Mozilla redrafts open-source licence

Mozilla is soliciting ideas for a redrafted, simplified open-source licence

Stuart Turton
11 Mar 2010

Mozilla has announced plans to redraft the open-source licence underpinning projects such as Firefox.

The Mozilla Public License (MPL) grew out of the Netscape Public License, which was written by Mozilla chairperson Mitchell Baker while she was working at Netscape.

Featuring elements of the modified BSD License and GNU General Public License created by Richard Stallman, the MPL 1.1 has been used to distribute numerous projects including Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenSolaris and Flex for over a decade.

"The spirit of the licence has served us well by helping to communicate some of the values that underpin our large and growing community. However, some of its wording may be showing its age," said Mozilla on its FAQ page.

Changing the scope of the copyleft probably means choosing between a GPL-style strong copyleft and the Apache style no-copyleft

"Keeping both those things in mind, Mozilla is launching a process to update the licence, hoping to modernise and simplify it while still keeping the things that have made the licence and the Mozilla project such a success."

In the first phase of this process, Mozilla will release an alpha draft based on feedback already received. This will be followed by "commentary, discussion, and further drafting, followed by beta and release candidate drafts."

Mozilla intends to "seriously investigate" whether it can make the MPL compatible with the Apache license, in an effort to "help projects using the MPL become more flexible about using Apache-licensed code."

However, the foundation has warned that it's not looking to significantly alter the scope of the existing MPL, which could require the Mozilla community to choose between strong and weak copyleft - which requires derivatives to be distributed under the same license.

"Changing the scope of the copyleft probably means choosing between a GPL-style strong copyleft and the Apache style no-copyleft," Mozilla notes on its MPL FAQ.

"The Mozilla community includes some people who are strongly drawn to each of these options, and for whom living exclusively with the other option would be surprising and difficult.

"As a result, adopting either of these options exclusively is likely to be highly disruptive. The current file-level copyleft allows all of us to work together, which is a better outcome and a net positive for the Mozilla community," it concludes.

The revised MPL should be published by the end of 2010.

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