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Evil, or why Douglas Crockford is harmful to Free Software (apebox.org)
159 points by slyall on Nov 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments

The article is in bad taste. The title even more.

If you don't like Crockford's license you are at liberty to write that code yourself. Please don't call people who contribute a great deal to advancing computing (Free Software or not) names like 'harmful to Free Software'.

Even if there is genuine concern in the license and its usage in Free Software, it should be raised by pointing to the code and the license, not by making a personal attack.

Articles like this are harmful to Free Software because it discourages people from contributing. Not Douglas Crockford's license written in good humour and with nice intentions.

People need to be aware that using childish clauses in licenses can have legal repercussions. This is not about "Free Software" or "Open Source" either, because that same clause can get you in trouble even if it comes in the EULA of a proprietary product.

The article was itself childish, but then again, it's a personal blog, not some kind of official statement.

> it discourages people from contributing

True, but my perspective is different - what discourages people from contributing are ego-driven testosterone-filled spoiled brats. Incidentally that's why we also have so few women contributing.

The contributions from ego-driven testosterone-filled spoiled brats are significant.

Indeed, I would go further and say that the fruits of Open Source are in significant part the result of young men trying to impress and outdo each other in mental contests and show each other who's smarter (aka whose organ is bigger). This kind of competition is driven by testosterone.

And we all benefit as a result.

>> "People need to be aware that using childish clauses in licenses can have legal repercussions."

Please name a case.

Name one single case where this holds true.

I'm not disagreeing with the message of caution. But it could have been said much better.

> True, but my perspective is different - what discourages people from contributing are ego-driven testosterone-filled spoiled brats. Incidentally that's why we also have so few women contributing.

Ego and Testosterone in the same sentence - that has to be bad! But it is a different conversation altogether.

Contrary to popular belief, neither ego nor testosterone are absent from women.

So I guess the projects led by developers that are kind and helpful to a fault, of which there are quite a few in my experience, must have all the women contributers funnelled to them. I haven't seen that that's the case so I'm not so sure about your theory.

> because that same clause can get you in trouble even if it comes in the EULA of a proprietary product.

Could clauses like these get you the author in legal trouble? Or it's just you the incautious users?

Note that the complaint is not about not being able to rewrite the code. It's done by a Debian maintainer of a piece of software that depends in weirdly-licensed code; and there are many of them. While sometimes Debian packages are modified to remove files that are not eligible for redistribution, in this case the maintainers would have to rewrite larger parts to make them DFSG-compatible.

This only leads to more fragmentation and bad relations between Debian and upstream.

I think you're missing the larger picture here. If someone like IBM or Apple, or Google were to accidentally use a license like this (which is otherwise free) they could waste millions defending it in court due to some lawsuit. How would that look for Free Software? Probably even worse! "Google sued for using Free Software" -- Headline on the NY Times.

That's why large corporations have hordes of lawyers to help with such things. There is no such thing as accidentally using code under a certain license and there are procedures in place to handle that.

It's no different with using commercial code that was licensed to you, anyway. You still have to adhere to the licensing terms and if you don't they can sue you.

Of course large corporations have lots of lawyers to protect against this (and of course they hire enough engineers to rewrite the thing to begin with), which means I didn't illustrate my point very well. The point is that there is potential negative impact on free software as a result of a "cute" addendum like this.

Frankly I think the GPL, or even worse, the AGPLv3, have just as much, or even moreso, potential to "harm" free software as you describe. Nobody loses sleep over other people using those licenses as they please though.

I think maybe I'll switch to an AGPLv3 license with a no-evil modification for my future personal projects...

How does AGPLv3 or even the GPLv3 harm free software? It's certainly more permissive than MIT with the "do no evil" clause.

No one is stopping some dude from taking a large chunk of MIT or BSD licensed code modifying it and then closing it off forever. That fork could become the one to use while the pre-forked one dies in a fire because the software is no longer compatible with the new shiny one with feature X. "Oh crap! I'd like to fix this bug that's been plaguing me since I switched over to the closed source one, but now I can't." -- Some sorry dude who used BSD licensed software[0]

Those who say they don't care about this sort of thing are lying to themselves and everyone listening.

