Feedback on the Public Peace License: a new ethical-source license?

The Peace Public license is a freedom-respecting sharealike license for both the author of a work as well as those subject to a work. It aims to protect the basic rights of human beings from exploitation, the earth from plunder, and the equal treatment of the workers involved in the creation of the work. It aims to ensure a copyrighted work is forever available for public use, modification, and redistribution under the same terms so long as the work is not used for harm.

Here’s the full text.

Hey all! I’ve been working on the Peace Public License (remixed off of the CNPL), and would appreciate any feedback or advice you guys have. I am especially sensitive toward any feedback regarding enforceablity of specific clauses as that has proven the largest turn-off to prospective licensers so far.


Thanks for sharing. Can you give some context of why a new license / why CNPL doesn’t work for you?

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Sure, of course.

Out of the ethical source licenses currently available, (using as a baseline), many of them address specific issues like the 996 license or the atmosphere license.

Of the ones that don’t and are more broad and general, I found the Do No Harm License to be very lacking in any enforceablity at all, just a “list of things I don’t like.” I wanted for my projects and others protected by ethical source license to not be dismissed immediately like they are in general by people like Bruce Perens. The Hippocratic license is better but ties morality to the UNDHR, which means that a corporation’s activity would have to be proven illegal to be not allowed to use the license, which I imagine would be very difficult legally.

I really like the CNPL and NPL, but when I created the Public Peace License, both seemed a bit stagnant (since updated). When I talked to people who are knowledgeable about the ethical source movement, these were pretty much unheard of, which may be a product of their location on a self-hosted git repository. It doesn’t look like it has been used very much so far, according to

tl;dr: I wanted to have a copy-farleft cooperative non-violent public license which was more publically available and which was more openly and actively maintained. I’ve since used the Peace Public License on several of my personal projects and had a couple of developers reach out to tell me they were using it. I’d love to have a more cooperative development workflow and involve more people in the maintenance.


Thanks so much for this explanation — super useful!

I think it definitely also speaks to “GitHub as premiere social network” and that having a a presence there is important.

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It’s definitely an interesting approach.

I’m not generally a huge fan of pacifist licenses in general - if someone wants to use my software to find a neo-Nazi rally and inflict some bodily harm, I don’t want to tell them they can’t do that. Naming your license “Peace” instead of “Non-Violent” gives you a bit more wiggle room there - one reading of the phrase “no justice, no peace” is that peace cannot be said to exist where injustice is found - but as it stands you don’t appear to be taking advantage of any of that wiggle room. I wouldn’t apply to my own work a license which excludes all violence and doesn’t differentiate between violence in service of oppression and violence in opposition to oppression, but if that’s not a distinction you want to draw with this license, far be it from me to stop you.

A more practical issue is that I’d probably suggest against leading with the definitions. If the definitions are unsurprising and just there to increase precision, I don’t think they need to be the first thing in the license, and if the definitions are surprising, that’s bad. (Maybe there’s a legal reason the definitions traditionally come first, but [as a non-lawyer] I’m skeptical that’s true.) The construction in general is very dense: after working with the Parity Public License and the Blue Oak Model License, which are both written in concise, plain English, it’s hard to go back to more traditional legalese.

Another ideological point that I’ve thought about with reference to the Anti-Capitalist Software License for some time: I don’t want my work exploited for the profit of others, period. If they’re in a worker-owned co-op, good for them, but if they want to profit from my work they should still give me some of that money. This goes the other direction, too: if a traditional corporation wants to profit from my work, and is willing to give me some of that money, that’s fine with me (although I might draw that line elsewhere if I had more confidence in my financial situation). Your phrasing here also excludes single-person users (I myself am not a worker-owned business or worker-owned collective).

This is definitely a space that needs more and broader experimentation, and it’s good to see more work being done in that direction.


Thanks for the detailed reading and response! I really appreciate it.

As to your first point about the difference between nonviolence and peace, I think it would be hard to phrase the difference in legal terms. If it could be done, I would definitely change to accomodate violence in opposition to opposition because that might be a major sticking point with some, and I wouldn’t want the difference in language to exclude them.

As to your second point about leading with the definitions, I think I agree. It might make more sense to place the permissions and restrictions first and the definitions afterward. I would like to simplify the language to match the Blue Oak Model License, but because IANAL, I’m not sure if such language would have the same legal force.

I’m not sure about the third point. On the one hand I agree that there isn’t an inherent goodness in being a cooperative instead of a traditional corporation in that they get to exploit the open/ethical source movement. But on the other hand I think that traditional corporations cause more exploitation of workers than cooperatives might cause with open source software.

