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Your License Is Your Interface 356

Posted by Soulskill
from the your-license-is-solid-color-rectangles dept.
dp619 writes "License-free software has become a thing. Only 14.9% of repositories on GitHub have a license, according to recent Software Freedom Law Center research. Red Monk has observed that this trend is occurring principally among younger software developers. Outercurve Foundation technical evangelist Eric Schultz has offered up his opinion, saying, 'As an active developer I want to add a slightly different perspective on the dangers of releasing unlicensed software. My perspective is based on a simple phrase: "Your License Is Your Interface."' He adds, 'A license similarly defines the interaction between the software, or more precisely the creators of the software, and users. Just like an interface, a license defines intended behavior of users of the software, such as the four essential freedoms or the ten pillars of the Open Source Definition. Just like an interface, a license prevents unintended behavior of users of the software, which depending on the open source license, may disclaim the original author of liability for use of the software, prohibit redistribution without recognizing the original author or prohibit distribution of derivatives under a more restrictive license. When it comes to legal use and distribution of your software, your license IS your interface.'"
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Your License Is Your Interface

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  • by Hsien-Ko (1090623) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:26PM (#43990329)
    it always misleads with picking "GNU GPL" or "Creative Commons" but not actually representing the said license in the work itself. I've seen a few of these on Sourceforge that only exploited the service only to provide redistribution of non-Free materials contrary to their license.
  • Eric Schultz (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:32PM (#43990381) Journal

    Eric Schultz appears to underestimate the ability of programmers to not give shit about licensing.
    Lawyers want to wheedle their ways into all our lives. Ignore them, they won't go away, but it will simplify your life.

    • Yes, but the implicit license is no license (copyright law). If you want to freak out the lawyers call it Public Domain and be done with it. Sure way to short-circuit a lawyer's brain.

      • Yes, but the implicit license is no license (copyright law). If you want to freak out the lawyers call it Public Domain and be done with it. Sure way to short-circuit a lawyer's brain.

        It's a way to short-circuit your lawyers brain, since then you are not held harmless from damages arising from the use, misuse, or abuse of the software.

        To the people who might want to use the code, their lawyers see it as a nifty scapegoat, should damages arise from use, misuse, or abuse of their product which incorporates your software. When apportioning damages to the plaintiff, should they win their case, it'd be up to your lawyers and their lawyers to argue about it, only their layers get to see your

    • It simplifies life for corporations who want free code. It is worth taking the time to decide who you want to use your code, and why. That's not involving lawyers. Its deciding whether or not to use protection.
    • But what happens when some troll comes around, saying you used their code without permission, and violated his rights as an author?
      I mean, troll like that are bound to start appearing, that's why we should specify licenses in the first place. To make others certain we're not that sort of troll.

  • Nobody wants your software. So you might as well release it totally unencumbered.

  • Danger (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:38PM (#43990451)

    "different perspective on the dangers of releasing unlicensed software. "

    Technically, you cannot release unlicensed software. Sure, go ahead and post it to a public repository, but without an explicit license, copyright law forbids anyone else to make use of it. So you haven't really released it, just posted it out there to tease people.

    If you don't want to pick one and you don't care, at least say something like "released to the public domain" to make it explicit. (This option isn't available in all countries, though.)

    • Speaking of danger, when someone sues you because your software crashed their airplane into a nuclear reactor, you're going to be wishing you'd picked a more restrictive license.

      Specifically, one with a "no warranty" provision.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        If you didn't provide a license to download it, they're going to sue because their pirated source code crashed the airplane? Can anyone find even one actual court case like that, not just hyperbole?

        • by am 2k (217885)

          If you didn't provide a license to download it, they're going to sue because their pirated source code crashed the airplane? Can anyone find even one actual court case like that, not just hyperbole?

          Wasn't there a case in the US where a burglar successfully sued the owner of the house he broke into, because he locked himself in and couldn't get out for a whole weekend? It's a different law, but the basic idea is the same.

      • by sconeu (64226)

        In response to that, I have exactly 7 characters for you:

        DO-178B

      • [According to Common Law]

        The people who are most likely to sue you for damages are probably the people who had no fscking idea that some obscure component used your software, let alone have seen your license.