There's this stigma around the FSF licenses, which has never made sense to me. The whole point of them is simply "I share with you, please have some common decency and share with me." This seems like common courtesy to me, and only fair. If some corporation really wants to close everything up, well the same logic for avoiding Crockford's license applies, just rewrite it and don't use it. But, he who shares should always win.

[0]: yes, this was a loaded argument.

Permissiveness, or lack of it, isn't relevant at all. How I interpret the complaints with the 'no evil', the issue is the 'gotcha' factor, which arguably is out in full force with the AGPLv3. How many companies have botched handling even the GPLv2? We hear about it all the time.

I sincerely like the GPL and AGPL. I don't think potential confusion is a compelling argument against either, nor do I think it against the "do no evil" clause.

I was prepared to think the same way when I read the headline. But it's pretty hard to separate the personality from the issue in this case. There's nothing stopping Crockford from doing the right thing here except for his personality.

Here is the quote the post refers to from "The JSON Saga":

When I put the reference implementation onto the website, I needed to put a software license on it. I looked up all the licenses that are available, and there were a lot of them. I decided the one I liked the best was the MIT license, which was a notice that you would put on your source, and it would say: "you're allowed to use this for any purpose you want, just leave the notice in the source, and don't sue me." I love that license, it's really good.

But this was late in 2002, we'd just started the War On Terror, and we were going after the evil-doers with the President, and the Vice-President, and I felt like I need to do my part.


So I added one more line to my license, which was: "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil." I thought I'd done my job. About once a year I'll get a letter from a crank who says: "I should have a right to use it for evil!"


"I'm not going to use it until you change your license!" Or they'll write to me and say: "How do I know if it's evil or not? I don't think it's evil, but someone else might think it's evil, so I'm not going to use it." Great, it's working. My license works, I'm stopping the evil doers!

Audience member: If you ask for a separate license, can you use it for evil?

Douglas: That's an interesting point. Also about once a year, I get a letter from a lawyer, every year a different lawyer, at a company--I don't want to embarrass the company by saying their name, so I'll just say their initials--IBM...


...saying that they want to use something I wrote. Because I put this on everything I write, now. They want to use something that I wrote in something that they wrote, and they were pretty sure they weren't going to use it for evil, but they couldn't say for sure about their customers. So could I give them a special license for that?

Of course. So I wrote back--this happened literally two weeks ago--"I give permission for IBM, its customers, partners, and minions, to use JSLint for evil."

[laughter and applause]

And the attorney wrote back and said: "Thanks very much, Douglas!"

Good talk, worth a watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-C-JoyNuQJs

It's sad that Crockford thinks that causing this kind of hassle to diligent users of his software is funny.

Ha ha, stupid user, you took the legally binding joke which I inserted into a legally binding license seriously, hahah you sooo funny.

Yeah, a real barrel of laughs. Never mind that licensing law is a lot less flexible than contract law, in which unreasonable terms are readily removed.

It's sad that Crockford wrote a piece of code and gave it away for free in such a way that some people feel they can't use it? How much sadder than all the code every YC company writes and doesn't publish at all?

The problem is that the code on json.org is almost free software, and easily mistaken as such.

If others are encouraged to make similar "jokes," yes.

So, just to be clear, your take is that the authors of software are not in fact entitled to use whatever license they please?

Obviously they are, and I don't think anyone here is arguing otherwise. Are you focusing on that point because it's the only one that makes this seem acceptable?

The question is whether it is harmful to free software to put unfunny non-jokes like this into licenses. The answer is "yes, it is."

No, it isn't. It is harmful for free software projects to blindly incorporate software with incompatible licenses. It is not harmful to write software with incompatible licenses. Most software written is incompatible with Debian. With very few exceptions (for instance, the sole-sourced drivers to popular peripherals), none of it actively harms the project.

Debian is not entitled to Douglas Crockford's work and therefore Crockford cannot harm Debian through incompatibility. Someone else can write a replacement JSON library; it's an intern-level project.

