The OSI digs into license proliferation again...but why?

OSI seems to think it has a license proliferation problem again. It doesn't, and never has.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

Someone needs to tell the Open Source Initiative, Google, and others who fret about license proliferation that the market has already cut down the number of actively used licenses to just a small handful: L/GPL, BSD/Apache, MPL, and a few others (EPL, CPL). Even so, the OSI has decided to kickstart its stalled movement to reduce the number of open-source licenses condoned by the OSI.

As OSI board member Russ Nelson writes in the board minutes:

Mr. Nelson moves that we form a license proliferation committee to evaluate all existing licenses into two tiers - an upper tier and a lower tier of licenses (e.g. "recommended" and "compliant"). The role of this committee would be to establish criteria for assigning the tier for each license, use a new license-proliferation mailing list for discussion and come up with a final list of two tiers of licenses....The deadline for presenting the draft recommendations from the committee back to the board will be October 2008.

It's a worthy cause, but one that has already been effectively fought and settled by the free market. I would hazard a guess that upwards of 95 percent of all open-source projects are licensed under less than 5 percent of open-source licenses. (The last time I checked, 88 percent of Sourceforge projects were L/GPL or BSD. It's been a non-issue for many years.)

There is no open-source proliferation problem. Do we have a lot of open-source licenses? Yes, just as we have a lot of proprietary licenses (in fact, we have many more of those). But we don't have a license proliferation problem, because very few open-source licenses actually get used on a regular basis.

This is a phantom. It seems scary, but it's not real.

Disclosure: I used to serve on OSI's board.