why open source?

november 2021

We've decided to publish our taxonomy material in February 2022 on a permissive open source basis. 

That means, in summary, that you'll be free to 

  • use it for any purpose
  • amend or remix it
  • republish or redistribute it - including any amended or remixed versions

Our approach is intended to consistent with mainstream definitions of "open" and "open source" e.g. the Open Knowledge Foundation's definition of "open".

We are determining the precise open source licence(s) to use but the candidates are

How does "open source" differ from "free to use"?

The main difference is the freedom to republish amended or remixed versions.

What is "permissive" open source?

"Permissive" means that you can use, amend or remix without an obligation to republish.  

You're free to, but you don't have to. This contrasts with "copyleft" licences under which you would have an obligation.

Why have you chosen permissive open source over the other possibilities?

noslegal is intended to be driven by the kind of voluntary community spirit which has achieved great things in the software world but is not widely understood in the legal world.

The two main arguments we're aware of against giving people the freedom to republish remixed versions are:

  1. We should retain the option to monetise later once a body of free users has been established
  2. Even if there is no monetisation intent, "forks" of open source projects can cause problems by splitting the community

We've rejected point 1 because we don't think it's appropriate or viable to monetise this work. It has to be a community non-commercial effort if it is to succeed in achieving wide adoption. Enlightened self-interest mixed with community spirit. For this reason, the IP we generate will be held and licensed out by a not-for-profit company (noslegal Ltd) rahter than by a commercial entity.

We've rejected point 2 because we believe that asserting control damages the willingness of people to adopt something like this, because of the fear that the originating organisation will wind down or lose its way. The freedom to fork a project like this is the best way of ensuring that it remains healthy.

Lawrence Lessig put it this way in 2005:

"Most interesting is a commitment to the freedom to ‘fork’, meaning to split a project if its current leader pushes it in a way that many don’t like. This keeps alive the possibility of ‘no-fault divorce’ in all [open source] projects. It keeps pressure on partners to continue to perform – and in particular, on project leaders to manage the project well"

How will you finance noslegal?

We are considering a mix of sponsorship and membership options. But we intend to keep expenses light, with most work being voluntary, by people with paid roles elsewhere.

What about future projects, other than the taxonomy work?

We intend to maintain the principle of publishing on an open source basis.

There may be limited exceptions for supporting material e.g. guidance text and similar may be published on a free-to-use but non-open source basis (e.g. CC-BY-ND) so as to avoid confusion as to who wrote it.

We can't predict the future but if there's ever a demand for other work to be published on a non-open source basis, we'll consult on that before doing anything. And, obviously, any changes won't be retrospective.