How is anyone making that argument? From what I can see all people are saying is that making an obtuse licencing clause is a bit of an asshole thing to do. I can't see why anyone would disagree with that either.

This is one of those situations where 80% of the commenters in the thread will think I am trolling because their sense of entitlement to anything they can read in on a Github page is so powerful that they forget they're talking about the time and effort of an actual human being.

If you feel like you can call someone an "asshole" for writing "use this software for good not evil" in their license, then, and I mean this respectfully but directly, you need to unplug for awhile and interact with actual human beings in the world.

Similarly, if you can write a whole blog post calling Douglas Crockford "childish" and implying that he's not only a hypocrite but hypocritically evil for working at Paypal simply because of something he put in the license of a piece of software he gave away for free, you are a whackjob nutbag and nobody should listen to you.

Here is a clue before 8 different HN'ers explain to me how damaging idiosyncratic license clauses are and why that justified this nutball post: you can write a post about why people shouldn't use a specific free library without calling its author names.

Wow, the hypocrisy of using such poorly veiled ad hominem in an attempt call out what you apparently feel is mine, is almost comical. I'd ask you re-read what I said more carefully. It really wasn't nearly as extreme or insulting a statement as you seem to think. Certainly doesn't seem even remotely worth such personal ire.

Ugh, startup code, be glad they don't push all that crap up to Github. I'm more than happy that most sane contributors to open source have a filter on. Not every piece of internal code is needed or wanted be the community.

Kind of a lame and unnecessary rip on YC?

Sure, if you're hypersensitive or just looking for a fight. I like a lot of YC companies.

I'm neither and my sentiment stands.

Well, those diligent users can reimplement the software if they don't like it. It's only the implementation that's got that clause, not the spec.

Obviously that's not easy for them to do, but nobody says they have to use his implementation if they don't like the terms it's licensed under.

You're painting a picture of a way out that doesn't exist for most people (reverse straw man?). When it's about a library on which a lot of software depends then the common non-programmer has had absolutely no choice about this and cannot re-implement either.

Right, but that's not the fault of the original author. He licensed his code a particular way, and everyone else has the choice to either use it or not. I don't like the attitude of blaming him simply because lots of other people came to depend on it without realising that it's less free than some of them might have liked.

Maybe we don't have to blame him for anything, but we can still have the opinion that he's a childish asshole.

But why? I personally think that his joke was, in fact, funny.

> but we can still have the opinion that he's a childish asshole.

We can also have the opinion that people who believe that someone who wrote a free software and gave the implementation for free should play by their rules and only use license which plays nice with their software are childish, entitled assholes.

Arguably the same can be said for people that feel the urge to do so, doubly so for calling it "evil".

What would most people do if the software just didn't exist?

Luckily JSON 3 exists! http://bestiejs.github.com/json3/

Writing OpenSource software used to be a real of real amateurs, people who do it because they love to do that stuff and derive fun out of it. Now, it seems, the license has become the most important aspect in this.

IMHO, this is a most unfortunate development, sadly driven by license fundamentalists like Debian. It is high time that someone like Crockford throws a fistful of sand in those gears and causes butthurt. Maybe this will cause at least some people to start thinking again instead blindly following the perceived neccessities of some special OSS project.

And yes, if the Debian folk are this worried, it should be a matter of days to invent "GNU JSON (now with a proper LICENSE so we can kiss more enterprise ass)"

"license fundamentalists" ...? You mean, "people trying to obey the law and not get sued"?

Wake me when Crockford gets sued for his "license".

Seems like a real, major user requested a clarification / amendment to their software license in order to use the software. Crockford granted such a clarification / amendment. I don't see the problem here.

Software is written and licensed by people, and is susceptible to their quirks and foibles.

The solution for the anti-joke contingent is to organize a mass flood of exemption requests for Crockford to deal with.

He isn't obliged to even answer them :-) That's just a courtesy and if abused he might just as well say “take it under the license as is or don't; I won't make exceptions anymore”.

Software licensing is already a joke - he's just being honest about it.

This is an opportunity for IBM: they can create a club called "IBM minions", and sell memberships. That way anyone can use JSLint for evil.

