[OSGeo-Standards] Input required from OSGeo Standards List Members

Greg Troxel gdt at lexort.com
Wed Sep 8 06:15:08 PDT 2021

Bruce Bannerman <bruce.bannerman.osgeo at gmail.com> writes:

> Many thanks for your insightful comments Greg.
> In particular, I think that your comments constraining trade mark licenses are appropriate and warrant further discussion.
> Would you be able to expand on this point for those of us who are not so aware of the nuances?

(a little US-centric but the concepts apply broadly)

There are variety of governance models in open source.  At one end, the
project is within a charity.  Examples are the Free Software Foundation
and the Software Freedom Conservancy:


These organizations are 501(c)3 charitable nonprofits and are legally
obligated to act in the public interest.

At the other end are projects which are tightly controlled by a
for-profit company, where contributions to the project are only allowed
with a broad license grant to the company that is well beyond the scope
of the project's open source license, and where the company sells
proprietary licenses to the code.  These companies are legally obligated
to act in the interests of shareholders. This is described (with just a
tiny bit of opinion :-) at the following, and I'll assume everyone
continuing has read it:


I view a no-cost trademark license from OGC as basically a charitable
donation, and I see that as appropriate for charities acting in the
public interest, and not appropriate for for-profit entities, or any
entity which is not acting in the public interest.  I don't mean to say
that for-profit entities are bad -- just that they should not be treated
as if they were charities because they somehow use an open source

There's a related issue to proprietary relicensing which is Contributor
License Agreemnts and copyright assignment.  Sometimes these intend to
assure the project that the contributor can legally provide the code.
Sometimes, such as assignment to FSF, they are intended to allow
enforcement (remember that FSF is legally required to be in the public
interest).  Sometimes, they are intended to provide rights beyond the
project's license so that the organization controlling the project can
use the code in other ways, such as proprietary relicensing.  An exampe
would be a project under the Affero GPL but a CLA that grants a company
the right to sell proprietary licenses.  The FSF's assignment, last I
read it, has a reciprocal covenant where they agree to only distribute
under Free licenses.  So the spectre of proprietary relicensing is

Hence, I was trying to suggest something fairly simple that would draw a
line in the right place.  Having read more, I'd say trademark grants
should be limited to projects 1) whose code is available *only* under an
open source license and 2) do not require a CLA/assignment that grants
permission for proprietary relicensing.

(There is some trickiness; a BSD-licensed project can be used to make a
proprietary product by some other entity.  That's ok and not a bar to
trademark grant in my view, but if an entity that controls a project
does that, a no-cost grant is not ok.)

I find it odd that OSGeo is registered as 501(c)4 in the US, and I
wonder if that's simply due to slight rule differences in Canada and the
US, and if the Canadian registration is esssentially a charity, but the
terms are somehow not enough to meet 501(c)3.  Perhaps someone can

OGC as I understand it is a 501(c)6, obligated to act in the common
business interest of members.  This is why I was asking for
clarification beyond "nonprofit" in the MOU, as without that it's hard
to understand the obligations of the parties.

Hope this helps...

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