Following a discussion in the comments field of this question, I'm beginning to think that we need to clarify topicality in the help page.

For some time now I've felt we'd developed a community consensus that, although lots of different people mean lots of different things by "Open Source", we use the FSF's four freedoms and the OSI definition as our guidelines. "Source available", commercially-restricted, CC-BY-ND, and other fringes-of-Open-Source licences, aren't "Open Source" within the meaning of the site.

Problem is, our main help page is not so clear on the subject, and can arguably be read as encouraging questions about fringe licences.

To be clear, I'm not suggesting that questions about whether a given licence is free are off-topic. I am suggesting that questions about picking a licence that forbids commercial activity, or can't be used for military purposes, or requires all contributions to be sent to the author, or the like, are off-topic.

So my questions are:

  1. Is it indeed our community consensus that the four freedoms and the OSI definition are our guideline definitions of FOSS?

  2. If so, should we be clearer about this in our help page?

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    I agree such a consensus exists, and I agree it should be made explicit in our help page(s). Moderators can edit them, so if we have a consensus on how to revise it, any site moderator can implement it. (I -- or someone else -- could try drafting a proposal for a revision and request feedback as a separate question, perhaps.)
    – apsillers Mod
    May 17, 2019 at 16:55
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    I'm also interested in how to handle FSF-approved non-free licenses (which I guess are just the two listed under gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html#OpinionLicenses). Certainly if someone asked directly about their status as FSF-approved that might be admissible insofar as we might admit questions about FSF policy and philosophy in general, but I'm less sure about whether to admit them as possible recommendations or the subject of legal-mechanical inquiry.
    – apsillers Mod
    May 17, 2019 at 16:58
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    It seems to me already the naming of this stackexchange page being "open source" to maybe provoke a wrong perception. At least my laymans, more ignorant perspective seeing "open source" would be that it is not FOSS, and would allow for licenses with less liberties. If the FSF is referenced here with respect to to open source, it seems some of the head figures of that movement, RMS seems to repeatedly see a huge difference between "Free software" and "Open source" software as seen on this conference video. I am happy about @MadHatter question May 17, 2019 at 18:45
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    @humanityANDpeace: RMS is entitled to his opinion. But by his own admission, he is not part of the open source movement and cannot speak for it.
    – Kevin
    May 18, 2019 at 0:43
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    @Kevin he is, however, very much a part of the free software movement, and certainly can speak for that. The question of whether "free software" or "open source" is the less-problematic term is equally pertinent to both communities.
    – MadHatter Mod
    May 18, 2019 at 5:27
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    The discussion about changing the site name has been had already, here, and here, and here. Do by all means have it again, but not in this question, which is about something different.
    – MadHatter Mod
    May 18, 2019 at 5:30

2 Answers 2


As far as I can tell, there is indeed a community consensus on basing our definition of FOSS of the four freedoms and the OSI definition. It can be helpful to make this more clear in the help pages.

However, one thing that also might need a clarification is the canonical How do I ask for a license recommendation? question, which is linked from the help pages.

I think that it will also be helpful if the answer to that question is updated to explicitly state that license recommendation questions can get the answer that the restrictions asked for are incompatible with FOSS licenses and that we can't recommend any license for that reason.

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    If some prominent figures such as Richard Stallman are part of the community, given the rule the FSF and GNU played in Free software, it seems that open source and free software seems not necessarily smart to be equated see this conference reaction of Stallman. May 17, 2019 at 18:50
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    Can you clarify to what extend you can merge OSS and FOSS, and if there was a difference, would opensource.stackexchange.com be more fittingly freesoftware.stackexchange.com ? May 17, 2019 at 18:51
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    @humanotyANDpeace This is not a discussion about the site name; please review the discussions that have been made about the name and make a new proposal on Meta if you like. As for "merging" free software and open source, the two topics are treated very distinctly on this site when discussing philosophy. They are sometimes combined when talking about development methodologies (since developing software in a collaborative, public way is largely unaffected by which philosophy you espouse) or making license recommendations (since the set of licenses each group accepts is nearly identical).
    – apsillers Mod
    May 18, 2019 at 11:30
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    ...and if an answer to a recommendation question were to produce one of the rare licenses that belongs to one set and not the other, I would absolutely expect that rare situation to be highlighted in the answer. ("Note that while this license was approved by the OSI, the FSF does not recognize it as free because ...")
    – apsillers Mod
    May 18, 2019 at 11:34

There seems to be a pretty decent consensus and support for this, so I went ahead and did it. I've edited both the help center and the canonical "How do I ask for a license recommendation?" question, which is linked to in said help article. I've also made some copy changes to both, mostly for readability purposes.

Lemme know if I missed anything.

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    Thank you! That said, our main on-topic page, to which I originally linked, still doesn't mention the OSI definition or the four freedoms. Any chance you could pop an extra sentence in there, poss. under "there are some questions which should not be asked here"? Would it help if I made a concrete proposal, and if so, would you prefer I did it as a new question?
    – MadHatter Mod
    May 23, 2019 at 7:16

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