Open Source License Proliferation: Helpful Diversity or Hopeless Confusion?

31 Pages Posted: 11 Oct 2008 Last revised: 14 May 2014

Date Written: October 8, 2008


One prominent issue among free and open source software (FOSS) developers (but little noticed by legal scholars) has been "license proliferation." "Proliferation" refers to the scores of FOSS licenses that are now in use with more being created all the time. The Open Source Initiative ("OSI") has certified over seventy licenses as conforming to the Open Source Definition, a key measure of whether a license embodies FOSS principles. Many believe that license proliferation encumbers and retards the success of FOSS. The OSI has indentified the issue as one of its most strategic issues to address.

Why does proliferation occur? What are the pros and cons of multiple licenses? Does the growing number of FOSS licenses represent hopeless confusion (as many assume) or (instead) helpful diversity? What role has OSI played to date and what can it do in future to better ameliorate the negative effects of so many FOSS licenses? To provide context and color, these issues are examined using the story of the submission of the Simple Public License (SimPL) to the OSI for certification.

Keywords: open source, free software, open source software, license, licensing, software

JEL Classification: K1, K2, K3, K4

Suggested Citation

Gomulkiewicz, Robert W., Open Source License Proliferation: Helpful Diversity or Hopeless Confusion? (October 8, 2008). Washington University Journal of Law and Policy, Vol. 30, p. 261, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Robert W. Gomulkiewicz (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


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