Sorting Out the Sharing License Shambles
from the too-much-of-a-good-thing dept
At the heart of the various movements based around sharing -- free software, open content, open access etc. -- lie specially drawn-up licenses that grant permissions beyond the minimal ones of copyright. This approach has worked well -- too well, in fact, since it has led to a proliferation of many different licenses: the Open Source Initiative recognizes over 60 of them for open source. That's a problem because slight incompatibilities between them often make it impossible to create combined works drawing on elements released under different licenses.
To reduce these incompatibilities there has been a general move towards license simplification. For example, Wikipedia was originally licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL), reflecting the fact that Wikipedia took its inspiration from the free software movement, which uses the GNU General Public License (GPL), and that in the early days of Wikipedia the Creative Commons licenses simply did not exist.
That became a problem as Creative Commons' cc by-sa license became popular, since it was not possible to re-use Wikipedia content with works released under that license. The solution was to relicense Wikipedia material under both the GFDL and cc by-sa, a shift that took place in 2009.
More recently, in the realm of software, version 2 of the Mozilla Public License (MPL 2.0), used by Firefox and many other programs, has been drawn up; one of its key aims was to reduce incompatibilities with other free software licenses:
the license is now compatible with the Apache license - anyone who complies with the terms of the MPL should also be compliant with the Apache license's terms. Similarly, by default, the license allows the code to be distributed alongside code licensed under the GPL or LGPL.
The Apache license is used by the Apache Software Foundation for the well-known Apache Web server – currently running around 60% of the public Web – and many other applications. The LGPL is a variant of the GPL. That means that MPL 2.0 is now compatible with the two most important free software licenses – a big step forward in terms of tidying up the license mess in the free software world.