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SourceForge reverses ban on US foes

U-turn on 'blanket blocking'

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Open Source code repository SourceForge.net has pulled a U-turn on a widely unpopular decision to ban users from accessing its website from countries under US trade restrictions.

In a blog post Sunday, SourceForge announced that it has instead handed over responsibility of navigating international trade laws to individual project administrators.

The US-based website's terms of service have long forbidden uploading and downloading code if the user resides in a country on the US Office of Foreign Assets Control sanction list, which includes Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.

In late January, however, the company began automatically blocking IP addresses from those countries, arguing that its need to follow the laws of the land supersede any wishes to keep the open source community as open as possible.

The decision quite predictably didn't sit well with free software idealists (i.e. the folks supporting the website), who argued that such restrictions run counter to open source guiding principles of making software available to everyone without discrimination.

"Our action provoked a strong, angry reaction from those it affected and from the community at large," post stated. "But even before we heard your cries of outrage, we were looking for reasonable alternatives — and we believe that we've found one."

Under the website's new policy - effective immediately - the most restrictive settings are still in place by default. But it allows project admins to decide if the project is not subject to US export regulations. Admins can check a box under project settings granting all users access to project files as they did before last month's change, SourceForge said.

"We recognize that this change isn't the completely free access to everything for everyone that some would like," SourceFoirge says. "As a US-based web site, SourceForge remains committed to comply fully with all relevant US laws and regulations, including those affecting the distribution of software."

The OFAC was not immediately available to comment on whether granting project leads the responsibility gets SourceForge itself off the hook from any potential violations of US trade regulations.

The new policy takes a similar approach to that of the Apache Foundation's handling of cryptography in terms of requiring developers to understand and comply with US trade regulations. ®

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