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OSI's Open Flap

The goals of the OSI's license proliferation committee were thrown into question when the creator of the organization's manifesto was recently denied entrance.

Bruce Perens, the co-founder of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and creator of the Open Source Definition, went public with his displeasure that he wasn't invited to take part in the committee, which will advise the OSI board of directors on its recommendations to address license proliferation.

Perens said he was contacted Laura Majerus, the committee's chair, the day the call for volunteers went out.

His only reply was a form letter saying there were too many qualified members looking for a position on the committee. He told internetnews.com that he fought for acceptance using back channels at the organization, a measure that proved ineffective.

And that's when he took it public, posting to the committee's discussion list on Sunday and touching off a public debate on the goals of the license proliferation committee.

"We have to have some questions about the Open Source Initiative," he said. "The organization has been self-electing since 1999, and in that time, a lot of other organizations in the open source world have either established some sort of working meritocracy, or they've established an elective system. The OSI doesn't have either. It's not a meritocracy, and it's not democratic."

The squabble began April 18, when Majerus posted the committee's charter and request for volunteers to the license-discuss e-mail discussion list. In the post, she emphasized that the committee would have to be kept to a manageable level; on June 9, she posted a second request for volunteers to the list.

"It's not that Bruce is not qualified, he certainly is," Majerus said. "I tried to get a variety of folks who would have a variety of takes on the problem."

Majerus said she received Perens' request, and others, but waited until the second request for volunteers went through before making a choice she felt was the best mix of people to sit on the committee. Perens was notified he wasn't on the committee at the same time as everyone else, she said, and she replied to him personally with her reasons when he responded to the form letter.

The license proliferation committee was launched in April to address the growing number of open source licenses approved by the organization over the years.

Today there are more than 50 different OSI-approved licenses, based on requirements put forth in the Open Source Definition.

Of the 13 members on the board, according to a post to the discussion list by Majerus on Monday, seven are attorneys, and four are OSI members. Three of the OSI members also are on the OSI board of directors. The fourth is Eric Raymond, OSI co-founder and president emeritus.

Each, however, represent different interests, Majerus said. And while members may be attached to an organization, they also have the expertise that she was looking for in committee members.

Larry Rosen, former general counsel and secretary at the OSI and founding partner of Resenlaw & Einschlag, found the makeup of the license proliferation committee odd, but wasn't worried because nothing will actually happen without community approval.

However, he wasn't satisfied with the reasoning behind Perens' rejection and thinks they should allow him to join.

"The excuse that there were too many committee members is BS," he said in an IM interview. "If [former president] Jimmy Carter or Pope Benedict or [Microsoft founder] Bill Gates or (heaven forbid) [HP vice president of Linux] Martin Fink wanted to be on the committee, do you think for one minute they would have said, 'Sorry, no room for you?'"

Russell Nelson, OSI board and license proliferation committee member, vigorously defended the committee selection process.

"Bruce is a great guy, and he has all this history, but what has he contributed on the license-discuss mailing list? Has he put forth any particular evidence that he understands all the licenses, that he's read them all [and] contributed to OSI?" he said. "That history is either not there or, if you want to go back six to eight years, it's there but so old that you've got to question: Is Bruce the best person to be on the committee?"

Perens responded that the license proliferation discussion list was only begun after the committee was formed, but he had recently participated in evaluating licenses via the main discussion list. He pointed out that he had served as OSI's primary license reviewer.

"We're talking about license guidelines that I wrote," he said.

Nelson also pointed out that Perens wasn't the only person not invited to serve on the committee, just the only one to take it public.

Regarding his and the other OSI officials on the committee, Nelson said they are there to provide a dual role. One is to provide corporate governance over an OSI sub-committee; the other is to represent the individual developers in the open source community. He pointed out that work conducted on the license proliferation discussion list will be heard by committee members and have a bearing on the recommendations put forth to the OSI board.

The committee work is just beginning, he noted, and the community will have time to respond to the final recommendation before or if it's adopted by the OSI board.

Perens, however, said he wouldn't participate on the list if he isn't selected for the license proliferation committee.

"They don't have to listen to a discussion list," he said. "The discussion list is essentially a dev/null for comments."