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The Open Source Initiative (OSI) http://www.opensource.org/ approves licences based on strict criteria http://www.opensource.org/docs/definition.php and a complex approval process http://www.opensource.org/approval. Releasing source code under an OSI-approved licence is good practice for legal reasons, immediately signalling to the community that the question regarding whether or not the software is in fact "open source" has been answered. It is also good practice for technical and organisational reasons.
A non-OSI certified licence may or may not satisfy the criteria of the Open Source Definition, so the onus is on the user of the software to determine whether it does or not. However, most users do not have the legal knowledge or resources to make such a determination, and simply avoid so-called open source software that does not bear the OSI certification mark [I HAVE ALSO SEEN 'SERVICE MARK' - WHICH IS PREFERABLE?]. Using an OSI-approved licence aids the decision-making process for users, in that they are more likely to use software bearing a licence they are familiar with, understand, and trust to be legally sound. [IS THIS ALL WE NEED SAY ON LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS - SEEMS A BIT THIN. PERHAPS GIVE EXAMPLES OF KINDS OF LEGAL PROBLEMS USERS COULD GET INTO IF USING SOFTWARE THAT DOES NOT HAVE OSI-APPROVED LICENCE? ALSO - ANY FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS?]
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Users of software released under an open source licence also have substantially greater resources available to them. These include:
development resources such as SourceForge,[ADD EXTERNAL LINK - USEFUL OR DISTRACTING?] which aids the voluntary contribution of effort from developers around the world by hosting a range of resources for open source projects, including source code repositories, pages for downloading software, project news, mail lists, forums, and so on
- mirroring services that restrict themselves solely to mirroring open source software, providing access to large downloads [PLEASE GIVE MORE DETAILS ON WHAT A MIRRORING SERVICE IS AND IF POSSIBLE GIVE EXAMPLES OF ONES THAT HOST OSS FOR FREE]
- there are significant Linux distributions, such as Debian, for which the absence of a recognised open source licence delays and often prevents the incorporation of a software package. [DOES THIS BELONG HERE? MOVE TO DEVELOPMENT AND DISTRIBUTION?]
Development and distribution
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There are also public relations advantages to using an OSI-approved licence. For example, most software projects would prefer that discussion in the open source community revolved around the features of their software, rather than whether or not the software is really open source. [IS THIS THE MOST NB PUBLIC RELATIONS ADVANTAGE?] Naturally, an OSI-certified licence also makes it considerably easier for JISC-funded advisory services [ADD LINK TO JISC?] to feature a software project as a good example of open source software.
Obtaining an OSI-certified licence
The OSI maintains a list of licences [ADD LINK?] that conform to the Open Source Definition, from which you can choose a licence that best suits your needs. It is also possible to apply to have a new licence added to this list. However, to avoid needless proliferation of open source licences, the OSI rightly requires substantial justification for creating a new licence. At the moment [WRITTEN IN 2005 - PLEASE UPDATE] the body is seeking to aid clarity in the community by reducing the number of certified licences, actively encouraging authors of very similar licences to merge their licences, if possible, and submit a single licence for approval.
In summary, the reasons for using an existing [I HAVE ADDED 'EXISTING' BECAUSE IT SEEMS THIS IS WHAT WE'RE PROMOTING, AS OPPOSED TO GETTING A NEW LICENCE - AS SUGGESTED BY LAST POINT IN SUMMARY] OSI-approved licence are: [I THINK WE SHOULD MAKE SUMMARY A BIT MORE SUBSTANTIAL, ONCE ADDITIONAL CONTENT HAS BEEN ADDED]
clarity on the meaning of open source
- clarity for potential end-users, through greater familiarity with existing OSI-approved licences
- heightened possibilities for development and distribution [NOT REALLY DISCUSSED ABOVE - PLEASE ADD CONTENT WHERE INDICATED]
- significant public relations advantages
- difficulty in certifying a new licence.