Again, thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it.

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The implication seems to be:

  1. It matters nothing to you how your work might be used
  2. You want to disallow as much usefulness in the work you produce as possible, unless you receive money payment

If so, it’s hard to see right away why you nurture such deep interest in licensing schemes that set out to subvert the (almost) universal default, strong copyright terms which would seem to me to match your primary preferences so well without any need for any modification.

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I like this. The only issue I have with Ethical Source style licenses is they tend to place all the burdens on, mostly well-intentioned producers. In this sense they can be a bit masochistic, adding to the injury we small producers all face under monopoly power, it feels a bit insulting to insist we do more than the big players who will obviously will not steward these licenses and will seek to plain ignore them by clean-rooming any code they rely on, (JSON) or use the Google vs. Oracle precedent or simply ban them… like AGPL.

I have had a cordial convo’s with a few, ‘Anti-Capitalist’ license authors and my point is similar, in that I think in emphasizing the types of orgs to ALLOW places a cognitive load on potential adopters, whereas it is possible to define a DISALLOW… so a bit like a firewall, instead of a list of all the IP’s that are allowed, it might be better define a broad classification of orgs that are explicitly DISALLOWED, like definition C. ‘Capitalist Corporation’ in the ACACL:

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Hmm, that’s an interesting position. Just to be clear, here are the relevant terms from the Peace Public License:

  • You may exercise the rights granted in License Grant for commercial purposes only if you satisfy any of the following:
    • You are a worker-owned business or worker-owned collective; and
    • after tax, all financial gain, surplus, profits and benefits produced by the business or collective are distributed among the worker-owners unless a set amount is to be allocated towards community projects as decided by a previously-established consensus agreement between the worker-owners where all worker-owners agreed
    • You are not using such rights on behalf of a business other than those specified in Restrictions 5.1 and elaborated upon in Restrictions 5.2, nor are using such rights as a proxy on behalf of a with the intent to circumvent the aforementioned ch a business.
  • Any use by a business that is privately owned and managed, and that seeks to generate profit from the labor of employees paid by salary or other wages, is not permitted under this license.

Could you elaborate on the cognitive load this places on potential adopters, and perhaps how this could be fixed?

Haven’t reviewed this in depth but several things jump out at me on first glance.

Collection vs Adaptation is problematic for software. An application might be a Collection of its libraries, or an Adaptation of them. In this license it probably hinges on whether you “modify” the work, but it’s not a practical distinction for software. Compiling sourcecode can be a “modification”, as the license explicitly contemplates language translation as a form of modification. As software developers apply the term (which may not be controlling for this text), they generally don’t know if they will “modify” a library at the time they choose it for their software. So they will probably assume the worst-case, and the license does not spell out which one is worse.

A related issue is the restriction on sublicensing “the Work”. If I build an application using one library under this license and another under a credit license, I cannot distribute my application under this license because it does not have the right credit requirements, I cannot distribute my application under some combination of the licenses if doing so “sublicenses the Work”. US law probably treats Collections and Adaptations differently as to whether you “sublicense the Work” so without the license stepping in to resolve this issue it’s very difficult.

This is sort of a detail but in many places the license says things like “intention” or “deliberately”. This imports a huge amount of complexity. Theoretically, my use of the software can hinge on whether some country acted “with an intention to provoke a conflict”, which is the sort of political question that is impractical to litigate.

As far as the actual restrictions,

5 gives an exception for “any of the following”, where 5.iii refers only to acting as a proxy for another business. So presumably using the license for my own commercial purposes is not acting as a proxy for another business, complies with 5.iii and therefore meets “any of” 5.

Or taking an opposing reading of 5, I am a legitimate worker-owned collective, but some of my customers are large companies. My customers calls and says “send me an invoice” but using my invoicing software “on behalf of” the customer waives 5.iii.

Self-employment or equivalent single-person corporations fall into a hole as well. They appear to be a “worker-owned business” within the meaning of restriction 5, and possibly “seek[ing] to generate profit from the labor of employees paid by salary or other wages” within the meaning of restriction 6, so as a practical matter they are probably barred.

A couple of points that may be intentional political choices, but would keep me from adopting the license. It seems probable to me that opt-in analytics to improve a product, would meet “Surveilling or tracking individuals for financial gain”.

Customer segmentation (such as having a lower price in a developing country) might meet “Discriminating” either on the basis of national origin or economic status.


Thank you for the detailed response! I’ll do my best to reply to each point.

