OpenSim devs launch foundation, put OpenSim on solid legal footing

OpenSim’s volunteer developers have launched a foundation, the non-profit Overte Foundation, which expected to solve the licensing problems that keep OpenSim server developers from talking to viewer developers.

Justin Clark-Casey

“One of the main reasons for creating such a foundation is so that we can drop the six month contribution barrier between OpenSimulator and Linden Lab viewer or third party viewer developers,” said OpenSim core developer Justin Clark-Casey in an announcement today.

From now on, OpenSim code contributors will be asked to sign a agreement under which they give the foundation the license to use their code — while they continue to retain ownership of the underlying copyright. This will allow the foundation to deal with code licensing issues, and provide a measure of legal protection to the OpenSim project as a whole.

The major problem that has been plaguing OpenSim until now is that OpenSim is distributed under the business-friendly BSD license — the entire code base is open source, but companies that build commercial software on top of that code can keep their projects proprietary. For example, IBM sells a distribution of OpenSim that is optimized to work with their enterprise software for around $50,000.

However, Second Life’s viewer and the third party viewers are all distributed under a GPL license — that license does not allow for proprietary commercial distributions, and any software built using the viewer code automatically becomes open-source. If any GPL-licensed viewer code were to make its way into OpenSim, then the entire OpenSim code based would be contaminated and would have to be licensed as GPL — the six-month policy was in place to prevent that from happening.

With the new foundation and the signed contributors agreements, individual developers can work on both server and viewer code, as long as they certify that their OpenSim contributions are clean — and if there are any problems, the foundation can deal with them.

One possible benefit is tighter integration between the server and viewer software. For example, we might see a better voice system for OpenSim, using the Whisper/Mumble platform, and easier hypergrid teleports. Progress on bot of these projects has been delayed since the work has to be done both on the viewer and on the server — and, until today, the two groups of developers stayed far away from one another.

” There is also an opportunity to incorporate other projects and a broader range of community members rather than just developers,” added Clark-Casey, who is the president of the new foundation.

Crista Lopes

Hypergrid inventor Crista Lopes is treasurer. Lopes is also professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine.

The foundation secretary is Melanie Thielker, the CEO of OpenSim hosting company 3D Hosting and founder of the Avination grid.

Other founding members of the board are OSGrid president Michael Cerquoni and intellectual property rights attorney Ben Esplin, who is also the lead associate on the social media, entertainment and technology team at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

Esplin has donated his time and expertise to the project. He has also helped OSGrid set itself up as a legal non-profit entity.

More details about the foundation can be found on the  OpenSimulator mailing list and the FAQ.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China. Follow me on Twitter @MariaKorolov.

10 Responses

  1.' Armin says:

    Reads like great news 🙂

  2.' fights_for_the_users says:

    > If any GPL-licensed viewer code were to make its way into OpenSim, then the entire OpenSim code based would be contaminated and would have to be licensed as GPL — the six-month policy was in place to prevent that from happening.

    That's not quite accurate. Also, the term 'contaminate' is highly negatively charged.

    Plenty of projects mix GPL and BSD code. BSD is, after all a GPL-compatible license. For example, Drizzle is GPL licensed but accepts patches under BSD.

    Mixing the two does, however, mean that the codebase as a whole can only be used under the GPL, since when you use the entire codebase, you are distributing the GPL code as part of it, and you only have a license to do that under the GPL.

    But the real reason the IBM lawyers are against viewer people from working on OpenSim code, is the fear that OpenSim code could be a derivative work of the SL viewer. This has nothing to do with actually including GPL code or not, although including such code could make arguing that case easier. Note that you can still argue that case with the 6-month delay in place, so it's all a matter of degrees here.

  3. fights —

    You're right, there's no problem putting BSD code into a GPL project — that's why, on the viewer side, there were no six month restrictions on contributors.

    But there is a problem is if GPL code gets into BSD. Any work built on top of a GPL code base — such as a viewer — has to be GPL as well. GPL code is very infectious.

    That doesn't mean that GPL code is bad. People who write GPL want to donate their programming efforts for the good of the community, and the license protects them from seeing other people making a profit off their work by selling proprietary, closed versions of it. There's nothing wrong with that. I'd hate to make something for free, then see someone else selling it.

