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Apache Rejects Microsoft’s Sender ID Standard

The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), creator of the open-source Apache Web server, noted that it will not support the proposed antispam standard, called Sender ID, because Microsoft’s licensing terms are antithetical to the spirit of open source.

Sender ID is designed to identify whether an e-mail’s source address is actually the originator of the message. In an open letter to one of its working groups, the ASF clarified the position of the Foundation, the Apache SpamAssassin Project Management Committee and the Apache JAMES Project Management Committee on the implementation of the Sender ID specification.

The foundation noted that the current Microsoft license agreement terms are a barrier to any ASF project that wants to implement Sender ID.

“We believe the current license is generally incompatible with open source, contrary to the practice of open Internet standards, and specifically incompatible with the Apache License 2.0,” the ASF stated. “Therefore, we will not implement or deploy Sender ID under the current license terms.”

Basic Problems

The ASF began working with Larry Rosen, general counsel of the Open Source Initiative, in early June to coordinate efforts to resolve the patent-licensing issues. Rosen then began negotiating with Microsoft to try and hammer out an agreement surrounding terms, but talks are still in progress.

In a letter to the ASF, Rosen laid out several objections he has surrounding the licensing arrangement as proposed by Microsoft. He noted that the open-source development and distribution process works well because everyone treats open-source licenses as sublicenseable.

Because of this structure, software freedom is inherited by downstream sublicenses, according to Rosen. “Meanwhile, the Microsoft Sender ID patent license continues the convenient fiction that there are ‘End Users’ who receive limited rights. That is unacceptable in open-source licenses.”

In an interview with LinuxInsider, Rosen said that refusal of the licensing is important. “We want software that is open source to be unencumbered by requirements and conditions that are incompatible with open source.”

Strong Views

The ASF expressed agreement with Rosen’s opinion, and added that there are several additional problems with the licensing not covered by Rosen. Specifically, the foundation noted that where the Sender ID specification includes additional optional features, no license is granted.

Also, licenses are said to be “personal,” which prevents assignment to an acquiring party. Therefore, open-source projects might not be able to transfer a license to new organizations.

The ASF is unhappy, too, with how the scope of the patent license is limited to compliant implementation, because this is incompatible with the ability of open-source licenses to spark derivative work.

Finally, the foundation expressed concern that Microsoft is rushing to adopt the standard in spite of “technical concerns, lack of experience in the field, and a lack of consensus” in the working group responsible for the standard.

License Revoked

The Sender ID scuffle comes at a time when technology licenses have been gaining increasing attention. The SCO lawsuit, along with other intellectual property suits, have thrown light on the importance of licensing and standards.

Steve Frank, a partner in the patent and intellectual property group of Boston-based law firm Testa Hurwitz & Thibeault told LinuxInsider that licensing tussles will be more dominant in the coming years, especially as open source makes its way into more companies.

“People used to flinch when you talked about patents and software in the same sentence,” he said. “But, now companies are interested in protecting their assets. And part of that is the technology they’ve developed.”

Brighter Future?

The addition of open source into that environment makes the area a tricky one. Rosen said that rather than try to fit open source into current licensing schemes, what is needed is to create a whole new paradigm.

“Attorneys have been working on patent licenses for a long time, so it’s not unexpected that they’d use the same kinds of language that have served them well for many years,” Rosen said. “But things are changing.”

He expressed hope that the ASF’s stand will encourage large companies to develop and promulgate open standard licenses that are compatible with the spirit of open source.

“We have to come up with new ways of writing licenses,” said Rosen. He added that Microsoft is beginning to understand the issues surrounding open source, although it has become a difficult issue for them.

“It’s going to take some effort on our part, and certainly on theirs, to come to a reasonable solution for all of us,” he said. “But I really think it’s possible to come out of this with something good for the future.”

Microsoft was not available for comment in time for this article.

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