Olswang’s OS Summit and the evolution of “open”

by Andrew Watson on 17 November 2008

Olswang held its second summit on free and open source software (FOSS) at its offices last week. This year’s event was a much more intimate affair (last year had Bruce Perens and was at QE II conference centre), but was still very informative and well attended. Compliments and thanks to Nigel Swycher, the panel of speakers and all the support staff at Olswang for the event.

The word for the day was of course “open”, which leads me to a few thoughts about this year’s event and suggestions for next year.

  • Not all the “open INSERT WORD” mentioned at the event are created equal. Open innovation doesn’t mean open source and has different legal issues as do open business models, open standards and open APIs. Google Maps, mentioned by one speaker, is most certainly not open in the same legal sense as open source, especially when compared with Open Street Map. Some further exploration of the differences here would be beneficial moving forward;
  • In a move for greater clarity on some of these issues, I suggest those who are interested to take a look at the Open Definition (NB: I’m on the Advisory Council); and
  • Even when directly moving open source licensing principles into new areas such as content and data, there exist a whole host of additional legal considerations not generally present in FOSS licensing.

It really struck me when listening to the speakers (especially Heather Meeker) that in many ways the legal issues surrounding open content lag a number of years behind FOSS in terms of maturity and familiarity with lawyers, and open data a number of years behind even open content (especially as the licences are just now being written for open data).

Given the importance in both data and content for the current and future (semantic) web, a panel discussion or series of speakers on these areas would be an excellent addition to Olswang’s Open Source Summit 2009.

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