Government OSS not really open: lawyer

Summary:The federal government's recently-launched open-source content management system may not be so "open" after all, a leading IT lawyer and several software developers have claimed.Last week, Special Minister of State Senator Eric Abetz launched a fully-documented open source CMS, which will be freely available to government agencies and not-for-profit groups.

The federal government's recently-launched open-source content management system may not be so "open" after all, a leading IT lawyer and several software developers have claimed.

Last week, Special Minister of State Senator Eric Abetz launched a fully-documented open source CMS, which will be freely available to government agencies and not-for-profit groups. The software is based on local company Squiz's MySource Matrix application.

However, the terms of the licence under which MySource Matrix -- and several other modules developed by the Australian Government Information Management Office -- does not comply with open-source requirements.

"I don't consider the Squiz open-source licence to be compliant with the Open Source Definition (OSD)," lawyer Jeremy Malcolm told ZDNet Australia&nbsp. The definition is defined by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), the community body which certifies a software licence as open source.

"The main problem is that modifications need to be notified to Squiz and that copyright of derived works needs to be assigned to Squiz," he said.

According to Malcolm, the requirement that copyright be assigned is pretty unique to the Squiz licence and this constrains developers' ability to make modifications to the software and derive other software from it. This is in breach of clause 3 of the OSD.

He pointed out that other projects such as OpenOffice.org required an assignment of copyright for amendments to be accepted into the official project code, but stipulated that "it should not be a condition of the licence".

Two local software developers who work with open-source solutions echoed Malcolm's sentiments. "I wouldn't touch any software under that licence under any circumstances," said Nick Lothian, "and I'd be surprised if any sensible business would."

"In almost any case a business would be better off under a conventional commercial licence where the source was a supplier," he continued. Fellow developer Brandon Franklin questioned the legality of forcing all copyright to be assigned to Squiz.

However, Squiz managing director John-Paul Syriatowicz said it was OSI that was dragging the chain on giving the company proper licence accreditation.

"Squiz is committed to the open-source path, however, it seems the goal posts are moving," he said. "As you are no doubt aware, OSI is currently taking steps to address a series of open-source licensing concerns including licence proliferation, understandability and code re-combination and re-use.

"Squiz will re-adjust its business and licensing strategy to incorporate OSI's changes but at this stage it is too early to say exactly how. We still find the dual licensing model employed by MySQL very attractive so at this point (without seeing the outcome of the OSI policy changes) it seems likely we will move in that direction," Syriatowicz said.

MySQL AB allows customers to acquire its database software under a commercial licence or an open-source licence. If customers use the commercial licence they are not required to distribute modifications to the MySQL code.

A secondary licensing concern is that AGIMO's OSS package includes Squiz-developed modules that the company normally provides at a cost of AU$20,000. These modules are under a commercial licence.

Squiz executive director Stephen Barker told ZDNet Australia&nbsp many of its commercial modules would eventually make it into the core MySource Matrix product and be available under its open-source licence.

Barker said if commercial entities wanted the costly modules now, they would have to pay for it, but "they could wait and obtain them for free when Squiz extracts the commercial value from them".

A spokesperson for AGIMO was unavailable for comment at press time.

Topics: Government : AU

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