        Despite the claims of pseudo-lawyers, most software licenses do create contractual obligations on the licensor and licensee. Let's say the aircraft company hires a contractor to write a component for their plane controller. The contractor uses your OSS to do it. That disclaimer is valid against the cont

    • Technically, you cannot release unlicensed software. Sure, go ahead and post it to a public repository, but without an explicit license, copyright law forbids anyone else to make use of it. So you haven't really released it, just posted it out there to tease people.

      In the United States, that's not at all true.

      Software can be released without any license at all (there is no obligation that it be licensed), and can be used by anyone who uses a lawfully made copy. This use includes modifying it for compatibility purposes, making copies necessary for running it (eg copying it into RAM), and making backups. Check out 17 USC 106, 109, and in particular 117 on this.

      Additionally, it's entirely possible and extremely commonplace for copyright holders to create implicit license

    • by chrismcb (983081)

      Technically, you cannot release unlicensed software. Sure, go ahead and post it to a public repository, but without an explicit license, copyright law forbids anyone else to make use of it.

      That is the thing, EVERY repository in github has a license. Perhaps only 14.9% are explicit. And perhaps it is because the younger generation doesn't know better, not because they care or don't care. Even if you release it to public domain, that is a license.
      The way I read the summary was "blah blah blah" 85% of github falls under copyright, meaning you can't copy it without permission.

  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:42PM (#43990495) Homepage

    Here's what GitHub says in their terms of service [github.com]:

    We claim no intellectual property rights over the material you provide to the Service. Your profile and materials uploaded remain yours. However, by setting your pages to be viewed publicly, you agree to allow others to view your Content. By setting your repositories to be viewed publicly, you agree to allow others to view and fork your repositories.

    That creates some interesting issues. When someone "forks" something, what rights do they have?

    I suspect that many people not specifying a license for what they put on GitHub just assume GitHub owns everything.

    • by devent (1627873)

      Not every web site out there is like Facebook.

      "fork" means copy. So you can interpret "view and fork" as "view and copy" which implies that you give permission to copy your code unrestricted.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Anon because I have mod points.
        "Fork" in git means copy AND MODIFY, potentially as a new project.

    • by reanjr (588767)

      My personal interpretation is that any project on GitHub that has no explicit license is covered under a very permissive BSD-style license (without any attribution requirements).

      Typically a license grants you rights and informs you of your restrictions if you choose to exercise those rights. In this case, with no explicit attribution or GPL-like openness stated, but with forking a right implicit to public code on GitHub, I am led to believe I can take everything, then make closed modification to the softwa

      • by dwheeler (321049) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @08:40PM (#43991425) Homepage Journal

        If GitHub made your personal interpretation a requirement for using its site at no charge, that might work. But GitHub's terms don't really make sense for what people are trying to do on it. GitHub only allows you to "view" and "fork".

        Are users allowed to run the code? The answer appears to be "no". That's because under most countries' law, including the US, by default users have NO rights unless they are granted somehow. Heck, as far, as I can tell, users aren't even allowed to modify it, because you can make a fork without modifying it, and only "forks" are allowed. Now we have to dance on what a "fork" means, and the LAWYERS, not the programmers get to decide.

        If you want to release software, and collaborate, great! Posting stuff without a license is not a release, it's a legal minefield.

        If don't include a license, the LAWYERS decide what is allowed... not the programmers. You probably won't like what the lawyers decide.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:43PM (#43990509)

    3-clause BSD for small utilities, library function or scripts that are pretty much feature complete. It has the disclaimers and lets others used the code as they see fit without worrying about disclosing their source code.

    GPL v.3 for code that are meant for open-source projects. It keeps the source code available and encourages others to contribute. I find that people are less likely to contribute if there is even a slight chance that someone else could make a commercial product out of it and keep the modifications to themselves.

    The overwhelming bulk of my code is public-domain due to work requirements.

  • by dwheeler (321049) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @06:46PM (#43990543) Homepage Journal

    Software without a license is like a poison for everyone else. There's typically no legal risk to a developer in releasing their software, since it's likely he has the copyright. But it creates a legal minefield for anyone else who uses or modifies the software, either directly or by using software that stupidly embeds such things. At any time the developer, or his employer, could sue, and there's nothing the user could do.

