Mozilla Public License to be Updated?

One of the key reasons that Mozilla and its technologies are open source is the Mozilla Public License (MPL). Now, the closely watched MPL may be seeing an update after remaining unchanged for years.

The MPL is one of the defining features of the Mozilla Foundation, its related entities and products — providing users with a license that is open for inspection and participation as well as commercial integration.

It’s also a license that has remained the same since 1999.

But that may change after this week, now that Mozilla Corp.’s John Lilly is succeeding longtime CEO Mitchell Baker, who was one of the primary authors of the MPL.

Baker, who will continue at the organization, is now shifting roles. Accordingly, she said she may now have time to devote to issues that haven’t been considered in some time — like the MPL.

“The Mozilla license hasn’t been revised in years,” Baker said in response to a question from during a recent public Webcast. “It has been in the back of my mind that it’s time to look at it and see if a revision makes sense.”

Baker said her duties as leader of Mozilla Corp. and the non-profit Mozilla Foundation (for both of which she will continue as chairman) had until now demanded the bulk of her attention.

“I have looked at it a few times and taken a few steps but never had time or focus to make my way through it and come up with a recommendation,” Baker said. “I think I will probably try and do that.”

“I feel my biggest set of unique talents right now is the ability to talk to large sets of people about the role of Mozilla and its technology,” she added. “So if I had to pick one thing to focus on, that would be it.”

It’s not immediately clear what changes would be in store for the MPL.

Patents represented a major, divisive issue in the recently revised GPL version 3 open source license. The GPL hadn’t been updated in fifteen years and the process of rewriting it became rife with disagreement at times, with Linux
creator Linux Torvalds opposing the changes

For Mozilla, patents may not necessarily be as large an issue. Baker said that the MPL was among the first licenses to have a patent-defense clause.

She also conceded that, in her view, the MPL is “draconian” in its patent-defense clause — and it may or not be right.

Still, “I wouldn’t expect anything dramatic,” she said of plans for a revised MPL. “But it’s like a piece of code that hasn’t been changed in five or six years — so there is undoubtedly stuff in there that seemed important at the time that isn’t important now.”

Baker likely won’t be alone in looking at revisions to the MPL. For one thing, Mozilla is hiring a general counsel — in fact, she said Mozilla plans to hire the same person who wrote the Patent Defense clauses found in the current MPL version.

Neither Baker nor Lilly, who was also on the Webcast, elaborated on those plans.

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