Oct 172018
 

News briefs for October 17, 2018.

elementary
OS Juno
is now available. This new major version sports a ton of updates
and improvements with three major goals: 1) “provide a more refined user
experience; 2) “improve productivity for new and seasoned users alike”; and
3) “take our developer platform to the next level”.

The KDE Project
yesterday announced the first point release
of the KDE Plasma 5.14
desktop series. Plasma 5.14.1 adds new translations and some important
bugfixes. See the changelog
for further details.

Chrome 70 is now available. This release removes the controversial change
from the last version, and now allows users to stop the browser from
automatically signing in to their Google accounts after logging in to one of
its apps, The
Verge reports
. You still need to opt-out and specifically change this setting,
however. Other changes include support for progressive web apps on Windows.
See the “New
in Chrome 70” post
for more information on this release.

Docker has raised $92 million in new funding. According to
TechCrunch,
“the new funding is a signal that while Docker may have lost its race with
Google’s Kubernetes over whose toolkit would be the most widely adopted,
the San Francisco-based company has become the champion for businesses that
want to move to the modern hybrid application development and information
technology operations model of programming.”

Mozilla has created badges for Firefox users who want to show their support.
You can grab the code for the badges here. Mozilla notes that the
“images are hosted on a Mozilla CDN for convenience and performance only. We
do no tracking of traffic to the CDN”.

elementary OS Juno Released, Plasma 5.14.1 Is Out, Chrome 70 Now Available, Docker Raises New Funding and New Badges for Firefox Users
Source: Linux Journal

Oct 172018
 

[ A similar version
was crossposted
on Conservancy’s blog
. ]

More than 15 years ago, Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS)
community activists successfully argued that licensing proliferation was a
serious threat to the viability of FLOSS. We convinced companies to end
the era of
“vanity” licenses. Different charities — from the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to
the Free Software Foundation (FSF) to the Apache Software Foundation — all agreed we were better
off with fewer FLOSS licenses. We de-facto instituted what my colleague
Richard Fontana once called the “Rule of Three” —
assuring that any potential FLOSS license should be met with suspicion
unless (a) the OSI declares that it meets their Open Source Definition,
(b) the FSF declares that it meets their Free Software Definition, and (c)
the Debian Project declares that it meets their Debian Free Software
Guidelines
. The work for those organizations quelled license proliferation
from radioactive threat to safe background noise. Everyone thought the
problem was solved. Pointless license drafting had become a rare practice,
and updated versions of established licenses were handled with public engagement
and close discussion with the OSI and other license evaluation experts.

Sadly, the age of
license proliferation has returned. It’s harder to stop this time, because
this isn’t merely about corporate vanity licenses. Companies now have complex FLOSS policy
agendas, and those agendas are not to guarantee software
freedom for all. While it is annoying that our community must again confront an
old threat, we are fortunate the problem is not hidden: companies proposing
their own licenses are now straightforward about their new FLOSS licenses’ purposes: to maximize profits.

Open-in-name-only
licenses are now common, but seem like FLOSS licenses only to the most casual of readers.
We’ve succeeded in convincing everyone to “check the OSI license
list before you buy”. We can therefore easily dismiss licenses like Common
Clause merely
by stating they are non-free/non-open-source
and urging the community to
avoid them. But, the next stage of tactics have begun, and they are
harder to combat. What happens when for-profit companies promulgate their
own hyper-aggressive (quasi-)copyleft licenses that seek to pursue the key
policy goal of “selling proprietary licenses” over
“defending software freedom”? We’re about to find out,
because, yesterday,
MongoDB declared themselves the arbiter of what “strong copyleft” means.

Understanding MongoDB’s Business Model

To understand the policy threat inherent in MongoDB’s so-called
“Server
Side Public License, Version 1”
, one must first understand the
fundamental business model for MongoDB and companies like them. These
companies use copyleft for profit-making rather than freedom-protecting. First, they require full control (either via ©AA or CLA) of
all copyrights in the work, and second, they offer two independent lines of
licensing. Publicly, they provide the software under the strongest
copyleft license available. Privately, the same (or secretly improved)
versions of the software are available under fully proprietary terms. In
theory, this could be
merely selling
exceptions
: a benign manner of funding more Free Software code —
giving the proprietary option only to those who request it. In practice
— in all examples that have been even mildly successful (such as
MongoDB and MySQL) — this mechanism serves as a warped proprietary
licensing shake-down: “Gee, it looks like you’re violating the
copyleft license. That’s a shame. I guess you just need to abandon the
copyleft version and buy a proprietary license from us to get yourself out
of this jam, since we don’t plan to reinstate any lost rights and
permissions under the copyleft license.” In other words, this
structure grants exclusive and dictatorial power to a for-profit company as
the arbiter of copyleft compliance. Indeed, we have never seen any of
these companies follow or endorse the Principles of
Community-Oriented GPL Enforcement
. While it has made me unpopular with some, I still make no apologies that I have since 2004
consistently criticized this “proprietary relicensing” business
model as “nefarious”, once I started hearing regular reports that MySQL AB (now
Oracle) asserts GPL violations against compliant uses merely to scare
users into becoming “customers”. Other companies,
including MongoDB, have since emulated this activity.

