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Google WebM Calls "Open Source" Into Question 185

Posted by Soulskill
from the branding-is-everything dept.
snydeq writes "As open source becomes mainstream, vendors are under pressure to market their offerings using the 'open source' brand to the highest degree possible — a trend that may eventually degrade the meaning of 'open source' as we know it, Savio Rodrigues writes. Witness WebM, which Google has positioned as an open alternative to H.264. After examining the software license, some in the open source community have questioned whether WebM should be classified as open source software. Google did not use an OSI-approved license for WebM, meaning that, at least in theory, WebM cannot be considered open source under the OSD — the 'gold standard' by which many government and business open source policies are defined. Moreover, when prodded for OSI review, Google required that the OSI agree to 'changes to how OSI does licenses' as a precursor to submitting a license for OSI review and approval. '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?'" An anonymous reader adds: "It turns out that libvpx, Google's VP8 library, isn't compatible with the GPLv2. Google is apparently aware of the problem and working on a solution.
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Google WebM Calls "Open Source" Into Question

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  • by Wesley Felter (138342) <wesley@felter.org> on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:38PM (#32381628) Homepage

    You don't need the OSI to tell you what is open source and what isn't. Read the OSD and the WebM license and see for yourself.

  • Note that WebM is, however, FSF-approved Free Software [fsf.org].

    The FSF is rather more active than the OSI, and is unlikely to, e.g., get its corporate registration suspended just because they were too arse-disabled to get their paperwork in [the451group.com].

    We do need some sort of organisation like the OSI, perhaps even the OSI itself. But I'm entirely unsurprised someone would consider the present OSI just not to have its shit together enough to be taken seriously.

  • They want a more open process, at least by the e-mail linked. Why is this anything to whine about? I find the request that the OSI attempts to deter the use of the license by others to be somewhat odd though.
    • OSI wants to be the One True Cathedral, through which licenses get handed down from on high. Google is taking a bazaar approach, realizing that they can use their own brains to develop a perfectly open license of their own -- a position that the Free Software Foundation agrees with. Having an open market for open source licenses threatens OSI's cathedral-based model so naturally OSI is attempting to quash such deviant behavior.

  • Open source has been around a lot longer than Google. The OSI can just continue doing their thing, and everyone will look for the nod from RMS, and nothing will change. Google can of course just use the words "open source" and maybe the OSS fad people who get a kick out of sticking it to the man and not using IE will be led astray, but the open source community isn't a bunch of art students looking for a sleek OPEN SOURCE logo at the bottom of the page, it's a bunch of intelligent developers who already dea

  • by astrashe (7452) on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:53PM (#32381882) Journal

    It seems very clear that Google is trying to support open standards and technologies. Different people are going back and forth over licenses and procedures. Everyone seems to be acting in good faith. And there's no reason to believe that it won't all get worked out.

    The language in the /. article almost makes it sound like Google is trying to do something like "Embrace and Extend". I just don't think that's what's going on.

    If we can move to a place where most video is managed with open technologies, it will be very good for everyone. I'm grateful to the companies who get it, and to people who are trying to figure out the best way to do it. And I don't think the fact that there are small differences of opinion among those folks is a good reason to get upset.

    • The OSI seems upset that someone has finally said "sorry, you're too arse-disabled to take seriously. You want to be taken seriously, get your shit together."

      The licence is Free Software as far as the FSF and Debian are concerned.

      • by breser (16790)

        I've read the thread when it showed up in my email. I didn't see any sign that OSI was upset. Someone brought up the fact that google was using a different license. There was a discussion about the license they used. OSI doesn't evaluate licenses unless the authors of the license ask them for their opinion of the license. Someone suggested they prod Google. Google responded and said they weren't ready to submit it and were still working out compatibility issues. They also said they wanted to discoura

        • The Simon Phipps article linked is *precisely* being upset Google didn't bother to call them. As is the Michael Tiemann [opensource.org] one.

          • by breser (16790)

            You're reading way too much into those articles. Nobody said they were upset that google didn't bother to call them.

            Simon just said it isn't open source due to the field of use restriction in the patent grant and that it hasn't been submitted to the OSI. And ASKED google to submit it.

            And Michael's article only briefly touches on the situation with the VP8 licenses and all he does is ask questions.

            You're reading emotion into these posts where there is none.

            • *cough* I *know* they were upset Google didn't call them and therefore wrote those articles. The whole point of them was to get Google to bother calling them.

    • There's nothing wrong about "embrace & extend". It's the "extinguish" part, when it happens, that is undesirable. In this case, though, I don't see how it applies.

  • You want open? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Yo,dog! (1819436)
    A "BSD" license is open.
    • by einhverfr (238914)

      The WebM license is a BSD license with an added clause giving an explicit patent license.

      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The BSD license is enjoyed by MS and others, that should be a clear warning from the past.
        What Google wants is a end user bandwidth ready get out of royalty payments codec.
        Nothing more or less. They dont want to have to give back in any form or be any more open with related projects.
        They also expect their 'gift' to be worked on by developers around the world for free, updating, optimising and fixing.
        • by einhverfr (238914)

          The BSD license works REALLY well for the PostgreSQL project though....

