Blog: Chalkeaters License


Like so many other creative people sharing stuff online, the intuitive outer boundary of their generosity is the commercial-noncommercial line. That line is never terribly sharp. And just like pretty much every set of legally drafted noncommercial terms I’ve seen, be it Creative Commons’ or PolyForm’s, the Chalkeaters clarified “noncommercial” a bit, to address monetization by cover artists and fanartists

I think the non-commercial line really speaks to people and appeals to innate fairness.

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It’s dawning on me that the original vision for License Zero, which was only to promote and enable the noncommercial dual licensing model, was actually way more focused, daring, and promising than where I took it over time.

I don’t mean to take any feedback away from friends or others who influenced me to write Parity or to argue for stronger copyleft. And while I made some mistakes along the way, I wouldn’t go back and wave myself off that detour now. But in more ways than one, I was tiptoeing toward a break with open source, from identifying with it and all the marketing buzz whipped up around it, because of how I saw it playing out firsthand. The idea of being able to return to the flock with dignity, through copyleft, was a temptation to turn back, rather than to charge forward. I fell for it.

I wasn’t ready. I was still representing some mix of what the folks I wanted to help wanted and what my own predilections and experiences said was right, good, and effective.

The more I practice law, the more I wish I could flip a switch at the back of my head to temporarily shut off all the effects of law school, law firm training, socializing with lawyers all the time, and so on. I wish I could see things fresh, like someone who hasn’t been indoctrinated and acculturated into law.

The more I deal with open source, the more I want a switch to help me forget everything I ever heard, read, or felt about RMS, ESR, Linux Torvalds, Slashdot, Digg, LWN, GitHub, and all the rest. It wasn’t just computing that got me early, it was all the ideology and myth-making in open source. Some of that was legit, earnest activism. Some of it was just marketing, largely for companies that no longer exist, or no longer exist anything like they did back then.

God help me, I’m really trying to listen to and understand you good people. But all this accursed “education” makes it really fucking hard…


Parity used to really appeal to me, in part because it was still “open source”, still granted the four freedoms and fit within the OSD. My default preference has since shifted to non-commercial licenses.

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Dangerous Question: Any idea why?

A couple of reasons.

  1. I no longer care about the “open source” label, both for my software and myself as a developer. The fact that Parity isn’t OSI-approved means that it comes with less of the label anyway.

  2. I’ve had a change of heart, and don’t mind if certain people use my work without paying anything (money, credit, or releasing their own code). Students, academics, people just creating for fun, etc. Parity’s requirement to contribute is probably a bit annoying for some. I often prefer to work in private myself.

I still think the license has it’s place.

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What I’d like at the moment is something like the following combination:

  1. A public license that is free only for personal, non-commercial use. I guess this is effectively the same as the current strictEq Free License.

  2. A public license that is maximally copy-left, and restricted to non-commercial, ethical uses (respecting privacy and human rights). I would use this license as a form of charity. Publicly funded research groups, and environmental and health orgs, etc, could use the software for free, but they should be releasing all of their code anyway.


So my only concern is that we end up with a “kitchen sink” license, combining a ton of different licensing techniques, none of which are simple. Specifically:

  • noncommercial licensing
  • strong-copyleft licensing
  • ethical licensing

And maybe also:

  • credit licensing
  • special permission for kids
  • built-in free trials

I think non commercial is the clearest needs fulfillment of the thing you want to enable: private license sales to financially support the software.

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What I meant was to have two separate public licenses that could be used together, similar to a Parity/Prosperity or Polyform-Noncommercial/Polyform-FreeTrial combination. Not suggesting that you should go in that direction.

The ethical, strong copy-left, noncommercial license is a future nice-to-have. Noncommercial is enough for most use cases, and personal-only noncommercial excludes unethical use by governments.

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I think if the goal of L0-and-its-descendants is to make dual licensing effective for individual developers, “noncommercial unless you pay” is a more direct lever than “copyleft unless you pay”. Having a modern, legible copyleft license in the form of Parity is cool, but a “copyleft unless you pay” model requires a pretty damn strict copyleft to avoid the AWS-is-eating-your-lunch problem. A copyleft scope arms race is in nobody’s best interest (and, apparently, ≈everyone would get mad about it).

A “copyleft unless you pay” model says to a corporate user “share your code or share your money,” where a “noncommercial unless you pay” model says “don’t make money or share your money.” The latter of these is just intuitively fair and symmetrical. The former is fair as long as you treat code and money as interchangeable, but bills get paid with C-notes, not C.



And really, the rest of that para is just straight fire too.

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