Why Seek Even Stronger Copyleft?

The GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) has done a wonderful job defending the software freedom of
community-developed projects
like Mastodon
and Mediagoblin.
So, we should answer with skepticism
a solitary
for-profit company coming
forward to claim
that “Affero GPL has not resulted in sufficient
legal incentives for some of the largest users of infrastructure software
… to participate in the community. Many open source developers are
struggling with a similar reality”. If the last sentence were on
Wikipedia, I’d edit it to add a Citation Needed tag, as I know
of nomulti-copyright-held or charity-based AGPL’d project
that has “struggled with this reality”. In fact, it’s only a
“reality” for those that engage in proprietary relicensing.
Eliot Horowitz, co-founder of MongoDB and promulgator of their new license, neglects to mention that.

The most glaring problem with this license, which Horowitz admits in his OSI license-review list post, is that there was no community drafting process. Instead, a for-profit company, whose primary goal is to
use copyleft as a weapon against the software-sharing community for the purpose of converting that “community” into paying
customers, published this license as a fait accompli without prior public discussion of the license text.

If this action were an isolated incident by one company, ignoring it is surely the best response. Indeed,
I urged everyone to simply ignore the Commons Clause. Now, we see
a repackaging of the Commons Clause into a copyleft-like box (with reuse of Commons Clause’s text
such as “whose value derives, entirely or substantially, from the functionality of the Software”). Since
both licenses were drafted in secret, we cannot know if the reuse of text was simply because the same lawyer was
employed to write both, or if MongoDB has joined a broader and more significant industry-wide strategy to replace
existing FLOSS licensing with alternatives that favor businesses over individuals.

The Community Creation Process Matters

Admittedly, the history of copyleft has been one of slowly evolving
community-orientation. GPLv1 and GPLv2 were drafted in private, too, by
Richard Stallman and FSF’s (then) law firm lawyer, Jerry Cohen. However, from
the start, the license steward was not Stallman himself, nor the law firm,
but the FSF, a 501(c)(3) charity dedicated to
serve the public good. As such, the FSF made substantial efforts in the
GPLv3 process to reorient the drafting of copyleft licenses as a public
policy and legislative process. Like all legislative processes, GPLv3 was
not ideal — and I was even personally miffed to be relegated to the
oft-ignored “GPLv3 Discussion Committee D” — but the GPLv3 process was
undoubtedly a step forward in FLOSS community license drafting.
Mozilla
Corporation made efforts for community collaboration in redrafting the
MPL
, and specifically included the OSI and the FSF (arbiters of the
Open Source Definition and Free Software Definition (respectively)) in
MPL’s drafting deliberations. The modern acceptable standard is a leap rather
than a step forward: a fully public, transparent drafting process with a fully
public draft repository, as the copyleft-next project
has done
. I think we should now meet with utmost suspicion any license
that does not use copyleft-next’s approach of “running licensing drafting
as a Free Software project”.

I was admittedly skeptical of that approach at first. What I have seen
six years since Richard Fontana started copyleft-next is that, simply put,
the key people who are impacted most fundamentally by a software
license are mostly likely to be
aware of, and engage in, a process if it is fully public, community-oriented,
and uses community tools, like Git.

Like legislation, the policies outlined in copyleft licenses impact the
general public, so the general public should be welcomed to the
drafting. At Conservancy, we don’t draft our own
licenses0, so our contracts with
software developers and agreements with member projects state that the
licenses be both “OSI-approved Open Source” and
“FSF-approved GPL-compatible Free Software”. However, you can
imagine that Conservancy has a serious vested interest in what licenses are
ultimately approved by the OSI and the FSF. Indeed, with so much money
flowing to software developers bound by those licenses, our very charitable
mission could be at stake if OSI and the FSF began approving proprietary
licenses as Open, Free, and/or GPL-compatible. I want to therefore see
license stewards work, as Mozilla did, to make the vetting process easier,
not harder, for these organizations.

