Democrats’ voter reg app is not open source.

Via Chris Blow (@unthinkingly) and his tweet on the subject, I found out that the US Democrat party has released a voter registration app via github. Wired’s all over it, calling it — as the app’s README does — an open source app. Only it’s not.

The LICENSE file contains the following text:

This permission does not include: (a) any use of the Software other than for its intended purpose

Its intended purpose is to enable voter registration. As commenters on Hacker News have pointed out, this means that although the app is a pretty good framework for a PDF-generating web app, you can’t use it as the basis for your own app for any other purpose. Not for generating dog-license applications, say, or for generating voter reg applications in another country. This means it’s not open source nor free software. The Free Software Foundation’s description of software freedom says:

A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:

The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).

(And another three, of course, but the freedom to run the software for any purpose is the most fundamental.)

The Open Source Initiative’s Open Source Definition says:

6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor

The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

The Democrats’ code is restricted from use in any field of endeavour other than registering voters in the United States of America. The app is not open source. As further demonstration of this, their license does not appear anywhere on the OSI’s list of open source licenses.

The Democrats need to amend either their license or their README. Or, of course, we could simply fork the repo, fix it, and issue a pull request. Wired, meanwhile, really ought to issue a correction to their article, and stop spreading this misinformation.