          Me? I mostly just sick of license wars.

      • by PybusJ (30549)

        That's not quite true. A normal BSD license doesn't have a copyright cancellation clause. The WebM patent license rescinds the copyright license if you sue google over the patents.

        This may well be a reasonable thing to do, but it is not strictly more permissive than BSD, in the way that a simple BSD plus separate patent grant would be.

    • Re:You want open? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by KiloByte (825081) on Friday May 28, 2010 @05:55PM (#32382840)

      A "BSD" license is open.

      Especially in the nether region, inviting anyone like Apple to exploit you without giving anything in return.

      • Re:You want open? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by VisceralLogic (911294) <`moc.cigollarecsiv' `ta' `luap'> on Friday May 28, 2010 @06:45PM (#32383476) Homepage

        A "BSD" license is open.

        Especially in the nether region, inviting anyone like Apple to exploit you without giving anything in return.

        And yet, for some reason, Apple gives back, anyway...

        • I'd rather not look at this in terms of what one proprietor does today but across what is possible and what is fair. I think it's unwise to rely on corporate largesse for getting back published improvements to programs I wrote. I shared my published improvements with them, they can share their published improvements with me and do so in a form I have a chance of being able to incorporate into my variant of the program. That sounds fair to me. Leaving it up to proprietors to share and share alike with me

  • Kinda misleading (Score:4, Informative)

    by jythie (914043) on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:56PM (#32381934)
    This sounds a lot less like 'google calls open source into question' and more 'google calls OSI into question'. I am not immediately seeing anything in this license that makes it sound non-OSS, all it seems to be lacking is the rubber stamp of a particular group within OSS, which is not the same thing. Especially since google's complaints about OSI do not seem to be related to software but instead to process.
  • How can a *format* be open sourced? It's like saying that JPG or DOC are "open source". If you're talking about particular implementation, then please be more clear.

    As a side note / example:

    Statement: "H264 is open source (see x264 project)"

    Is true: Y/N?

    • by hedwards (940851)
      The format itself isn't the issue that can be fully documented without the source. However the implementation is what's important. Well that and the patent. Both of which are being provided.
  • Open source licences are meant for source code, not for data formats.

    I don't care if Google's VP8 library is not strictly speaking open source (or even proprietary), just as long as the WebM format is described in a precise way in a public document, with no patents forbiding me to implement a codec.

    In the same way, I would happily buy a proprietary version of Microsoft Word 2013, if only it would save documents in strict ODF format.
    • One of the problems with VP8 is that the present definition includes bits of C code ;-) Xiph is one of the organisations working on cleaning it up.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        If it is good C code that could be fine. At least it makes it a strict spec. All specs should at least come with a reference version.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheSync (5291)

      I don't care if Google's VP8 library is not strictly speaking open source (or even proprietary), just as long as the WebM format is described in a precise way in a public document, with no patents forbiding me to implement a codec.

      The problem is, given current US intellectual property laws, no one can say for certain that there as "no patents forbidding me to implement a codec". That is up to the legal process. Active people in the IP space say that all modern digital video compression methods are probab

    • In the same way, I would happily buy a proprietary version of Microsoft Word 2013, if only it would save documents in strict ODF format.

      It does that since Office 2007 SP2.

      (assuming that by "strict ODF" you mean "fully conformant to the letter of ISO standard", not "fully interoperable with OO.org")

  • compatibilty (Score:5, Informative)

    by mzs (595629) on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:58PM (#32381972)

    I am not a lawyer. Here's the gist. the license is not compatible with:

    GPL, GPL2, LGPL2

    compatible with:

    BSD, MIT

    likely compatible with:

    Apache, CDDL, Mozilla

    unlikely compatible with:

    GPL3

    This all boils down to the patent clause at the end. It makes further restrictions upon distribution. They are worded in a way that looks to be compatible with Apache and the like, but someone from the FSF should really step in and announce if the two different patent clauses are compatible in GPL3 and WebM license.

    That's all that really matters to most, it is not an OSI approved license, since it has not been submitted. That matters to some organizations in choosing a license.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fnkmaster (89084)

      What's funny is that the regular (modified) BSD-style license, which grants *no* patent license at all, is considered GPLv2 compatible. How can a license that grants you additional rights on top of the BSD license then be *in*compatible with the GPLv2? The brain boggles...

      As soon as you bring up patent grant rights, I guess you potentially run afoul of Section 7 of the GPLv2 which references patents? The interaction between Google's (conditional on not suing Google) patent grant and Section 7 of GPLv2 is

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Yeah, and the "restriction" is basically "if you try to sue someone for patent infringement on the code covered by this license, then your license to use it is terminated".

      If you are scared to use software because you may be restricted from suing other people using it, then by all means DON'T USE IT.

