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Updating the Mozilla Public License
Thursday, March 11 2010 @ 11:07 AM EST

Mozilla is updating its license, and you can participate, just as you did in the GPLv3 updating process. It'll be going on for a while, until the end of 2010, in monthly stages, and each part of the schedule will only last one month, so I'm letting you know now, even though we are all riveted to Utah and the trial at the moment, so you can begin to think about it and maybe make use of intermissions in the Utah story.

Where they are now is they'd like you to let them know if you have any issues with the MPL, things you'd like changed, or things you think can be improved. You do need Javascript turned on to be able to use the commenting tool. They are working with co-ment.net, which looks intriguing. I need to check that out when I have some time after the trial.

The idea is to modernize the license, which hasn't been updated in about a decade, so it's easier to use and ideally more effectively represents what people want the license to do. They "do not currently plan to make major changes to the scope of the copyleft." Mitchell Baker's blog:

Over the years we’ve received feedback about the license, and we’ll use some of that, plus early comments here, to produce an early “alpha” version of what a new license might look like. Once we have published an alpha draft, we will have time for commentary, discussion, and further drafting, followed by beta and release candidate drafts.
If you have comments about the process or schedule or anything that doesn't relate directly to the license wording, you can use the mailing list, mpl-update.

Harvey Anderson — Updating the MPL:

On Monday we announced a public process to update the Mozilla Public License. The goal of the update is to incorporate learnings gathered over the years so we can simplify, modernize, and make the license easier to use. Mitchell Baker’s post this morning provides some good historical context and you can find more information about the process, rationale, and how to get involved on the MPL update web site. I’m pretty excited about the prospects although it’s going to be a big chunk of work and with any open process some respectful disagreement from time to time, but that’s ok.

More than a decade ago, I had the chance to work with Mitchell on the MPL. At the time, I had never worked on an open source license – nor had most attorneys back then. It seemed like another cool project to work on, but I certainly didn’t fully comprehend the possibility at the time. It was also my first exposure to creating legal artifacts in an open and transparent way. It was a bit of shock and I’m still in awe at how open source products are created.

In my experience practicing law, transactions come and go, and not often do you work on the same “deal” again. Especially in the Internet sector, it’s rare that that you get two shots at anything. So this means either that the license is enduring, relevant, and worth working on again or perhaps more simply that I’m getting old. I opt for the former.

Frederic Wenzel:
Today, Mozilla is starting the public process on revising its signature code license, the Mozilla Public License or MPL. Mitchell Baker, chair of the board of the Mozilla Foundation and author of the original MPL 1.0, has more information about the process on her blog....

Of course, I made the website (the design is borrowed from mozilla.org), so I am naturally happy to see it being available to a wider audience.

But I also hope that the revision process itself will be successful. While the MPL has been a remarkable help in Mozilla desktop projects’ success, it is unpleasant (to say the least) to use in web applications, for a number of reasons:

The hideous license block. The MPL is a file-based license. It allows any file in the project, even in the same directory, to be licensed differently. Therefore, each MPL-licensed code file must have an over 30 lines long comment block on top. For big code modules, that’s fine. For web applications, whose files often have a handful of lines, this balloons up the whole code base and makes files horribly unreadable. Sadly, the current license only allows an exception from that rule if that’s impossible “due to [the file’s] structure” which would essentially only be the case if that file type did not allow comments.

He was hoping to weaken the copyleft provisions, he goes on to say, but Mozilla says that's not on the table at the moment. So, have at it, if this is a topic that interests you.

Here's what interests me: I'm hoping to watch closely to make sure no one pushes to make the patent clause weaker in the name of "freedom to do what you want" or some such nonsense. After reading Jonathan Schwartz's account of a meeting with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer where they tried to sell him a license to use and distribute OpenOffice, it's vital, in my view, that patent clauses are, if anything, strengthened. Microsoft is real life. They don't change. There is no footnote to that truth.


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