Licensing Open Standards: What Can We Learn From Open Source?
Posted by Steve Lay
At the recent Questionmark Users Conference I gave an introductory talk on Open Source Software in Learning Education and Training. When preparing for the talk it really came home to me how important the work of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and Creative Commons is. These organizations help to take a very complex subject, namely the licensing of intellectual property, and to distill it into a small set of common licenses that can be widely understood.
I’ve always been an advocate of distributing technical standards using these standard licenses where possible. Standard licenses allow developers who use them to be confident of the legal foundations of their work without a cumbersome process of evaluating each license on a case-by-case basis. So I was delighted to see an excellent blog post by Chuck Allen from the HR-XML consortium discussing this issue and providing some detailed analysis of several such licenses that highlight the different approaches taken by several consortia.
The community reaction to the temporary withdrawal of the draft QTI specification has already been discussed by John Kleeman in this blog, Why QTI Really Matters. What struck me in that case was that there was uncertainty amongst community members surrounding the license and the impact of the withdrawal on their rights to develop and maintain software based on the draft.
This problem is not unique to e-learning, as Chuck Allen demonstrates with his analysis of the licenses used by the organizations he studied in the related HR field. I’d echo his call for more convergence on the licenses used for technical standards. In fact, I’d go further. The W3C publish much of the core work on which the other standards rely, for example, HTML used for web pages and XML used by almost all modern standards initiatives. Using the same approach would surely be the simplest way to license open standards based on these technologies?
Just as organizations like GNU, BSD, MIT and Apache have given their names to commonly used open source code licenses, I look forward to a time when I can choose the “W3C” open standards license and everyone will know what I mean.