Bodington released under Apache License v2.0

by Randy Metcalfe on 9 October 2006 , last updated

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On 3 October 2006 Bodington released version 2.8.0 on SourceForge. Bodington is a virtual learning environment (VLE) which originated at the University of Leeds and which is now principally developed by the University of Oxford and the University of the Highlands and Islands. Amongst the numerous upgrades and additional features in this release of Bodington, one point stands out: The Bodington project is pleased to announce the release of version 2.8.0, now under the OSI-certified Apache License v2.0.

This is good news for Bodington and good news for potential developers who may have considered contributing to the Bodington project.

OSI-certified licences

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) maintains the Open Source Definition (OSD). The 10 criteria of the OSD lay out the necessary conditions of a licence potentially being recognized by the OSI as an open source licence. The further condition that must be met to complete the set of sufficient conditions for OSI certification is that the licence must pass through the OSI licence approval process.

It is no easy task to get a new licence through the OSI process. That is probably a good thing, given that there are currently 58 licences that are OSI-certified.

Why use an OSI-certified licence

There is no law that says a project must use an OSI-certified licence. Projects could very well write their own unique licence, a licence which they believe fulfill all the criteria found in the Open Source Definition. Still, if the project is hosted on a collaborative development site such as SourceForge, it will simply be marked down as using a proprietary licence.

For much of the open source world, you are either using an OSI-certified licence, or you are not. If you are, then everyone who encounters your project instantly knows a great deal about what to expect, legally, when engaging with your codebase. If you are not, then a lot of people will probably need to spend a lot of time reading and analyzing your licence before they are willing to interact with your code. And even after they have spent a fair bit of time doing this, they may decide it simply is not worth the future legal and project effort to bother contributing to or incorporating any of this codebase.

Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a project that uses a non-OSI-certified licence. It merely suggests what the likelihood of engaging with the wider open source community will be if you choose this route.

Moving to an OSI-certified licence

In the best situation, a project settles on an OSI-certified licence before it even takes in its first line of code. Legacy projects may not be in such a lucky position.

The second best situation is probably when all of the copyright for a project is owned by a single individual or institution. In such a situation, the owner of the copyright can simply decide to issue the code under an OSI-certified licence (or any other licence for that matter). Here, the move to an OSI-certified licence is relatively straightforward.

There are, of course, more complicated situations. Your project might have been happily using a proprietary licence for some time, and moreover may involve two or more institutions as principal committers to the codebase. Now the move to an OSI-certified licence is going to be a challenge. Getting more than one institution to agree to anything, let alone a change is not something to take up lightly.

Nevertheless, that is precisely what the Bodington project had to do. And it took time, and effort, and patience. So, well done, Bodington!

The benefits of OSI-certification

It does not follow that Bodington will instantly become a massively successful, and sustainable, development project just because it is now released under an OSI-certified licence. But what benefits can it expect to accrue?

Acknowledgement by the community as an open source project: In future, no one, least of all OSS Watch, will ever need to hesitate before describing Bodington as an open source virtual learning environment. This brings tremendous good will with it by those in the open source community who may have felt this project was trading on the open source moniker unfairly in the past. From this point forward, Bodington will be mentioned regularly in despatches on open source VLEs.

Possibility of new partners, developers: While the Bodington project was clearly able to form partnerships between institutions in the past, the new clarity in the licensing should make this even easier in future. Moreover, individual programmers may now feel the urge to contribute to the Bodington codebase since they can at last be assured that their contributions will be recognised by their peers as open source contributions.

Clarity for strategic funding bodies: Many large-scale ICT developments in the UK seek and find additional development funding from strategic funders such as JISC. The move to an OSI-certified licence can only smooth the decision-making process for funders bound by either the JISC open source policy for projects and services or the wider UK government policy.

Wide community support for the licence: The Apache License v2.0 is very widely used and has substantial community and industry support. By joining this wider community of users of the Apache licence, Bodington can be assured that many people, not just the universities of Oxford, Leeds and the Highlands and Islands will be ready to defend the licence should it ever be challenged. That eventuality may never arise, but spreading risk is a traditional route to risk management.

Further reading


Related information from OSS Watch: