Life at Eclipse

Musings on the Eclipse Foundation, the community and the ecosystem

The EPL as a Platform License

Yesterday’s announcement of the OpenDaylight project has gotten very wide coverage. It looks like a well-done announcement, and the industry support for this important new collaboration is stellar. Yet another great example of how open source is facilitating collaboration on new and innovative industry platforms.

In my opinion, one important detail of the announcement has not received sufficient notice:

OpenDaylight … is structured and governed using open source best practices and is licensed under the Eclipse Public License (EPL)…

So OpenDaylight is flying in the face of a lot of recent conventional wisdom that the Apache License is the default license of choice for new industry collaborations. (See here here and here.) Frankly, I thought I would see pigs fly before seeing Microsoft fully participating in an EPL-licensed open source community.

I think that this could be the start of a new trend, because as we’ve seen platform fragmentation in the Android ecosystem is becoming bit of an object lesson for the industry.

The EPL has a couple of really important features that make it a particularly good platform license. It strikes the perfect balance between the competing interests of the collaborative community who is building the code, and the commercial interests who want to use that code in their products and services.

  • The EPL is copyleft, which means that if a company forks the code to further their interests, they need to make that code available under the EPL. This is a powerful incentive to simply do the work in the main project, in collaboration with the other players.
  • The EPL is commercially friendly, allowing corporations to build products on top of EPL-licensed code and use their own End User License Agreement when selling to their customers. This provides the ability for companies to leverage EPL-licensed open source code in traditional software business models.

The combinations of those two main features has been a big part of the success of the Eclipse community. We’ve seen remarkably few forks at Eclipse (aka fragmentation), while enjoying massive amounts of commercial adoption of our technologies. Will the OpenDaylight announcement make other industry open source collaborations think a little bit harder about their license choices? Time will tell, but I think this could be an interesting trend to watch.

Written by Mike Milinkovich

April 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

Posted in Foundation

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