Glad to see Crockford making jokes there. Unfortunately after leaving a comment on a recent picture update on his Google+ profile (in good humor), he banned me from his circles, unshared everything with me, and removed the comment. I still look up to him though.

I tend to do that to people I don't know. Seems perfectly reasonable.

Humor from strangers does not transfer well. What seemed to be in good humor to you, may have been obnoxious to him.

Aaaaand this is why the "evil" clause is problematic.

Perhaps, but there is a key difference. The above example was said to a particular person about a particular thing (which I infer by the fact it was posted on a picture). The "evil" clause is a joke thrown out into the wild, directed at no one in particular. In other words, the above example is personal, the "evil" clause is not.

Sometimes I find the cognitive dissonance in the software community to be as entertaining to watch as that in various religious sects...

Software types are famously inclined toward libertarian views. An oft repeated mantra on HN is "let the market decide". Yet, here we have myriad complaints about a decision the market has made.

What I particularly love about the Open Source/Free Software world is that it is a market in the truest sense. Barriers to entry are extremely low and, while there aren't necessarily dollars to throw around, consumers vote with their time and attention, both quantities arguably more valuable than currency. It is interesting to watch this market choose benevolent dictatorship models of governance over more democratic rule. It is intriguing to see reinvented wheels succeed for seemingly inconsequential reasons.

And, in this case, it is rather informative to observe how expediency wins out, even to the potential detriment of the very consumers who have made this choice. Reimplementing the code in question would require work. Clarifying or requesting a change of licensing terms would require work. Instead, the "market" (many, many OSS projects in this case) has chosen the preexisting solution that contains a potential time bomb.

If I didn't know any better, I'd almost say that this article is a veiled call for regulation. It's almost as if the market, left to its own devices, doesn't always make the best long-term decisions when short-term benefit weighs in opposition.

The world of Open Source/Free Software really is fascinating to watch...

If you see it as a market, this is a typical market failure (externality and / or information assymmetry).

Since the author has chosen a non-standard license, I doubt government regulation would help (unless that regulation outlawed non-standard FLOSS licenses).

Probably would be better to reduce the information assymmetry. Maybe Github could have warning notifications for custom licenses, for example?

Do I understand correctly that you think that outlawing creation of custom licenses besides the chosen and already existing few will solve the perceived problem?

What's the next step, outlawing forks, since there are already enough projects?

And why do you see the very existence of the library with "no evil" clause as a market failure? Is that some people think that it's basic human right to be allowed to do evil? Doing evil, if we define evil as illegal, is already outlawed, so this one phrase is clearly redundant.

I said you, but it's not addressed to you, but to people that got so offended and turned up by this small "do no evil" purpose.

The market already decided, and that clause is there for a purpose. The author clearly didn't want people unsure if this piece of software will be used for good or evil to use it.

It's funny that people are ready to sign all kind of nonsense in commercial licenses, and this small clause makes so much pain to some "open source" developers.

Do you have a start up? Do you hope that you will some day be able to make an exit with that start up? Are you willing to entertain a buy-out by a larger corporation as a possible exit?

If yes, then as much as you (the hacker/startup founder) might not care or have a second thought about licenses like this, you should keep in mind that your potential purchaser almost definitely will.

Also, just for the record, I'm actually a big fan of Crockford's "Do no evil" license. What bothers me is the number of people who don't pay any more attention to the licenses of the software on which they build entire companies than they do to the EULAs of the software they install. Casually agreeing to a EULA is not the same as disregarding an Open Source license.

I completely agree with you here. People should take care about licenses of the software they use, especially in a commercial setup, for all the reasons you stated.

But, you read the license, you decide if you are going to use it or not. That's it. If you are not sure, just don't use it. Use something else if available. Or build your own.

What I don't understand is the basis on which some people complain about the authors choice of the license, and feel offended by his license choice.

edit: s/started/stated/

Indeed. Regarding the article itself, my view would be that the blame lies squarely at the feet of the Mono team for using Crockford's code, license and all, knowing that their target audience (finicky Linux distros) might later object. But then, properly assigning blame is a talent few, if any, possess.

