Publisher O'Reilly admits open source goof

But there's still a dispute over who who holds the copyright to the phrase "open source."

By Andrew Leonard
Published May 21, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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On Wednesday, I reported that computer book publisher O'Reilly & Associates had mistakenly announced it was "open-sourcing" its recently published compendium of essays about the open source movement. On Thursday, O'Reilly acknowledged the mistake. O'Reilly spokeswoman Lisa Mann said the company would send out a new press release acknowledging that "OpenSources" isn't actually being "open sourced" -- it's simply being made freely available.

Meanwhile, several Salon readers wrote in to point out that while I was busy zinging O'Reilly for errors, I might be guilty of committing a few of my own. One reader asserted that Salon had "subtly misrepresented" Richard Stallman's position on whether books about open source software should be considered in the same terms as actual software programs -- that is, they should be freely modifiable by the general public. Stallman, said the reader, was primarily concerned with ensuring that freely modifiable manuals are available to accompany free software programs. Essays about free software do not require the same treatment.

The ownership of the "open source" trademark is another sticky issue. According to one reader, the trademark is owned by a group called Software in the Public Interest (SPI), not by Eric Raymond and the Open Source Initiative. This turns out to be a matter of some controversy.

Briefly put, in February 1998, former SPI board member Bruce Perens, a software developer who helped coordinate the development of the noncommercial Debian distribution of Linux, registered"open source" as a trademark. In March, Perens and other SPI members had a falling out, and Perens assigned all "interests" in the trademark to Eric Raymond. Now, both SPI and OSI claim ownership, but even Eric Raymond acknowledges that the proper disposition of the matter "isn't clear to anybody."

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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