Collection vs Adaptation is problematic for software…

In this license, there is little difference between collections and adaptations in terms of rights, merely an additional requirement to list the modifications for an adaptation. In both a collection and an adaptation, the work must retain the Peace Public License (as a copyfarleft license). So I don’t think the difference is much of an issue in this specific case, but you are correct that modification is the main difference.

A related issue is the restriction on sublicensing “the Work”…

What do you mean by a credit requirement in this case? I’m not sure I understand the problem.

This is sort of a detail…

I agree that this is a problem, but I don’t know of a good solution at the moment. Intention is important when it comes to ethics, but is hard to litigate.

5 gives an exception

I just removed this line, thanks for the tip. It now reads “You may exercise the rights granted in License Grant for commercial purposes only if: …”

Self-employment or equivalent single-person corporations fall into a hole as well

The intent was to include self-employment under allowable commercial purposes on par with worker cooperatives. I don’t think they fall into the next box because there are no employees nor salaries, but I’ll see what I can do to fix that language.

It seems probable to me that opt-in analytics to improve a product, would meet “Surveilling or tracking individuals for financial gain”.

I think opt-in analytics are acceptable, yes, but not “opting in” through dark patterns like GDPR cookie consent boxes, most of the time. If I could find language to express this in a way that is still legally enforceable.

Customer segmentation…

Would customer segmentation be “prioritizes some above others on the basis of percieved membership within certain groups”

I think the entire license is all relevant when looking at the actual cognitive load it places on an audience, and I think we best assume most of us are not lawyers and would rather avoid legal texts totally in an ideal world. In terms of my thoughts on allowing only certain legal entities, and the ethical side it seems to me that sections 5,6 and 7 all need to be read in conjunction to get a comprehensive view of all the different restrictions potential adopters would have to consider… and that’s a lot of words to my eyes.

Here is some background on cognitive load and complexity in legal contracts:

My preference is to create solidarity among good actors, and to do that my feeling is to encourage the creation of a single owner of the copyright, a bit like public domain but without bad actors and also a bit like the FSF do with GPL, (they ask licensors to assign the license to them so they can enforce it more effectively AFAIK - is this correct @kemitchell? ). It seems to me that the strategy outlined by @drewcrawford here is correct, and to help do that our energy should I think be directed towards explicitly keeping out bad actors rather than ring-fencing the good actors, if I can put it that way?

Suppose I create a library that builds upon another library under the Apache license.

If the Work includes a "NOTICE " text file as part of its distribution, then any Derivative Works that You distribute must include a readable copy of the attribution notices contained within such NOTICE file…

There’s debate as to why, but this is understood to bind not only myself with respect to the Apache library, but third parties with respect to my library. Perhaps they are licensees of the original library from the original authors and bound by this term. Or perhaps they are sublicensees of my license to use the original library, and since my license requires me to follow this term, when they exercise my rights they have the same obligation. Ordinarily this is a distinction without a difference, but having different ways to get to the same result creates reliability in licensing, papering over the difficult areas of the law.

There is a difference in your license because I cannot “sublicense the Work”. So if I build on a Peace Library I can’t extend a sublicense to my users in the way I can usually. This might work out under the theory they get licenses directly from you, but it might not.

One example of “maybe not” is when the law decides to view some program as a “combined work”, even though you might call it a Collection of works or an Adaptation of underlying works. If the combined work contains apache code and your code, it can’t be licensed under the apache license (missing your terms) nor the peace license (missing the credit terms).

For this reason I’d treat the license as Apache-incompatible. It might be compatible, or might be on a fact-dependent basis, but that’s not the sort of thing I’d ever want to find out.

Intention is important when it comes to ethics, but is hard to litigate.

For the purposes of ascertaining my ethics, reaching into the mind of a president is not important and in fact irrelevant. I’d imagine the only function of this clause is to create opportunities for lawyers to strike parts of the license that are important to you, or to bill some hours researching executive privilege law and advising me not to touch it.

there are no employees nor salaries,

This is a tax strategy. Self-employed people sometimes have salaries, whereas shell companies for example, usually do not. This probably does not function how you expect.

Would customer segmentation be “prioritizes some above others on the basis of percieved membership within certain groups”

It certainly sounds that way to me. The perspective you want reading a license is not “am I probably reading this correctly” but rather “how could this be read against me and I’d have to pay lawyers”? There are a lot of ways in this text.

I wanted for my projects and others protected by ethical source license to not be dismissed immediately like they are in general by people like Bruce Perens.

Have you spoken to Bruce Perens? Obviously I can’t speak for him but my understanding is he’s opposed to the social project, not only specific texts. If so, no amount of fiddling with texts can be useful.