Is “Open Source Media” an abuse of the term?

A correspondent wrote me to
object to the fact that
that-which-was-Pajamas-Media has launched as “Open Source Media”.

There’s an established use of the term “open source” prior to
open-source software, it’s spook-talk (intelligence-community jargon)
for a data source that is not secret. Various media outlets
(like these guys)
are, quite legitimately, keying off that sense of the
phrase.

Are they, to some extent, influenced by the success and prestige of
the open-source software movement? Probably so…but since
neither I nor OSI has a trademark on the phrase “open source”, there’s
not much we can do about that kind of coattail-riding. It’s not even
clear that should try — better to concentrate on fighting
battles we can win.

I made the decision some time back, when I was still president of
OSI, to try to jawbone people out of using the phrase “open source”
only when it would create confusion about software and software
licensing. That’s narrower ground and easier to defend. Even though
OSI doesn’t have a legal lock on the term, almost everybody recognizes
our moral right to prescribe how it is used with respect to software (even Microsoft,
interestingly enough). In every case — every case
— that OSI has applied pressure, abusers have backed
down.

So yes, I’m not real pleased by OSM’s restrictive license, now that
it has been drawn to my attention; I do wish they had either chosen a
different name or used something like a Creative Commons license. But
I’m not going to fight them about it. They’ve got a legitimate claim on
the “spook” sense of the term, not the software sense.

13 thoughts on “Is “Open Source Media” an abuse of the term?

  1. I’m uncomfortable with it too, but if you guys at OSI aren’t asserting trademark on it, or don’t think you can in this context, well, I guess I can lose my objection…

    (Disclosure: I’m a contributor, not an owner/partner.)

  2. Dean, maybe you shouldn’t lose your objection. While I concede that OSM cannot reasonably be barred from using the phrase “Open Source”, it does seem to me that their license is unreasonably restrictive simply taken on its own terms. There may be good reason for someone closer to the organization to argue that point.

  3. How about an esr/Glenn Reynolds celebrity deathmatch?

    But seriously, some open discussion would be beneficial (and appropriate). I think the usage of “open source” with more currency would be well served by avoiding this kind of confusion, and I think the media group would do well to embrace a more open production/distribution model.

    (For starters…)

  4. I can’t see that term “open source” makes sense except where there is a parallel divide similar to that between source code and object code. So far as I can see, the “open source movement” for software arose because object code by the nature of things is for practical purposes unreadable for people (although machine readable). Thus arises a demand to see the source code from which it has been compiled. No one is regularly presented with material by the media that they perforce cannnot actually read – that would defeat the object of a news outlet. And I doubt most news outlets are aware of how the term is used by intelligence agencies. In effect, it’s a marketing scam.

  5. Their launch press release shows they indended it in the software sense. The title says it all:
    “Pajamas Media Goes “Open Source,” Flips Switch on New Online Venture”
    http://www.osm.org/site/articles/presscontact/presslaunchevent/

    That’s sad considering many of the folks involved in this effort know better. It looks like they are wrapping themselves up in the open source mythos to garner good will – and it’s backfired in some corners of the web. Not enough however since folks like Instapundit have the power to influence Google via their high page ranks and numerous subscribers.

    The word “failure” was redefined by just that same technique, and soon, I’m afraid, “open source” will be as well.

  6. I think the term “open source” became so popupar because it has a double meaning: “open source code” for programmers and “from an open source, from open-minded people” for everybody else. And it’s fast becoming quite a general marketing buzzword – you can bet there will be a chocolate brand called “OpenChocolate” very soon :-) But why not? At least it carries the notion of open-mindedness to everyday people. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

  7. Their launch press release shows they intended it in the software sense. The title says it all:
    “Pajamas Media Goes “Open Source,” Flips Switch on New Online Venture”
    http://www.osm.org/site/articles/presscontact/presslaunchevent/

    Goes “Open Source”? That’s a particularly net-famous phrase – and it was ment to send a signal.

    That’s sad considering many of the folks involved in this effort know better. It looks like they are wrapping themselves up in the open source mythos to garner good will – and it’s backfired in some corners of the web. Not enough however since folks like Instapundit have the power to influence Google via their high page ranks and numerous subscribers.

    The word “failure” was redefined by just that same technique, and soon, I’m afraid, “open source” will be as well.

    And for further proof, look at their about page: http://www.osm.org/site/about/aboutfoundersletter

    They refer to the open source software movement directly. Specifically the FSF and not the OSI. I wonder why that is?

  8. Not sure that it worked *itself* out – but it is worked out and that’s what’s important. Good for them to realize naming decision error and move on.

  9. As another commentator has pointed out, it is perhaps for the good that the term “Open Source” is being more widely used, though possibly in some cases in ways that many adherents of the open source software movement may not like…

    Which brings me to the broader concept of open source…I keep reading about open source hardware ( actually, there is a source code there too, though not alike the software source code), open source ideas etc…I have little doubt that these took their original ideas from the success of the open source software movement ( the argument goes as follows – if open source concept can succeed in such a complicated field like the operating system, it should be able to succeed in less complicated fields, I’m not sure whether such a simplistic logic is correct though), but some of these open source ideas are likely to get an identity of their own and perhaps even provide excellent benefits overall…so who knows!

    Free & Open Source Software Database @ http://www.eit.in/sw/free_software/free_software.html

  10. I think the term “open source” became so popupar because it has a double meaning: “open source code” for programmers and “from an open source, from open-minded people” for everybody else. And it’s fast becoming quite a general marketing buzzword – you can bet there will be a chocolate brand called “OpenChocolate” very soon :-) But why not? At least it carries the notion of open-mindedness to everyday people. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

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