FAFO License v0.2

in the spirit of license hacking i have pushed out version 0.2 of my FAFOL thought experiment, based on the Blue Oak Model License instead of the MIT license.

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Two thoughts:

  1. Why strike the Notices section?

  2. Might like a gander at https://writing.kemitchell.com/2020/06/09/Normally-Open-Closed.html

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Is there an example of what would complement the ethics clause?

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Why strike the Notices section?

I’ve never been quite certain what the point of that clause in most permissive licenses is. As far as I can tell, the only effect is “most commercial software based on MIT-licensed libraries has a list of dependencies buried deep under the About menu,” and as a library developer I don’t really care if my dependents do that or not.

The Normally Open/Closed licenses are definitely also interesting, and for more well-defined purposes I’d definitely keep them in mind, but one thing I also like about the JSON License’s ethics clause is that it cuts both ways. “Only Good uses are permitted” and “No Evil uses are permitted” both have a different tone than “This software shall be used for Good, not Evil.”

Is there an example of what would complement the ethics clause?

The ethics clause is left purposefully vague. Other licenses have taken the path of specifically defining what does and does not count as ethical behavior, and have run into issues as a result of their specificity; since this license exists mostly as a means by which to explore the space of post-open source software licenses and only accidentally as a real license itself, I felt that the opposite approach was worth looking into.

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You are not alone.

Intuitively, the clause requires the license terms to “stick to” the software. It prohibits people from peeling that sticker off. Hopefully that means everyone who gets the software also gets the license terms.

Those license terms say some important things. Especially that the developers won’t be held responsible (“liable”) if the software is bad, breaks things, or hurts people. By default, people who provide goods and services generally do stand responsible. In some countries, under some laws, it’s actually not possible to get rid of that responsibility entirely.

Of course, the license terms may also say what is and isn’t allowed. If I can share the software without any word about those rules, we might expect more people to break the rules. Perhaps without even knowing about them.

Actually, those aren’t licenses. They’re just unfinished templates for licenses. Folks are more than willing to copy them, patch them, and rename them, for their own purposes. The idea was to make a kind of “framework” for licenses that separates the rules people want to change from the basic legal functionality they want.

ahh, so it’s mostly useless for broadly permissive licenses with no further restrictions, but for a license that carries some actual restrictions the notice ensures those restrictions are communicated downstream. that makes sense.

yeah, that’s the more accurate phrasing. i think if i sit down and write an actually useful license i might go for Normally Closed with an adjacent-but-distinct statement of principles, as you propose in the Ethical Subcommons Starter Kit.

Nearly all licenses say something legally meaningful. Otherwise they wouldn’t be licenses.

So even the Blue Oak Model License, which is designed to be as permissive as practically possible, requires keeping the terms connected to the code:

Notices

You must ensure that everyone who gets a copy of any part of this software from you, with or without changes, also gets the text of this license or a link to https://blueoakcouncil.org/license/1.0.0.

Notice what’s missing: any requirement to keep the names of contributors, or copyright notices, on the code. We think you can do without. But you definitely want especially this part to stick around:

As far as the law allows, this software comes as is, without any warranty or condition, and no contributor will be liable to anyone for any damages related to this software or this license, under any kind of legal claim.

That’s the crux of the deal. You get software for free. But you don’t get to turn around and sue me if it’s worth what you paid for it, even if it causes bigger problems. That’s on you.

ahh, i didn’t realize that “you are liable if your random open source library doesn’t work” was the default. that seems like a questionable default to have, but that’s not the sort of thing that’s easy to change.

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I wish the law were that clear.

At least here in the US, it’s entirely possible that could be the default, depending on the circumstances. And some of our states have specific laws about warranties for software.

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