Mozilla Wants You To Help Rewrite Its Public License

After 10 years, it's time for an update, the Mozilla Foundation says; a lot's changed in a decade.

Mozilla has just begun the process of revamping its public license, which regulates how folks can use the open-source Firefox and Thunderbird, among other Mozilla Foundation projects.

The current version, 1.1, has been in play for about a decade, and Mozilla decided it's time for an update. Some might wonder why it doesn't just adopt the General Public License, as much of the source code can be used under the GPL anyway.

But keeping and updating the MPL allows Mozilla to keep the copyleft it has on the software, ensuring that the way people use the source in their own projects is made as publicly available as the original.

The Mozilla Foundation is custodian of the license, as Netscape no longer exists. On its MPL page, Mozilla explains how the source codes are licensed:

Core Mozilla project source code is licensed under a disjunctive tri-license giving you the choice of one of the three following sets of free software/open source licensing terms:

This allows the use of our code in as wide a variety of software projects as possible, while still maintaining copyleft on code we wrote. Some Mozilla projects have slightly different terms, as follows:

Tinderbox 1NPL (Netscape Public License) 1.1 or later
All other Perl webtools (e.g. Bugzilla, Tinderbox 2/3, Bonsai)MPL 1.1 or later
Rhino (JavaScript in Java)MPL 1.1 or later/GPL 2.0 or later

The mozilla/webtools directory in CVS contains independent projects under various different sets of terms. As a rule of thumb, Perl projects are MPLed and PHP projects are tri-licensed, but check carefully.

The goal of the license update, Mozilla says, is to:

• Modernize, maintain, and simplify the license. The world has changed in the past ten years, and there are places where we would like to change with it. We also now have ten years of experience with the license which we’ll use to help make it easier to use for everyone.

• Remain a free and open license. We have already been in touch with the FSF and OSI to ensure that we remain consistent with their principles and policies.

Mozilla will also consider:

• Becoming Apache compatible, both in our patent terms and more broadly, to help projects using the MPL become more flexible about using Apache-licensed code.

• The impact of our patent license grant (particularly section 8.2) to reflect modern licensing practice.

• Globalizing the license, to make it more appropriate for our global community of contributors.

• Templatizing the license, and taking other appropriate steps to reduce license proliferation, including working with the authors of other license derivatives.

• Updating the Source/Executable distinction for modern development practices, including interpreted languages, binary modification, and non-code users.

Not in play? Significant changes to the license or the scope of the file-level copyleft. Mozilla also doesn't plan to address the "web service loophole." Because of the complications and controversy involved in such a process, Mozilla wants to keep that separate from relatively simple updates to the MPL, though it may be looked into later on.

Mozilla wants input from its users in the update process. It's already been gathering string, keeping track of suggestions from users over the past several years. You can add comments here or subscribe to the Google group.

The goal is to get the entire process done by fall, October or November, with each step in the process taking about a month.

This is your chance to help determine the direction of Mozilla's new public license; isn't that part of the beauty of open source?

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