison at Asheeshworld Notes you will like: OSI vs FSF in 2007, but I’ve noticed more and more duplicates in that listing and the source code didn’t work for me. I’ve captured the current differences between their actual approvals in a pseudo-diff. The generating code and intermediate steps are splattered around the same folder.

Many of the differences look like a result of process differences, but I’m not sure because OSI doesn’t make any comments and their licence review process archive seems awkward to search. As I understand it, a lawyer advocates a licence in the OSI process, so it requires the licensor to contribute (and many licensors couldn’t care less about OSI); but FSF does an independent review, so FSF has to decide it’s worth reviewing. In case it’s not obvious, I think FSF’s independent foundation-led review is much the better of those two.

There are two licences that OSI approved but FSF lists as non-free: NASA Open Source Agreement and the Reciprocal Public License. Both of these are “send-back-ware” where changes have to be sent back or made available to the upstream developer. Many debian developers agree such payments-in-kind are non-free (OSI’s OSDefinition is based on the Debian Free Software Guidelines), but I think an early OSI advisor thought they were a good idea, so those approvals look like an OSI bug to me.

It’s not obvious if there are licences that FSF approves but OSI rejects. OSI doesn’t seem to list licences to avoid.

Is it helpful to see the differences? Would a comparison with the debian archive be useful? Are there other curiousities captured in the differences? Are people interested in reconciling the differences?

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2 Responses to OSI and FSF Licence Approval Comparison

  1. Thomas says:

    I don’t quite think OSI serves much of a purpose beyond marketing (itself). When I did license evaluations, the FSF’s resources seemed far more informative than OSI, too, because they actually include problems that make licenses non-free or disadvantages of free licenses and all that. Sure, you have to discount the bias towards their own licenses (particularly icky with GFDL), but that is straightforward to do, too, because they do their politics openly.

  2. jldugger says:

    The OSI has refused to approve a license I proposed, assuming they would indeed refuse it. The author of the game Soul-Fu felt his license was “open source” enough and that surely the OSI would rubber stamp it if submitted. So I did exactly that, and they roundly dismissed it.

    Frankly, I’d rather have help convincing people who are that far off the chart to change than reconciling minor differences amongst competing organizations.

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