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Perens: 'Badgeware' threat to open source's next decade

Je ne regrette rien - kinda

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10th birthday interview Bruce Perens doesn't regret the fact that, since officially co-birthing open source with The Cathedral and the Bazaar author and hacker Eric Raymond ten years ago, Linux and open source have moved from the sandal-wearing fringes to acceptance by Wall Street and big, closed-source industry giants.

Nor does he feel remorse at the fact that Linux and open source established a pervasive presence on servers and handhelds such as Motorola's RAZR, and that they are now proving popular in browsers, languages and developer frameworks.

In fact, Perens is so convinced that open source culture - such as collaborative working in a community - has proven so adept at creating high quality products like Firefox for lower costs and reduced risk to individuals, he believes the open source philosophy will spill over into non-IT areas like education materials and manufacture of business and consumer goods in the next ten years.

No. If Bruce Perens could change anything from that day in February 1998 when he announced the Open Source Definition and the Open Source Initiative he'd alter the very way open source licenses are ratified, to halt what he regards as the chief threat to the next ten years of open source: license proliferation.

Perens said the growth in licenses, especially the emergence of "badgeware", or attribution licenses used by numerous open source companies, such as last year's Common Public Attribution License (CPAL), is dangerous. Today, we have 68 licenses ranging from the well-known GNU General Public License(GPL) to the, well... the OCLC Research Public License 2.0 recognized by the OSI.

Badgeware puts open source on a slippery slope to the approval of ever-more restrictive licenses. The OSI - the body that ratifies all open source and Linux licenses - has failed to establish a clear guideline for approving badgeware, and apparently acted arbitrarily, leaving left us potentially open to even more badgeware. "It was not clear to me that by granting this license [Socialtext] that the OSI can hold the line. They have to come up with a rationale," Perens told Reg Dev in an interview.

While Perens supports recognition of developers' work, he believes badgeware licenses threaten the very essence of open source and Linux - their creativity - because such licenses put arbitrary terms and conditions on developers. Badgeware makes the software's use ever more restrictive and leaves individual developers open to attack from America's biggest single export: litigious attorneys.

"I wasn't prepared for [license proliferation]- I might have structured it differently had I known," Perens conceded. "I'd have suggested putting a non-proliferation clause in the Open Source Initiative and designed the licence approval process, so it was a bad idea to submit a licence that does the same as another licence."

Perens believes he can't now insert such a clause and - in lieu of that fact - believes the best hope for the next ten years is for open source and Linux projects and technologies to be licensed under GPL3 or LGPL3, successors to GPL2 and LGPL2. "Because of the legal scrutiny those licenses have had," said.

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