    The BSD is a different approach — these guys WANT people to create businesses based on their work. Some have their own consulting or hosting companies, or work for companies like IBM and Intel, or just have a vision of a virtual future and think that helping jump start commercial development is a way to get there.

    There are also GPL-licensed virtual world projects out there. OpenWonderland, for example, is licensed under GPL. There is a "class path" exception so that companies can build proprietary modules on top of it, but the core code base can't be packaged up, closed off, and sold.

  4. Hypergrid Business has the opportunity to create and publish Professional Guidelines for virtual world service & utility providers, somewhat like this example

    Those bona fide and serious providers would then be able to have a consumer protection reference benchmark to refer to, and to promote with…

  5. James —

    I wouldn't know where to start — and every customer wants something different. One wants IP protections, no OAR exports, no hypergrid teleports. Another wants to be able to make full backups of their content. Another wants the lowest possible price, even at the expense of service quality. Another wants uptime guarantees. One wants a clean, kid-friendly environment. Another wants sex, violence, and gambling. And providers change strategies all the time, on top of it — one starts out being a low-cost provider, and turns into a b2b play selling grid infrastructure software to other hosting companies. Another goes after the high-end market, then a month later changes the pricing strategy and goes after the mid-tier.

    And that's just on the OpenSim side, without even starting to look at all the other platforms out there.

    Anything that I would be able to add would have to be really general — abide by your contracts, comply with DMCA requests, don't run deceptive advertisements — and is already covered by the law.

    In addition, these kinds of codes are typically promulgated by trade organizations and professional associations — and I have, in fact, heard talk of a business group starting for OpenSim hosting providers. I encourage them to create a code of standards for their members, create directories, hold events, and otherwise promote the industry and improve its standards.

  6. For IT Service Management consulting, I lean on Capability Maturity Model CMM from US Dept. of Defense… Newer maturity models are Capability Maturity Model Integration CMMI, Capability Im-Maturity Model CMIM, which are enhanced by People CMM…

    I've drafted a spreadsheet overview of the ranking scales used, and how they apply to bona fide virtual worlds… Capability Maturity & Im-Maturity Characteristics of Virtual World Service & Utility Providers

    OECD Consumer Policy Toolkit also points to relevant issues…,3746,en_2649_34 is a portal for you as a consumer to Report Complaints about online and related transactions with foreign companies…

  7. Well, I was thinking about professional guidelines for service & utility providers (as roles), who would guarantee certain minimum service level agreements towards customers (third role).

    In world-wide cross-border e-commerce, things are not that clear and regulated… This becomes evident alone by checking which is a portal for you as a consumer to Report Complaints about online and related transactions with foreign companies

  8. Further, I have a draft overview of what I was thinking about…

    Capability Maturity & Im-Maturity Characteristics of Virtual World Service & Utility Providers

  9. James — This sounds like something an analyst firm would do — and charge a lot of money for. If any analysts are working on it, I'd love to publish a summary or excerpt of their findings.

    Meanwhile, a lot of the items — like the TOS and DMCA policies — apply to virtual worlds, not immersive platform providers. Virtual world residents aren't likely to spend thousands on an analyst research report comparing grids.

    We did do some of it here, though.

    List with basic grid info here:

    With IPR policies, additional info:

    We did these reports in the spring, and they're already out of date — lots of new grids have appeared, old grids have updated their policies, or closed down… and it's only going to get harder and harder to keep up.

    Imagine trying to survey all the websites out there and compare them. You could do this in early 1993, when there were something like 130 websites. Within a year, there were thousands, Within a couple of years, millions. Fortunately, it's a lot more work to put up a grid than to put up a website, but it's still a losing proposition to rate them all unless you can figure out an automated way to do it.

  10. Frequently, I found that utility and service providers lack in constitutional commercial and legal requirements, e.g. offering a product or service against an "offer and accept" contract, but then not providing basics like Terms of Service, Privacy Terms, DMCA Process Description, Contact Address for DMCA Request, Authorized Officer Name, EU-VAT-IdNo., Commercial Registry No., Imprint, Help Desk Support…