License It, Please

2013-01-31 6:45

In a blog relayed to my news reader today via Slashdot, I found this bit about providing licenses to the open source code you publish. Or, more specifically, about not providing them:

If some ‘no license’ sharing is a quiet rejection of the permission culture, the lawyer’s solution (make everyone use a license, for their own good!) starts to look bad. This is because once an author has used a standard license, their immediate interests are protected – but the political content of not choosing a license is lost. [emphasis mine]

I admire how the author goes all post-modernistic by bringing up fuzzy terms like “permission culture”. It’s a serious skill, to muddy such a clear-cut issue by making so many onerous assumptions per square inch of text. The alleged existence of some “political content” involved in not choosing any license – as opposed to, say, negligence or lack of knowledge – is easily my favorite here.

On more serious note: what a load of manure. I won’t even grace the premise with speculation on how likely it is to have anything to do with reality – that is, how big a percentage of the ‘no license’ projects is made so by the conscious choice of their authors. No, I will be insanely generous and assume that it actually holds water. Doesn’t matter; the claim that this practice should be encouraged and that something valuable is lost if software project has a license is still sheer lunacy.

If you don’t explicitly renounce some rights to your code – by providing a license, as the most common way – they are all reserved to you. Regardless of what political or cultural weight you may want to associate with this fact, the practical one is implied by law. And it’s very simple: no one can safely do anything with that code of yours, for there is always a risk you will exercise your rights through prosecution.

Of course I know you wouldn’t do anything so clearly evil. But that’s no guarantee for many parties that treat the issues of copyright and liability very seriously: from solo freelancers to the biggest of companies, and from lone hackers to the most influential software foundations. If you care about your code being widely used and solving problems for as many people as possible, this is also something you should pay attention to.
Otherwise it may happen that for someone, your work is just the perfect piece of puzzle – but they cannot use it safely. They might ask you to fix your oversight, of course, but they might also go somewhere else.

And that is typically the “immediate interest” that you protect by licensing: letting others actually use your code. If you ask me, that sounds like something totally worthy of protection.

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Author: Xion, posted under Internet, Programming »

3 comments for post “License It, Please”.
  1. Xion:
    January 31st, 2013 o 6:45

    P.S.: I know that if you look at GitHub profile, I’m not setting a good example. I’m working on it, but weekends are short :)

  2. TeMPOraL:
    January 31st, 2013 o 11:33

    Thanks; I’ve noted down a task to fix licenses in my public code ASAP (yeah, weekends *are* short :().

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