Ocaml.org licensing

I’m a bit worried that I’m opening a Pandora’s box with this…

There’s one point in the ocaml.org's license that’s controversial to me to say the least:

  • Design of the site. All rights reserved by the OCaml.org project.

Are we losing anything if someone copies the design of the page?

I can’t come up with an answer that I agree with (that’s other than “nothing”.)

Am I missing a serious disadvantage? Can we somehow change this clause and release the design under a more open license?

A practical instance of this causing issues is in this pr where somebody has put their time to hand draw an image and it cannot be accepted because they would basically have to donate their work without the ability to reuse it everywhere. I don’t think it’s the culture we want in OSS.


I don’t see anything controversial here. If you want to have control over identity and branding, that’s the kind of thing you do.

Just to take a random other example note that ocaml.org licensing is more liberal than the fsf’s own website since at least its content is allowed to be remixed.

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It’s just not practical and makes it worse to contribute. People who contribute to open source want to be able to reuse their work in other contexts.

How can copying the branding harm OCaml itself? Why can’t I reuse an image from the ocaml website on my website if it fits the context? Does it really do anything bad to the OCaml project itself?

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Sure but in that case they are not contributing to open source. The license is very clear.

Regarding your other questions, I wouldn’t necessarily discuss this in terms of harm. I can perfectly understand that one may not wish that its own artistic creations be reused in another context to preserve its uniqueness, attribution and character.

I understand that, but the bottom line is that ocaml.org is in a pretty bad shape. Art is the matter of taste but most people I know classify ocaml.org as distasteful.

My point is that given the shape of ocaml.org I think the goal should be to make it as contributor friendly as possible on all areas.

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I do share this view but if this is the problem then this whole discussion seems a bit useless.

It’s the existing art work whose rights are reserved. Not potential new art work.

If some people would like to submit a whole new design under the terms of an open source license I’m quite sure the website maintainers would be willing to take it as such.

FYI, I know of fairly few open source project web sites that do this. Mostly it doesn’t seem to be a real issue.

Thanks for informing me.

I’m a bit confused. In the PR above someone clearly wants to introduce a new piece of art but according to the reviewer it has to be subject to the license.

Incremental improvement is much easier than a complete redesign.

Is my proposal not actionable and I should just let it go?

It’s not a new piece of art it’s a redrawing of an existing, copyrighted, piece of art in SVG.

That’s not for me to say (these are the person in charge). But frankly I’m not sure the issue you raise here is a huge problem in practice, you have a single piece of evidence, I wouldn’t act on a single one.

And btw. IIRC the design was made by a design firm. So it’s not even clear to me if the rights to the art work could actually be made more permissive (here again the persons in charge may be in a better position to answer this question).

Copyright in works done for hire is generally owned by the hiring entity and not by the artist. It’s a bit more complicated but that’s generally true for our purposes. Of course, we could simply check.

Can I get your opinion on this? @ashish @amir @AltGr @lefessan @avsm @Chris00 @pwbs

(I’m terribly sorry for unwillingly dragging you into this conversation but I would like to sort of resolve it one way or another)

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That seems a little harsh. Compared to what was there before, ocaml.org contributed a new logo (that is widely adopted nowadays), the orange themed branding, and I think the front page looks rather nice with the desert heading. The HTML itself could certainly do with some improvements, as it hasn’t entirely kept up with modern browser norms.

There is certainly a lot of work to be done on the content. Is the look and feel of the branding really a blocker to this?

I find this to be hyperbole. It is entirely normal to make open source contributions with CLAs that assign rights to the upstream project (the entire FSF for example, or the OCaml compiler itself). In all these cases, your patch is owned by you, but the overall contribution to the whole is under the terms of the upstream project. I have myself made hundreds and possibly thousands of contributions under these terms, to many other projects.

Having said that, I can see a case being made for relaxing the branding restrictions once the site has been redeveloped. Note that this can only be done if there is a CLA in place or we get permission from all contributors retroactively, which is more work (see such efforts in Lwt recently, or opam 1.2).

The best way to make such a case is to engage with the current site, make contributions to the content, and become a member of the team who can then drive this change. That’s the positive contribution culture we want in OSS.


You’re right. It’s probably more work than the value it’d provide. Thanks for the detailed reply. I was a little bit harsh indeed :slight_smile:.


Sorry for missing this discussion, but I’d like to clarify a couple of things.

Any new contribution to the design aspects of the site would IMO also be covered by the existing license. We could not accept the new work if you didn’t want to have it covered under the license that the community decided on.

Are we losing anything if someone copies the design of the page?

I explained the answer in PR #974 and it was clarified again by @Chris00. In that PR I stated that this was the community’s decision. However, let me add that it is also my opinion that this is a good decision. It seems perfectly rational for a website to want its own look and feel, even one for open source software. Wouldn’t it be odd for another site to look completely similar to ocaml.org? I think it would.

@wokalski Perhaps what you’re bothered by is that a piece of the overall look and feel can’t be reused elsewhere. That isn’t the intention. No one cares if you use the same font or color somewhere else. The banner image however is so prominent that I don’t think it can be considered a part of the design. It is too big of a part to be copied elsewhere. Supporting other websites about OCaml is already done by providing logos that are usable everywhere. This also was expressed in PR #974.

The difference of view seems to come down to just one item: the banner image. As a practical matter the only thing you can’t do is contribute a new banner image to ocaml.org and use that same image on another site. I feel that’s a pretty small restriction, and also a valid one.

Not particularly, really.