[fosscomm] OSI's position on Draft Open Standards Policy for e-Governance

Venkatesh Hariharan venkyh at gmail.com
Tue Jul 14 21:55:14 PDT 2009

An excellent letter from Michael Tiemann, president of the Open Source
Initiative to the Secretary (IT) explaining why open standards are
important for the open source community. This letter explains how open
standards should be defined so that they do not prevent open source
implementations. Very valuable inputs indeed!


July 14, 2009

The Honorable Mr. R Chandrashekar
Secretary of the Ministry of Information Technology
Government of India

Re: Open Source and Open Standards

Dear Mr. Chandrashekar,

In the capacity of President of the Open Source Initiative, I have
been asked to provide to you the perspective developed by the Open
Source Initiative on the subject of Open Standards. It is my pleasure
to do so.

>From the most general perspective, open source and open standards are
inclusive movements, and therefore closely aligned with each other,
unlike proprietary software and open standards, which are inherently
in conflict with one other. By way of analogy, the medical profession
can ascertain a minimum standard of nutrition considered adequate to
protect people from malnutrition. The government can choose to
implement a policy ensuring that such minimum standards are met,
ensuring food security for all. But what happens when the government
chooses to say “all rice provided under this program must be enriched
with the protein of meat, which shall be achieved by cooking the rice
in the broth of meats”, or “that all cooked rice distributed by the
government shall
contain at least 10% meat.”? That would be very troubling indeed to a
great number of people. In a free market, people and institutions can
choose whether to implement strict open source, mixed, or purely
proprietary systems, just as they can choose whether to observe a
strict vegetarian diet or not. However, if the government mandates a
standard, and that standard requires proprietary technology that
cannot be implemented, modified, adapted, shared, and redistributed
according to the rules of open source software, than any open source
system that attempts to interoperate with that standard loses its open
source nature, just as rice cooked in a meat broth is no longer part
of a vegetarian meal.

**The fundamental position of the OSI is that any standard declared to
be an “open standard” must not prohibit the development, distribution,
or use of conforming implementations in open source software.** In
particular, no standard that is considered an "open standard" may, via
any claim or mechanism, impose any restriction, condition, or
prohibition that conflicts with any open source license that may be
used to implement such a standard.

The OSI developed the five-point "Open Standards Requirements" (OSR)to
articulate what we believe to be the minimum guarantees needed to
permit the continued existence of open source software in a world of
open standards. The fundamental requirement and the five points are
published here: http://www.opensource.org/osr, and reproduced below:

The Requirement

An "open standard" must not prohibit conforming implementations in
open source software.

The Criteria

To comply with the Open Standards Requirement, an “open standard” must
satisfy the following criteria. If an “open standard” does not meet
these criteria, it will be discriminating against open source

1. No Intentional Secrets: The standard MUST NOT withhold any detail
necessary for interoperable implementation. As flaws are inevitable,
the standard MUST define a process for fixing flaws identified during
implementation and interoperability testing and to incorporate said
changes into a revised version or superseding version of the standard
to be released under terms that do not violate the OSR.

2. Availability: The standard MUST be freely and publicly available
(e.g., from a stable web site) under royalty-free terms at reasonable
and non-discriminatory cost.

3. Patents: All patents essential to implementation of the standard MUST:
  * be licensed under royalty-free terms for unrestricted use, or
  * be covered by a promise of non-assertion when practiced by open
source software

4. No Agreements: There MUST NOT be any requirement for execution of a
license agreement, NDA, grant, click-through, or any other form of
paperwork to deploy conforming implementations of the standard.

5. No OSR-Incompatible Dependencies: Implementation of the standard
MUST NOT require any other technology that fails to meet the criteria
of this Requirement.

We believe this to be the absolute minimum policy required to ensure
that Open Standards permit, and do not prohibit, the possibility of
open source implementations, and hence allow for free markets to
include open source competition. If any of these terms are not met,
then an open source implementation can be restrained, frustrated,
subverted, or prohibited outright, and this, we believe, would defeat
the very purpose of an “open standard”.

I am sure that you can appreciate that these requirements do not favor
any particular vendor, nor do they favor any particular software
development model. Rather, they are stipulated to ensure that in the
field of “open standards”, open source is given a fair and equal
opportunity to compete, and that such standards never become a
mechanism that can be abused to favor a specific proprietary
technology. I am sure it is equally clear that proprietary
implementations of “open standards” are in no way foreclosed by this
definition; therefore, we advise that the Government of India consider
adopting a definition of “open standard” that permits true choice of
software supplier and development model, not one choice that spoils
the other.


Michael Tiemann
Open Source Initiative

Open Source Initiative. P.O. Box 410990 #256 · San Francisco · CA · 94114-0990

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