CyberTech Rambler

April 13, 2009

MXM License should be disapproved

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:06 pm

Carlo Piana submit the MXM license on behalf of MPEG convener for approval by OSI. He got some flanks for doing it because he is seen to be trying to test the water whether is it possible to separate copyright from patents and still get OSI blessing. 

Academically, it is a nice exercise to see whether patent license can be disentangled from copyright license in open source. Unfortunately fro Piana, if he succeeded I am sure the OSD will be rewritten to make sure at least implicit patent grant is required.

As for MXM license, it turn out it is not necessary. When I read his submission for approval email, before I even read the license, I immediately spotted the reason why it cannot be approved. From Piana’s own word:

“I have insisted and obtained, however, that an explicit patent covenant be inserted, to the effect to exclude from any patent concern all who don’t distribute the compiled version of the software and to those who compile it only for internal purposes without direct commercial exploitation. “

That immediately failed the “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor” clause (OSD#6), as Chuck and others point out. In fact, OSD#6 specifically mention that ” … it [Compliant  License] may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.”

I think what happened was Piana was too preoccupied with patent that he forgotten about other aspects of  OSD.

[Aside: That statement reminds me of all the academic-oriented licenses I see at work. A lot of them says no commercial use and for that alone, I concluded that they have no hope whatsoever of being open source. If MXM was accepted, then I really have to go back and re-evaluate them. In addition to no commercial use, a lot of them will say no commercial research and some will even say no redistribution. All these clauses look reasonable on paper for the purpose of “spreading knowledge” among the academic committee. But they do all have unintended consequences, e.g., difficulty for users who are less computer literate than developers to download from multiple sources and integrate them into a final application.  Who am I to complain? I am earning my keep by exploiting this!]

Failing the “No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor automatically close the door on MXM license getting the blessing of OSI. This means we do not have to even consider the patent license. However, as a mental exercise, and academically speaking, it will still be interesting to visit the patent issue and dissect the MXM license.

It turns out that a lot of people, Larry Rosen included, believe the patent license, as envisaged by Piana, means an additional license is required to use the source code licensed under MXM. This will fail the “Distribution of License”  clause (OSD#7) which do not allow additional license to be attached to the source code.

Regardless of whether the MXM license satisfy the Open Source Definition, the reference implementation is going to be very useful for the MPEG user community. The truth that community move quite a lot towards sharing source code with the reference implementation. To them, they are going to have pay under RAND anyway so having separate patent license is simply a non-issue. They are also trying to reach out to others who wants to join them. All they ask is that the you join them in what they consider to be the level playing field: Pay for patents just like everyone else if you want to make a buck on the the standard. That is not unreasonable.

However, their current effort do not satisfy the open source requirement.

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