Interesting Approach to Ethical License Rules

Thanks for reminding me to post here, @boris.


Thanks for sharing it and analyzing it!

Quoting for context:

I learned today that ml5.js, a machine learning library project, has implemented a new ethical licensing strategy. Their new license requires users to abide by their code of conduct, backed by a committee with final word on reported violations. The license also implements automatic relicensing onto fully permissive terms over time.

For one, I’ve been waiting for the historical barrier between license terms and code of conduct to fall.

This was very interesting to me as well because I get asked this more recently. How do we prevent (open source x) not be used for (practices we don’t like)? And this is one answer.

I think it signals this “governance” layer more correctly understanding that the value of open source code is in fact tightly coupled to the community of maintainers, contributors, and more.

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I’m hoping to follow up with Michael, the lawyer I think was involved, to learn more about the decision process and what kinds of alternatives they considered. I’m especially curious to learn whether the team, as a whole, still feels invested and in control of this process, or whether it feels bureaucratized and estranged now that they’ve got some terms.

There are also some big blanks to fill here, like the process for perpetuating the committee that will have final say on code violations. But it makes perfect sense to punt them for now. Especially since I assume it took a fair bit of collaborative energy to get as far as they already have.

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ooh, that’s very interesting! i hope it goes well for that community, and other projects start to take notice. also, it was nice to see the announcement reference the Anti-Capitalist Software License as prior art

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Thanks for the link!

There have been so many new licenses with ethical or political conditions in the last couple years that I’ve given up tracking them all.

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someone probably should keep track of all such licenses, and i’m halfway tempted to, but in the process of looking for a good domain name i discovered that bruce perens appears to own postopensource.​com and .org, which led me to
and that seems like it might be worth looking into.

petty rant

but god damn it he’s still proud of the unproductive trolling that is the vaccine license, and god damn it if that takes off i’ll have to amend my post-open source blog post to clarify that it’s not about that one specific license.


I saw that and sort of dismissed it precisely because of some of his other rather petty / trollish behaviour.

Is it him making it so that he can point at it and say — this is the post open source license so that you don’t dare try and put it under an open source label?

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I’m going to try and watch Bruce’s video about it.

I had a quick look at the draft.

Mostly I think this is Bruce doing his usual. He’ll get involved in new and different license terms projects primarily to keep any eye on them and steer their branding off his “open source” turf, or at least what he perceives as his turf. It’s literally the first thing his draft says, in paragraph one.

The Post-Open License is part of a program to create a software development sharing community similar to Free Software/Open Source, in which the developers are paid for some uses. Software under this license is not Free Software or Open Source Software, and should never be referred to as such.

I’m not sure he’s tried to get ahead of a trend like this before. Maybe with the Business Source License.

There are some interesting points further on in the draft.

For one, he incorporates the current version of the Open Source Definition, which he’s copied and pasted onto a new domain, in order to head off potential forthcoming changes. He’s caught on that even folks like Richard Fontana, at Red Hat, are talking about revision. And he didn’t win his race for an OSI board seat.

His financial model is a percentage-of-sales, akin to a royalty. The license sets different percentages, depending on use case, like licensed software, professional service, and SaaS. The license provides that those percentages will be split among projects under the license, so if the percentage is 1% and there are two projects under the license in the product, the projects split that 1%, rather than earn 1% + 1% = 2% in aggregate.

Haven’t watched his video yet.

I can get behind the idea of charging a percentage of sales for something like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine, but I don’t think it makes sense in general. If I wrote a small JavaScript library that Google used on their search homepage, I wouldn’t expect to get 1% of their search revenue.

Splitting the percentage among licensors makes no sense to me. It’s like suggesting that Ruby on Rails is worth $X, but if you don’t roll your own database and instead use Postgresql, then whoops! Rails was actually only ever worth $X/2.

Trying to preselect a royalty scheme in a public license form is hard. The closest I’ve come to trying was the concept of a “fair fee” in the Big Time Public License. The basic idea of the license is that it guarantees the developer would offer paid licenses on fair terms, and falls back to permissive if they don’t.

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Interesting. I could see that being especially useful in succession plans to ensure that the software is always available at a fair price.