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November 17, 2009

Open Web Foundation publishes license for community specifications

The Open Web Foundation has released a license - the Open Web Foundation Agreement, or OWFa - that can be used by communities to license open specifications they have developed, in a similar way to how communities license open source software using standard licenses such as GPL.

The OWFa establishes copyright and patent rights for a specification, and clarifies the intellectual property and usage rights for a specification where there is no single organisation publishing a specification. This has been an issue for a number of specifications developed informally among a community online rather than through an established standards organisation, where there is no clear "owner" of the specification.

The OWFa is one part of the answer to this problem; the license names the individuals who have contributed to the specification rather than a single entity. In the near future OWF will also release a model Contributor License Agreement (CLA) for participants in open specification development based on similar documents used by the Apache Software Foundation. A CLA provides a statement that an individual has granted a license to use their contributions, and furthermore asserts that they have the permission of their employer to do so. This provides an "audit trail" to help resolve any issues that emerge, for example in settling claims of copyright or patent violations. While it doesn't prevent problems emerging, it helps to establish the process and reduce risks for all parties - including the contributors themselves.

This announcement marks a major step forward for community-based approaches to developing specifications, and will help with the commercial adoption of community specifications, as well as help smooth the path for contributing community specifications into more formal processes.

For more information, see Introducing the Open Web Foundation Agreement

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