No, I'm saying that will not solve the perceived problem.

I suggest more information, such as "Be aware that this software is licensed under a custom license. Click here to view the license."

I don't think the author of the article suggests that evil should be allowed, but that it is very hard to define evil, and that this clause makes the license non-free software.

It honestly would not be that difficult to implement something like this. Both the OSI and FSF maintain lists of "approved" licenses along with standard license text. In fact, Pivotal Labs has created a tool along these lines for Ruby: https://github.com/pivotal/LicenseFinder , and the Leiningen project tool from Clojure allows for licenses to be specified in a machine parseable format: https://github.com/technomancy/leiningen/blob/master/sample.... .

I agree with you here. But the software is $free, just now for available to everyone, and "non-free" in the FSF definition of "free".

I've always considered the one thing that Google Code has over Github is the mandatory selection of a standard license when creating a publicly visible project.

Also, to the point of regulation, the government is by no means the only vector by which it can be delivered. I think if you look through history, some of the most successful regulatory regimes have been separated from the traditional civil government.

Is there even actually a default license for public projects? I couldn't find anything except that if you have a public project you permit people to fork it.

Mandating a license (any license) but perhaps offering a selection to be automatically included would be a really good idea.

I wonder if you could actually put a license that gave permission to fork/clone but not actually to run/distribute outside github or otherwise use the code or derivatives thereof. I've not tried and wouldn't try to go against the spirit of Github in that way but it seems as if it might be permissible.

>It's almost as if the market, left to its own devices, doesn't always make the best long-term decisions when short-term benefit weighs in opposition.

It's almost as if people look for any example, no matter how flimsy an analogy it is, to confirm their worldview.

So, the vast majority of people are very happy to use this software with this vague license because it doesn't fucking matter to 95% of all software developers. You could think of this as a market failure, if you like, because the license pisses this one person off. But you could also see it as a complete market triumph because this guy is completely free to write his own json parser! He's not compelled to use Crockford's or Google's or anyone else's.

Software types, particularly open source software types, are also known to have massive egos. This is just a childish rant (In conclusion: thank you so VERY much Doug Crockford for making the world of Free Software measurably worse.) from a guy who's getting worked up that GASP not everyone cares as much as he does about software licensing.

It's not a market failure because it pisses off one person. It's a market failure in that the long-term sustainability of a fundamental component of the ecosystem is in question. Potentially, Douglas Crockford could hire a team of lawyers and go after every single software engineer or company that he disagrees with by claiming they are "evil" (never mind the ontological questions and somewhat inherent contradiction such behavior would represent).

Yes, the license terms don't matter to 95% of all software developers. So what? Care to guess at the percentage of brokers that made out like bandits trading CDOs? My point is exactly that an ecosystem where the bulk of players can benefit by optimizing for the short-term at the potential expense of the long-term will fail to find the long-term optimal solution (at least, not without significant upheaval).

But then, I suppose I am completely free to till my own back yard, grow some vegetables, and raise chickens so...yeah, complete market triumph!

>It's almost as if the market, left to its own devices, doesn't always make the best long-term decisions when short-term benefit weighs in opposition.

It does not.

To say it does is an extraordinary claim with deserves extraordinary proof --and, no, ideological ramblings from economists is not proof.

Furthermore, this opinion regarding the market, ie. the "free market" concept, is a very isolated in acceptance Anglo-Saxon idea.

Far from being a scientific conclusion, like gravity or evolution, even though it's touted as such from it's proponents.

There is no place for humor or overly subjective terms like "evil" in a software license or other legal document, and the problem with Douglas Crockford's license is that he fails to understand that.

That is, unless his intent is to keep every entity with sane lawyers from using his software. I don't think that's his intent. He said he wants to keep people without a sense of humor from using his software, but sane lawyers with a good sense of humor will object to the license just as strongly as sane lawyers with no sense of humor.

Venue matters. A lawsuit based on the evil clause of the license, in San Francisco or Los Angeles, would probably go nowhere. However, consider a jury in Birmingham, AL, and whether they would find that using some of Crockford's software in an abortion clinic was a violation of the license.

