Steven Martin

Cloud Commons

Mike Linksvayer, March 26th, 2009

Creative Commons licensing has been highlighted in a couple prominent discussions of “” documents recently.

Last week Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz wrote about Sun’s cloud computing strategy:

Second, we announced the API’s and file formats for Sun’s Cloud will all be open, delivered under a Creative Commons License. That means developers can freely stitch our and their cloud services into mass market products, without fear of lock-in or litigation from the emerging proprietary cloud vendors.

The API specification Schwartz writes about is released under a CC Attribution license.

Today Microsoft’s Steven Martin wrote critically of a cloud computing “manifesto” that has apparently been developed behind closed doors:

To ensure that the work on such a project is open, transparent and complete, we feel strongly that any “manifesto” should be created, from its inception, through an open mechanism like a Wiki, for public debate and comment, all available through a Creative Commons license. After all, what we are really seeking are ideas that have been broadly developed, meet a test of open, logical review and reflect principles on which the broad community agrees. This would help avoid biases toward one technology over another, and expand the opportunities for innovation.

Of course a document can be at first developed in private, then released in public under a CC license, but Martin is certainly correct that a document that is open in its development and in what can be done with it upon release ought to be published under a CC license, as should the debate and comment surrounding document creation.

The manifesto Martin discusses apparently is still private, though a commenter on his post notes that the Cloud Computing Community Wiki has taken up the challenge to develop its own cloud computing manifesto in public under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license. Of this, Sam Johnson commented on Martin’s blog:

Here’s hoping that when this consortium reveals itself their work will also be available under a CC-BY-SA license so we can cherry pick the better parts, but in the mean time if you have anything to add then please feel free to do so.

It’s really great that the necessity of releasing specifications, manifestos, and other documents under liberal CC licenses has such broad buy in. Among other things, the practice probably saves lots of money and frustration — big companies don’t have to spend on lawyers to negotiate copyright terms on the documents they collaborate on nor to develop onerous terms that individuals and others must agree to in order to contribute to such documents — to say nothing of the opportunity cost of not pre-clearing documents for translation and inclusion in educational materials.

However, it’s also important to note that applying a liberal CC license to a specification or other computing-related document is only one of a number of steps required to ensure that a computing technology is and remains really open. For example, is the technology patent encumbered? Is there an open source reference implementation? We sketched this out in a bit more detail almost a year ago in a post titled What good is a CC licensed specification?

Consider the above an opportunistic public service announcement rather than a criticism of Sun or Microsoft in these particular instances. Martin’s post is about a manifesto about interoperability — so a CC license may be all that is needed for that document to be open, at least after publication — though perhaps the document should recommend more than that of cloud computing initiatives that develop specifications intended to be interoperable. The rest of Schwartz’s post (actually it is 4th in a series of 4 posts) talks a lot about the free software community and building on open source software, so it is possible Sun is doing everything possible to make the cloud API it proposes open — I just haven’t evaluated whether that is the case.

It’s also worth noting here that not only big companies are thinking about keeping cloud computing open (if you’re annoyed by use of the fuzzy “cloud” term and have managed to read this far, congratulations) — many in the free and open source software community have related concerns and have begun to develop their own manifestos and guidelines (unsurprisingly, available under CC Attribution-ShareAlike), which interestingly address all of the above and other issues of software freedom and free culture.

Now go forth and make the cloud interoperable, open, and free (as in speech), understanding that CC licensing specifications and manifestos is a necessary step, but only one of many steps toward fulfilling your mission.

Update 2009-03-30: The Open Cloud Manifesto is now available, and it is indeed published under CC BY-SA.

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