Licensing confusion is great! (for lawyers)

I want to heartily unendorse Simon Phipps’ Infoworld article about Github and licensing. Simon’s article makes it sound like no one benefits from sloppy licensing practices, and that is simply not true. Specifically, lawyers benefit! I regularly get calls from clients saying “I have no idea if I’m allowed to use <project X>, because it is on github but doesn’t have a license.” When that happens, instead of money going to developers where it could actually build something productive, instead, I get to spend my time and the client’s money fixing a problem that the original author could have easily avoided by slapping an Apache license on the thing in the first place – or that github could have avoided by adding default terms.

So, support your local open source lawyer today – publish source code without a license!1

  1. Tongue firmly in cheek, in case that isn’t obvious. Seriously, lawyers are the only ones who benefit from this situation, except for that handful of seconds it took you to “git add LICENSE”. Always license your code, kids! []

55 thoughts on “Licensing confusion is great! (for lawyers)”

  1. Not working for me. What version of git are you using?
    > git add LICENSE
    fatal: pathspec ‘LICENSE’ did not match any files
    > git add GPL
    fatal: pathspec ‘GPL’ did not match any files
    > git –version
    git version

    For about a minute I thought you might be talking about a real feature, and perhaps one you should propose to the git mailing list. Why don’t I have a GPLv2 header in the code I write… because I’m too lazy to go download one and save it to a file thats why.

    It wouldn’t be a bad idea for git (perhaps through config which desperately needs an interactive mode) to provide a menu of commonly used licenses to select from.

    1. Anon.: Mostly because they aren’t experienced at dealing with the situation, and as I am the one frequently doing or helping with various sorts of audits, I am often the first one it comes to the attention of. I assume I have many more clients who do directly contact the authors in these situations, and don’t bother to cc me. In either case, time is wasted for no good reason.

  2. Going from “All Rights Reserved” to the Apache License is somewhat more than giving a patent grant.

    If they do institute default terms without making sure users understand those new terms, that could be almost as bad as the current situation. With a mandatory license question up front, at least users will have to think about the question a bit.

    And if you have people who really don’t care about license terms, who’s to say they are respecting the licenses of third parties? A default license isn’t going to help there either.

  3. But having default licensing terms invites a lot of flak and flames. When we switched default licensing for translations in Launchpad a few years back to BSD licensed (so they could be shared between different projects with open source licenses, and we didn’t want to ask people to go for public domain like FSF is doing for, we naturally got flamed for this choice (you want to allow people to use our translations in proprietary software). Some people still refuse to use it because of the licensing (yet they are happy to submit translations into public domain, but that’s related to trust rather than licensing).

    Ah well, it took a long time just to clarify why is it necessary, and in the end, we just bit the bullet and did it. It would have been simpler if it was done from day one, but I can imagine github would be in much the same position if they wanted to change default licensing terms for all existing projects.

    Launchpad, otoh, requires you to specify a license when registering a new project. Not sure if that’s enough to steal your earnings or if the license can only be considered as applying if the full text is in the code repository (Launchpad doesn’t check that).

    1. Anon.: For many projects, I think the time is actually ripe to give up on GPL v2 compatibility as a goal. But that is a whole, huge, long blog post.

  4. You forgot to mention that adding a license helps lawyers too, since a lot of law firm lawyers are helping their clients avoid meeting the requirements of FLOSS licenses. So, once lawyers know which FLOSS license is used, those lawyers can help their clients avoid complying with it.

Comments are closed.