Google's WebM license could undermine the meaning of 'open source'

Google's adoption of non-OSI-approved license could create a raft of problems for open source users

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Responses from Perens and Phipps to DiBona quickly addressed Google's three requirements as being nonissues.

Suppose for a minute that Microsoft has followed Google's approach with WebM licensing, and furthermore required the OSI agree to "changes to how OSI does licenses" as a precursor to submitting a license for OSI review and approval. Microsoft would have been lynched by virtually every open source pundit.

Google is treated quite differently by open source pundits because the company contributes much to open source projects and generally tries to release source code under an OSI-approved license whenever possible -- meaning, when it suits Google's business needs.

Wither the "open source" brand?
There is, however, a larger issue at hand. As open source becomes mainstream, vendors are under pressure to market their offerings using the "open source" brand to the highest degree possible without misleading customers.

For better or worse, an OSI-approved license has become the de facto requirement for vendors calling themselves or their products "open source." When Google, one of the largest supporters of open source, goes out and purposefully circumvents the OSI, what signal does this send to other vendors? How important is using an OSI-approved license likely to be in the future if other vendors follow Google's lead?

If an OSI-approved license is no longer the precursor to using the "open source" brand, enterprises and -- more important -- developers (who often make the initial decision to adopt an open source product) risk implementing purported open source software that may be at odds with the enterprise's legal policies.

I completely understand that Google felt its business needs were not met using an existing OSI-approved license -- even if some suggest otherwise. I also understand why Google would want to limit its patent offer in the WebM license until the user decides to sue another user for patent infringement related to WebM usage. Google has every right to make business decisions and use a license closely aligned with those decisions. However, Google, for all its open source credibility, should be expected to work with -- not around -- established open source processes. If the process is broken, help fix it. Don't make it worse.

Because of Google's WebM actions, it becomes even more critical for you to validate that software carrying the "open source" marketing badge aligns with your expectations.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."

This article, "Google's WebM license could undermine the meaning of 'open source'," was originally published at Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2