What does CPAL mean and how did it get approved?

I don't like the new Common Public Attribution License. But I think I can see how it was approved.

NOTE: I am not speaking for the OSI in this (or any other) blog entry.

I will admit to entering the OSI's deliberations of the recently approved Common Public Attribution License a little late, and leaving early, so I don't have the full context as to how or why it was approved (given the stink around attribution licenses last year). I'm not a big fan of the license (having developed a distaste for this form of license in last year's brouhaha over attribution licenses), but I applaud Ross Mayfield in the way he went about it.

It's interesting that last year's anathema is suddenly mainstream, as Michael Tiemann notes:

A year ago . . . the entire community lined up on one side of the boat (against the badgeware), and when the new thing (CPAL) came out most people wound up on the other side of the boat with one person on the far rail and some others who would like to see some changes.

What changed? Well, the Free Software Foundation, for one. GPLv3 also provides for attribution (though this addition to the license feels like a pork project added to omnibus legislation at the last minute, in the way that legislation sometimes picks up unrelated provisions, but that's another story...). Hence, more than anything else, I personally believe that the Free Software Foundation's GPLv3 provided cover for CPAL to get approved, which has shifted views on attribution more than anything else. Or maybe everyone just got tired of debating it. Not sure.

So, what does CPAL do that MPL+Attribution licenses of last year didn't do? Very little. It's basically the same, as The Register points out, except that it leaves a lot to the user (that is, ultimately the courts) to determine. This is the only reason that I could buy off on it: there are enough ways to get around the license to make it palatable.

The intent is to provide for reasonably modest attribution, therefore the Original Developer cannot require that You display, at any time, more than the following information as Attribution Information: (a) a copyright notice including the name of the Original Developer; (b) a word or one phrase (not exceeding 10 words); (c) one graphic image provided by the Original Developer; and (d) a URL (collectively, the "Attribution Limits").

I can think of all sorts of ways to read my way around that (I am a lawyer, after all :-), but I suspect that, on balance, the license will serve its desired end: to keep would-be OEMs and/or competitors from free riding. Is this a non-open source sort of thing to do/say? Not really, since the GPL and other licenses can and are often used for precisely the same purpose.

For those who don't want to invest the time and legal fees to find their way around the license, there's another alternative:

Write their own software.

Imagine that.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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