Feds seek comments on draft open source guide

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Feds seek comments on draft open source guide

Offers licensing, risk mitigation advice to complement 2011 policy.

The Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) has sought comments on proposed revisions to a six-year-old Guide to Open Source Software for agencies.

A draft guide, released yesterday, aimed to account for the Government’s strengthened open source policy and “the increased maturity of open source software”, according to AGIMO first assistant secretary Glenn Archer.

In January, AGIMO revised its 2005 open source software policy to require agencies to “consider open source software equally alongside proprietary software” for procurements worth more than $80,000.

The 42-page draft guide (pdf) was expected to complement the policy with information on open source software licensing, licensing risks, and risk mitigation techniques.

Targeted specifically at project managers and procurement teams, the draft guide was significantly less jargon-heavy than its 62-page predecessor that was published in April 2005 (pdf).

For ICT specialists, AGIMO attached an Open Source Software Licensing Risk Framework as an appendix to the draft guide. Archer highlighted the inclusion of the Framework as a major difference between the two versions.

"While the previous version of the guide provided information on copyright and licensing risks, the revised guide adds further detail and outlines some risk mitigation techniques for agencies to consider," he told iTnews today.

"In addition, the revised guide has been written in a way that we hope succinctly provides information on the benefits/risks of open source software and to allow the issues around of open source to be more easily and widely understood."

"We have consciously tried to avoid the use of too much jargon."

AGIMO warned agencies to be aware of the various open source software licences, highlighting differences between using, customising, integrating, and developing open source software.

“While proprietary software licences attract the standard protections available under copyright law, there is some ambiguity about how open source licences can be legally enforced,” the draft guide stated.

“To date, this has not been tested in Australian courts. However, in Europe and the United States, the Free Software Foundation has successfully taken legal action against distributors that have failed to comply with open source licensing provisions.”

Instead of listing examples of open source licenses, as in the 2005 guide, the new draft guide suggested that licenses be described in terms of their reciprocity and restrictiveness.

“Breaches of licence provisions are not always intentional; they may be due to a lack of governance in tracking the use of open source software within an agency,” AGIMO warned.

“In addition, agencies may not be aware of all the actions that may lead to a breach of an open source licence.”

The draft guide also introduced a section dedicated to highlighting the benefits of open source software. Those included avoiding upfront payment, encouraging a collaborative approach, increasing interoperability, and reducing vendor lock-in.

AGIMO sought public input on the draft guide via its blog, or email, by 15 April. Archer said the draft had been well-received by Australian Government agencies so far.

"Feedback received on the 2005 version of the guide indicates that agencies have found the guide very useful as general background information on open source software," he noted.

Last month, Microsoft wrote to Special Minister of State Gary Gray, volunteering to contribute to the development of the guide.

“We appreciate many of the difficulties parties face in settling standard contractual matters such as ownership, liability and warranties and would be pleased to offer this experience to AGIMO in the event they are consulting with sectors of industry on the guide,” the software giant wrote.

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