  • I must have been sleeping when the OSI became the sole and deciding arbiter of what was and wasn't open source. Also, most of Google's issues with OSI seem to be that it isn't open enough.
  • by HaeMaker (221642) on Friday May 28, 2010 @04:59PM (#32381994) Homepage

    Well, here is what Google was concerned about:

    1) We will want a label explicitly deterring the use of the license.
    2) We will want the bod list archives open for any discussions of webm. We
    are not comfortable with OSI being closed.
    3) We need to know OSI's current corporate status. I heard that osi was a
    california corporation again, but I would like to know, from the group, that
    this is true for 2010 and that there aren't any issues there.

    So, they want the OSI to be more open, and they want to discourage the use of the WebM license by others to prevent license sprawl, and they want to verify OSI's corporate status.

    Anyone else have a problem with these changes? They seem help everyone.

    • by einhverfr (238914)

      Also, I think it's worth noting that the GPL v3 would have to be interpreted to allow substantially compliant licenses to be compatible even if there are minor incompatibilities according to a strict reading. Otherwise, the BSD license would be incompatible because the BSD license cannot be reduced to GPL v3 + additional acceptable terms (the issue here has to do with removal of the "additional permissions" and when that's possible). So I think it's reasonable to assume that two licenses are compatible if

  • Within the Transportation Security Administration, the phrase "open source" refers to publicly available versions of various types of documents.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by panda (10044)

      That's actually a much older use of the term open source in the intelligence community. "Open source intelligence" means getting your intelligence from open, i.e. public, sources. It's used in intelligence predates the "coining" of the term for use with software. [citation needed.]

      I much prefer just calling free and "open source" software, because without the source code, it isn't really "soft" ware, is it? Well, sure, you can hack the binaries, but that isn't as useful.

  • by lazy_nihilist (1220868) on Friday May 28, 2010 @05:04PM (#32382074)
    * Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
    * Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
    * Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
    * Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
  • by pem (1013437) on Friday May 28, 2010 @05:16PM (#32382238)
    Google didn't ask for any of this.

    OSI didn't ask for any of this.

    Someone who wanted to start developing stuff on top of the library (who happens to be esr) asked for this.

    Then some things were said, like "well we're not ready yet" but in a hurried and somewhat non-diplomatic manner.

    Then the whole thing blew up just enough for the lid to leave the teapot by about a quarter of an inch before it settled back down.

    There is no there there.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Friday May 28, 2010 @05:43PM (#32382638) Homepage

    Whatever the merits of this particular disagreement, the term "open source" is definitely getting diluted in the same way that "organic" and "innovative" have been diluted. I went to a symposium in LA last year about the governor's Free Digital Textbook Initiative [bbc.co.uk]. There was quite a mix of people there -- teachers, education bureaucrats, open-source software types, authors of free books, people from hardware companies, and people from traditional textbook publishing houses. Everyone was using "open source" like it was magic pixie dust, sprinkling it on everything to make it seem shinier and better. Pearson's rep referred to the consumable workbook it submitted as "free and open-source" -- actually it's just a PDF file that you can download and print, but that you can't redistribute, modify, etc. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's rep, when questioned about DRM, said that her company was committed to DRM, and envisioned its DRM'd materials being mixed and matched with open-source ones. Both said that they wanted to be service providers (think Red Hat), rather than just content providers (a la Microsoft) -- but, hey, they produce really great content, too. Apple and Dell's reps argued for open formats such as XML.

    Part of the reason for the confusion is that people are confused about applying the term to anything other than computer software. When I've mentioned here on slashdot that I was the author of some open-source books, I've sometimes gotten reactions amounting to, "You're an idiot. You don't even know what open source means." This despite the fact that the books are under a GPL-style copyleft license (CC-BY-SA, same as Wikipedia) and their source code (written in a programming language called LaTeX) is openly available and free for redistribution and modification under that license. It sounds like there's similar confusion here because people aren't distinguishing clearly between the issue of WebM as an open format and the implementation of WebM in open-source software. Who the heck cares whether google's reference implementation is open source, as long as the format is openly defined and usable without paying patent royalties? The first implementations of html by NCSA weren't open source according to the modern meaning of the term, but html was certainly an open format.

  • Just as "Free Software" does not exclusively mean FSF approved.

    So, Google's release doesn't meet one specific definition of "Open Source" doesn't mean that either WebM isn't open source, or that the name or model of "open source" is in question.

    It just means that WebM is "open source" by some definitions, but not others.

    I see this in the same light as Apple's licensing of Mac OS X as "UNIX". It's just a name. Apple called it "unix" before it was officially licensed as "UNIX". Does that mean that versions

  • or a reasonable change?

  • by DrugCheese (266151) on Friday May 28, 2010 @08:49PM (#32384960)

    Is this a library Google themselves have written? Why not just open it up and make it compatible with the GPL version in question? If they want to call it open source isn't that the easiest and fastest way to solve it? Do no evil, not do less evil

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evilviper (135110)

      Why not just open it up and make it compatible with the GPL version in question?

      The problem is with the GPL, not Google.

      Google's license is BSD, EXCEPT for the one clause that says anyone can use it, UNLESS they try to assert patent rights over something in libvpx. It was a smart clause to have, and taking the teeth out of it would be a disservice to everyone, all to humor rabid GPL advocates who can't handle the real world.

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