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Open source license issues stymie enterprise contributions


Ethical source challenges open source definition

Most of the furor over open core business licenses has died down in the last six months, but debate still rages about the ethics of technology and whether the open source community can codify and enforce ethical consensus through licenses.

Introduced in 2019, the Hippocratic License is an attempt to do both those things. Named after the Hippocratic Oath taken Ehmke, the Hippocratic License’s author, also seeks to have it approved Ehmke argued that the restrictions in the Hippocratic License do not violate the OSD’s prohibition on discrimination against any group or field of endeavor, since they apply to specific activities, rather than groups of people or fields of work.

“Human rights abuses are not ‘a field of endeavor,'” she said. “If elected I would have worked very hard to update the OSD, which was created in 1998 — it’s a very different world now.”

Bloomberg’s Fleming watched the OSI Board elections with keen interest, concerned that the election of candidates such as Ehmke would signal that the OSI community was willing to consider formally adding ethical source language to the OSD.

“None of us are saying that we want to violate anyone’s human rights or that any of our customers want to violate human rights,” Fleming said. “But if we were to build into the license agreement for software that we sell to banks something that said, ‘By the way, you have to agree that you will never do anything that the U.N. would classify as a human rights violation,’ they would never use our software — legally, they can’t take that risk.”

Ehmke sees nothing wrong with that.

“I don’t want my software used The winning candidates in the individual OSI Board elections, Megan Byrd-Sanicki of Google and Josh Simmons of Salesforce, whose publicly posted platforms included no mention of the Hippocratic License, declined to comment for this story. Tobie Langel, principal at UnlockOpen, an independent open source strategy consulting firm in Geneva, was also a candidate this year. He was not elected this round, but said he intends to keep advocating for ethical source within the open source community.

“Open source, from its origins, is a movement that is essentially built around ethical notions,” he said. “The idea is to allow people to have agency and power over the software that they use to accomplish the tasks that they want to do.”

However, OSI affiliate board seat winner Vignoli said he does not believe that such licenses fit the OSD.

“It’s not software that is going to stop people with bad intentions,” he said. “In some cases, they think they’re ethical, and in others, they don’t give a damn about not being ethical, so they would use the software anyway.”

This is where, Ehmke argued, the creator of the software would make that determination and be empowered to stop a bad actor through the Hippocratic License. But Bloomberg’s Fleming worries that the activities prohibited “We just can’t agree to those terms,” he said. “No one knows what they actually mean, and they’re not something that a court could even decide — it would be on a case-For Bloomberg, a project’s switch to a Hippocratic license, as version 5.1 of a popular Ru”I immediately had to reach out to all of our teams that I could think of that might use [VCR] and say, ‘When you run your builds, if you request a version of VCR that is version 5.1 or higher, it’s going to be denied,” Fleming said.


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