A community drafting process allows everyone to vet the license text early and often,
to investigate the community and industry impact of the license, and to probe the license drafter’s intent through the acceptance and rejection of proposed modified text (ideally through a DVCS). With for-profit actors seeking to
gain policy control of fundamental questions such as “what is strong
copyleft?”, we must demand full drafting transparency and frank public
discourse.

The Challenge Licensing Arbiters Face

OSI, FSF, and Debian have a huge challenge before them. Historically, the
FSF was the only organization who sought to push the boundary of strong
copyleft. (Full disclosure: I created the Affero clause while working for
the FSF in 2002, inspired by Henry Poole’s useful and timely demands for a true network
services copyleft.) Yet, the Affero clause was itself controversial. Many complained that it changed the fundamental rules of
copyleft. While “triggered only on distribution, not
modification” was a fundamental rule of the regular GPL, we
as a community — over time and much public debate — decided the Affero clause is a legitimate copyleft, and AGPL was
declared Open Source by OSI
and DFSG-free
by Debian
.

That debate was obviously framed by the FSF. The FSF, due
to public pressure, compromised by leaving the AGPL as an indefinite
fork of the GPL (i.e., the FSF did not include the Affero clause in plain GPL. While I
personally lobbied (from GPLv3 Discussion Committee D and elsewhere) for the merger
of AGPL and GPL during the GPLv3 drafting process, I respect the decision
of the FSF, which was informed not by my one voice,
but the voices of the entire community.

Furthermore, the FSF is a charity, chartered to serve the public good
and the advancement of software freedom for users and developers. MongoDB
is a for-profit company, chartered to serve the wallets of its owners.
While MongoDB (like any other company) should be welcomed on equal footing
to individuals, charities, and trade-associations to the debate about the
future of copyleft, we should not accept their active framing of that
debate. By submitting this license to OSI for approval without any public
community discussion, and without any discussion whatsoever with the key
charities in the community, is unacceptable. The OSI should now adopt a new requirement for license approval — namely, that licenses without a community-oriented drafting
process should be rejected for the meta-reason of “non-transparent
drafting”, regardless of their actual text. This will have the added
benefit of forcing future license drafters to come to OSI, on their public mailing
lists, before the license is finalized. That will save OSI the painstaking
work of walking back bad license drafts, which has in recent years consumed
much expert time by OSI’s volunteers.

Welcoming All To Public Discussion

Earlier this year, Conservancy announced plans to host and organize
the first annual CopyleftConf.
Conservancy decided to do this because Conservancy seeks to create a truly
neutral,
open, friendly, and
welcoming
forum for discussion about the past and future of copyleft as
a strategy for defending software freedom. We had no idea when
Karen and I first mentioned the possibility of running CopyleftConf (during
the Organizers’ Panel at the end of the Legal and Policy DevRoom at FOSDEM
2018 in February 2018) that multiple companies would come forward and seek
to control the microphone on the future of copyleft. Now that MongoDB has
done so, I’m very glad that the conference is already organized and on the
calendar before they did so.

Despite my criticisms of MongoDB, I welcome Eliot Horowitz, Heather Meeker (the law firm lawyer who drafted MongoDB’s new license and the Commons Clause), or anyone else who was involved in the
creation of MongoDB’s new license to submit a talk.
Conservancy will be announcing soon the independent group of copyleft
experts (and critics!) who will make up the Program Committee and will
independently evaluate the submissions. Even if a talk is rejected, I
welcome rejected proposers to attend and speak about their views in the hallway track and
the breakout sessions.

One of the most important principles in copyleft policy that our community
has learned is that commercial, non-commercial, and individual actors
should have equal footing with regard to rights assured by the copyleft
licenses themselves. There is no debate about that; we all agree that
copyleft codebases become meeting places for hobbyists, companies, charities,
and trade associations to work together toward common goals and in harmony
and software freedom. With this blog post, I call on everyone to continue
on the long road to applying that same principle to the meta-level of how
these licenses are drafted and how
they
are enforced
. While we have done some work recently on the latter, not
enough has been done on the former. MongoDB’s actions today give us an
opportunity to begin that work anew.


0 While Conservancy does
not draft any main FLOSS license texts, Conservancy does
help
with the drafting of additional permissions
upon the request of our
member projects. Note that additional permissions (sometimes called license
exceptions) grant permission to engage in activities that the main license
would otherwise prohibit. As such, by default, additional permissions can
only make a copyleft license weaker, never stronger.


Bradley M. Kuhn: Toward Community-Oriented, Public & Transparent Copyleft Policy Planning
Source: Planet Gnome