Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Trouble in Kowari-land

Times of transition are always hard, and cultures do not always mix without conflict. The past year has been a time of transition for Kowari, as we have had to move from a close-knit circle of developers mostly working in the same room, to a distributed open-source community. It has of course been complicated by the need to try and reach an understanding with the new copyright owners of much of the kowari codebase, Northrup Grumman.

Yesterday I had the unpleasant duty of accepting the resignation of a good friend, colleague, and co-developer/admin from the Kowari project after he received legal threats from Northrup. I remember watching these sorts of tussles go down in my years within the OSS community. I have always felt sympathy for those volunteers who find themselves in the way of corporate lawyers. Now as the maintainer who has to sit and wait for NG's response I realise just how important the freedom in free-software really is. The MPL 1.1 is now the only thing standing between me and the loss of the Kowari project.

It's not really surprising that this story is starting to find its way onto the blogsphere. I would like to thank the SOFA community for their note of support. In response to Clark Parsia's questions about the legal status of kowari:

  1. The copyright in the vast majority of Kowari as of Jan 2005, and consequently the majority of Kowari now was owned by Tucana Technologies, and hence now by NG. However the majority of the work done in 2005 was done by parties unassociated with NG, and this work is copyright the authors (or in some cases the parties that paid for the work). Of particular note is the work done by Paul Gearon on the krule engine, and the work commissioned by the DSTO on the query rewriting. The former particularly is perfectly capable of independent existence, and while it currently lives in the kowari sourcetree is not derivative.
  2. There have been no releases since Tucana went insolvent. It took 6 months to reorganise after Tucana's fold, and another 3-4 months to prepare for release. We were ready for release in November, however held off at the explicit (and inconvenient) request of NG in an effort to support there integration into the community. I should be clear here; The 9th of January release date was requested by Northrup, and acceeded to by the Kowari administrators as a sign of good-faith. We had originally planned to release 1.1 in November.
  3. IANAL, but my understanding of the MPL --- and my personal first-hand knowledge of the express intent of Tucana when the MPL was chosen as a license --- is that anyone who cares to has the right to take a snapshot of the sourceforge repository; label it MyKowariRelease1.1; and release it to the public. And indeed if open-source means anything, it means the right to fork. However at the present point in time, I am the administrator of the kowari project, and Northrup have the same right to fork from Kowari as anyone else does.
As is clear in Clark Parsia's blog post above, this uncertainty is hurting Kowari so I will do whatever I can to ensure it is resolved promptly. All I can ask is to please be patient and lets see if we can't help Northrup to become a productive member of the opensource community.

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