[OSM-legal-talk] Future license upgrades, the heart of the matter

Frederik Ramm frederik at remote.org
Tue Jan 27 00:41:06 GMT 2009


    thinking about the new license and how things have changed in the 
past few months, I have come to the conclusion that we are seeing a 
dramatic shift in focus.

In the beginning, we were very much discussing about share-alike versus 
PD, and about details and use cases and so on, all under the assumption 
that we have to iron out the glitches before we can make the transition. 
Ironing out the glitches seemed very difficult because those who saw the 
glitches were mostly not the same people who were talking to the 
lawyers, and the lawyers could not be bothered to keep up a presence on 
this mailing list because it would have cost too much time.

We had barely ever discussed the possibility of license upgrades; early 
drafts did have an "this license or later" clause but most of us 
probably thought "well, we'll get to that when we've cleaned up the rest".

Now the whole issue has been turned around. We will be asked to accept a 
license that is not perfect, that probably has many open questions 
unanswered, and that has some update clauses so it can be changed 
without having to go through the whole relicensing process again.

This "we'll-make-it-up-as-we-go" process is very unusual for legal 
documents but it is very close to what OSM is doing in most other 
departments most of the time. (It would, by the way, be even more 
OSM-like if we had not bothered to talk to lawyers at all - since OSM is 
often said not to give a damn for professional opinion, and to do well 
in not doing so.)

This new angle suddenly makes the upgrade clauses and/or upgrade 
mechanism the most important bit of the new license. Everything else 
pales into insignificance - we can spend ages finding the right balance 
on one issue or the other, it can all be changed tomorrow, or the day 
after that, by some other group of people, without asking us. Thus, the 
*only* questions that have any significance now are:

* WHAT changes can be made to the license once it is accepted;
* WHO can make these changes (whom do we trust to make them); and
* HOW will such changes become vetted by the community, if at all.

These are the decisions that can absolutely not be postponed until after 
the license is accepted; while everything else can.

The three are somewhat interdependent in the sense that satisfactorily 
solving at least one might obsolete the others. If we make very strict 
rules about what can be changed (and what must remain the same), then 
even a non-trustworthy entity could be allowed to make them because we 
have made sure that the license cannot be disfigured. If, on the other 
hand, we have a very trustworthy entity then we can simply, well, trust 
them. And if we have neither, then we can still say that any change must 
be accepted by a certain quorum of people after a certain period of 
discussion and so on (and we would also have to also say that a change 
*must* be made if a certain quorum demand it).

I think I'm prepared to go along with the "we make the license up as we 
go" approach but the above three questions *must* definitely be answered 
fully, adequately, and clearly, in the license, or else it runs a high 
risk of being rejected by mappers as a sell-out.

The somewhat dangerous thing is that until now, we have spent very 
little time on discussing these items. Whatever comes out of the lawyer 
lab in this respect will thus have had next to zero community input. I'm 
eager to see what they have come up with and I, and probably anyone 
else, will certainly read the relevant section(s) with utmost scrutiny.


Frederik Ramm  ##  eMail frederik at remote.org  ##  N49°00'09" E008°23'33"

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