The Unlicense: A License for No License
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The Unlicense: A License for No License
by Joe Brockmeier - Jan. 11, 2010Comments (10)
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The GNU General Public License (GPL) is often described as "Copyleft" because it turns traditional copyright on its head to make code freer than traditional proprietary copyright licenses. Taking that a step further, some developers are embracing the Unlicense, a license that "disclaims" copyright interest in a piece of code altogether. If the BSD, MIT, or WTFPL aren't Free enough for you, the Unlicense should fit the bill. The Unlicense is a very short (four paragraphs, not counting a link back to the site for the original text) license that states the software is released into the public domain, and that anyone is free to use it for any purpose. Many projects distribute a file called COPYING or LICENSE, but the Unlicense site suggests using UNLICENSE as a file name. (Yes, they're actually all uppercase.) Aside from "protesting" the concept of copyright licensing, this will also make it easier to find code that's Unlicensed with automated tools. Why not just throw code up with no license text at all? To put it simply, it makes things too legally murky for others who want to include or redistribute the code. As Alec Perkins points out, license notices help create a "chain of custody: Assuming the license notices are properly included, they create a 'chain of custody,' so to speak, through redistributions. In this way, the license is a formal way to acknowledge and track usage of code. For example, webapp Y includes package X, but doesn't mention that usage anywhere as package X is unlicensed. There is no included way for the users of Y to know package X is in there, short of digging into the code itself. A security hole is found in package X, but the author of webapp Y has discontinued working on Y. There could be a patch to fix X, but it doesn't matter because it won't be put into Y. Consequently, anyone using Y but unaware of its inclusion of X will continue to use the insecure version of X. If webapp Y clearly stated that it made use of package X, then upon becoming aware of the hole in X, the users of Y could apply the patch to their copies of Y. No doubt the Unlicense, as opposed to a less official public domain statement or no notice at all, will make lawyers quite happy. Companies and projects that do their due diligence when vetting code for inclusion with projects can move much more quickly when the "chain of custody" is clear and there's no lack of clarity around the license for a chunk of code. Of course, don't hold your breath waiting for companies that work in FLOSS to embrace the Unlicense as a license of choice, but at least it makes inclusion of code much simpler. Whether the Unlicense will catch on widely remains to be seen, but public domain software may be more prominent than one would think. The Unlicense site has a link to Unlicensed software and well-known software in the public domain. You might be surprised by some of the software found here. SQLite, qmail, and MinGW are all listed as public domain software. netscan and Markdoc are among the short list of projects that have chosen to release code under a version of the Unlicense. Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FLOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News, Linux.com, UnixReview.com, IBM developerWorks, and many others.
free gnu gpl bsd MIT unlicense
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10 Comments
 
by Someone on Jan. 12, 2010I LOVE IT !!!
i hope everyone will start using the UNLICENSE instead if the rest..
total freedom !
0 Votes
by Josh Surber on Jan. 12, 2010Isn't that pretty much what Creative Commons' CC0 is all about? http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
0 Votes
by Darrin Chandler on Jan. 12, 2010> Why not just throw code up with no license text at all?
In the absence of a license all rights are reserved. So no license is the most restrictive.
This "unlicense" seems ok, but it might be solving a problem that doesn't exist. I've taken public domain code, modified it, and release my derivative work back as public domain. It wasn't hard.
There seem to be some legal issues with public domain in some jurisdictions (IANAL), which is one of the reasons some major projects stick with BSD/MIT/ISC licenses rather than public domain. These licenses reserve the least rights (the copyright/license notice must remain) while remaining legal in all jurisdictions.
0 Votes
by an anonymous user on Jan. 12, 2010It might be wise for someone in the "know" to double-check the fairly recent Australian "Moral Rights" laws, as they deal with attribution etc. and they are not copyrights, and might even need a special mention in the document...
0 Votes
by pafcu on Jan. 13, 2010I think this is a good idea, but the execution is a bit weak. Why can't the unlicense be as short and clear as e.g. the ISC license? If that much text really is needed to get something into the public domain, maybe it would just make more sense to remove all requirements from the ISC license instead, resulting in something even shorter.
0 Votes
by p4bl0 on Jan. 13, 2010"If the BSD, MIT, or WTFPL aren't Free enough for you". This sentence is wrong: the word "free" isn't the good one here, "permissive" is a much more appropriate word.
Free in the context of licence means freedom and IMO, more permissive licences are less free because one can compromise the freedom of future user by redistributing the software (or whatever) under a proprietary licence.
I'm not saying permissive licences are bad, I understand their usage in some particular case where copyleft might be annoying. I'm just pointing out that these licences are not "not free enough" in the sense that is implyed in this article.
0 Votes
by Anand Babu Periasamy on Jan. 13, 2010qmail is not public domain. Modified versions cannot be redistributed.
0 Votes
by Anand Babu Periasamy on Jan. 13, 2010Correcting my post above.. Qmail was released to the public domain in November 2007.
0 Votes
by Stephan Beal on Jan. 18, 2010Because many jurisdictions do not legally support the notion of Public Domain licensing, but because i strongly prefer to Public Domain my code, i've started dual-licensing with something like:
"The code is released in the Public Domain except in jurisdictions which do not recognize Public Domain property, in which case it is released under the MIT license (which is about as close as Public Domain as a license can get). The MIT license is compatible for use with GPL'd and commercial software."
One immediately advantage of this is that i can include such code on Google Code, which does not support/allow Public Domain projects but does support/allow MIT.
The intention is more or less the same as the Unlicense - to disclaim copyright in jurisdictions which allow it, and to provide a "no-op" license for jurisdictions which do not allow PD "licensing."
0 Votes
by an anonymous user on Mar. 12, 2010open source, and unlicense,
0 Votes
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