    Ignoring lawyers does not simplify your life. Sure, it'll simplify your life today, but only by creating potential disasters in the future. You need to think about other people, and whole lifetimes, not just think about yourself today.

    If you think that copyright should only apply to software if it's marked, then work to get the law changed. It used to be that way before 1976. But it's not 1976. I suspect that the law won't get changed, really. But intentionally creating dangers for other people is a terrible, nasty thing to do.

  • Perhaps their view is "I don't care what is done with it" - thus don't apply a license. Most licenses feel like you need to be a lawyer to navigate, so most probably avoid them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Except that without a license, no one can do anything with it!

      At least slap a CC0 on it, or a WTFPL.

    • by chrismcb (983081)
      I guess it is too hard to say "I release this work to public domain?" yep too much effort to type...
    • Yeah, you need a lawyer to understand something like the BSD license:

      Copyright (c) ,
      All rights reserved.

      Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

      Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
      Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
      Neither the name of the nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

      THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS "AS IS" AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

  • by mathimus1863 (1120437) on Wednesday June 12, 2013 @07:42PM (#43991007)
    If you don't want to use a real license, just use the DO WHAT THE FUCK YOU WANT TO PUBLIC LICENSE [wtfpl.net]. It's one of the more permissive licenses...
    • Where is Version 1 of this license? I don't know that I can trust a license that doesn't keep an archive of it's previous versions.
  • So you post your project on github without a license. Anybody using it can now sue your for whatever damages the project does to his machine. You know what I'm talking about; I know that at least once in your life you have put "rm -rf" in your Makefile, typed "make clean" and cleaned out your entire home directory because some shell variable was set to something you did not expect. Those of you with lower intelligence might have ran that on a production server and erased the company website. Now imagine som

    • On what law could anyone be able to sue me for damage on his machine if he uses my (licensed or unlicensed) code?

      And no, in the last 30 years I never id a wrong "rm -rf".

      And no again, even if I did, I would not be directly liable for damage caused in case I had made that mistake.

      You are full of bullshit, sorry.

      • by Chemisor (97276)

        On what law could anyone be able to sue me for damage on his machine if he uses my (licensed or unlicensed) code?

        The tort law, under the standard of strict liability [wikipedia.org], applied to product liability [wikipedia.org]. By deleting the customer's files you would be guilty of negligence. This negligence is proven first by showing that you had a duty to care for the customer's files, because you were aware that makefile commands could delete them and thus would have such a duty under the precedent of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. [wikipedia.org].

        • Who said that the person who downloaded my code (whether licensed without a disclaimer of warranty clause, or unlicensed) is a customer of mine anyway?

          Give me any case law where liability could be assumed where software is the specific cause of the issue.

          I see people like you argue that I have assumed liability for publishing software without a disclaimer of warranty. But then I go and read those Wikipedia articles, and it appears to not matter for physical items. So why would it matter for software?

          I.e. I

          • by Chemisor (97276)

            Give me any case law where liability could be assumed where
            software is the specific cause of the issue.

            Mortenson vs Timberline [internetlibrary.com] is the most well-known case pertaining to EULA liability disclaimers. In the case the Mortenson company failed to win a construction contract due to a "bug" in the Timberline software it was using, and sued for damages. The court ruled that the liability disclaimer in the EULA shielded Timberline from liability for these damages. Because of this case and because most software is lic

  • The simple fact is that the majority of accounts are just single people; sole authors. The vast majority of whose hello world programs will never gain any traction. It the least they want to know if anyone even looks at their code and said person will ask about the license if they have any intention of using it. Seems reasonable to me.

    It also defers the question of which license until there are at least a couple other people willing to invest their time in the code. By choosing early you are creating more f

  • Github needs to specify a "default license". If no license is specified, then XXX license applies (for example: BSD/MIT).
    That may sound like imposing something on users, but remember that github give you a free account for public repositories for FLOSS stuff. If you specify no license, it's not legally propietary, so, it would make sense for them to do so.

    • _This_ is an excellent idea. I'd prefer GPLv3, myself, for maximum programmer protection.

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