I don't disagree to this premise. Yes, it could be an issue - but Douglas Crockford is not morally obligated to worry about it. His code, his license. When you use it, you accept the risks that come with it.

The post could have made a sane argument that the license is ambiguous and should be avoided in Free Software. But it focused on the author and made unjustifiable personal remarks. Not cool.

The author also seem to forget that there are advocates of the MIT license who would never use GPL software because of its viral nature. Does that mean Richard Stallman is 'harmful to software'? Criticize the license, but don't name-call the author who has made major positive contributions to the field.

You might as well say that Douglas Crockford is not morally obligated to be nice. Yes, I suppose he is entitled to behaving in ways that are harmful to Free Software, but we are also entitled to criticize him for that. The post criticizes both the license and Crockford's use of the license, focusing on the latter because licenses, like guns, are not harfmul in themselves.

You might argue that Crockford's contributions to Free Software outweigh the nuisance of his license, but to people who won't use his code because of the license (as you propose they do if they don't like it), his contributions are, sadly, rather worthless.

As for your last point, sure, Richard Stallman is arguably harmful to the Free Non-Copyleft Software movement, if such a thing exists. Is that a bad thing? I don't think there is a consensus in the Free Software community. Some OpenBSD folks certainly hate it...

""" The author also seem to forget that there are advocates of the MIT license who would never use GPL software because of its viral nature. Does that mean Richard Stallman is 'harmful to software'? Criticize the license, but don't name-call the author who has made major positive contributions to the field. """

There is a large difference here:

* The GPL is pushing an agenda in their licence, and attempts to clearly state your legal obligations.

* Crockford, on the other hand, is trying to crack a joke in a legal document. As the author states, this is dangerous to people who don't understand the legal ramifications of using this. From what I can see, the author is venting their frustration that Crockford appears to be treating the whole affair like a big joke, and I can totally understand that.

You can also say that GPL is pushing an agenda, while Crockford is standing up to his high moral principles. If you don't agree with it, just don't use it.

vaguely stated moral principles.

Listen, the clause is so ridiculously vague as to be unenforcable.

However, there is one way of looking at it that might not be legally objectionable. If you consider evil to be contrary to the good functioning of a civil society, then you could say that any act of evil is against the laws if this society. In which case the clause is legally enforceable, but completely unnecessary as no contract can stipulate a party undertake an illegal act.

Listen, the clause is so ridiculously vague as to be unenforcable.

You hope.

If you consider evil to be contrary to the good functioning of a civil society, then you could say that any act of evil is against the laws if this society. In which case the clause is legally enforceable, but completely unnecessary as no contract can stipulate a party undertake an illegal act.

Which countries laws are we dealing with here? :P

e.g. I believe lots of US employee laws would be very illegal in EU.

You hope

Actually, I don't really care either way. If it becomes legally enforcable not to commit evil, I win. If it isn't legally enforcable, then I still win, only to a much lesser degree. By which I mean I lose through winning.

Which countries laws are we dealing with here? :P

e.g. I believe lots of US employee laws would be very illegal in EU.

You merely illustrate my point. Too vague to be enforcable.

I believe the general consensus is that "evil" is subjective. See the abortion argument above. "Evil" can be spun many different ways.

It's "evil" to use automation software because it eliminates jobs of hard working Americans. etc etc

All the things people are saying about this being a terrible legal clause are 100% true.

But that seems to be the point, doesn't it? It's a license that filters out people who care too much. How much is too much? According to this license, the threshold is "listens to this ridiculous license".

Maybe in practice that makes it a non-commercial license, or a "hobby project only", license, or perhaps in the extreme, a "nobody" license.

Who really cares? He owns the copyright, he can license it as he pleases.

You merely illustrate my point. Too vague to be enforcable.

Vague on an international stage, maybe. But a national court (which is the only thing relevant), it might not be considered vague.

>There is no place for humor or overly subjective terms like "evil" in a software license or other legal document, and the problem with Douglas Crockford's license is that he fails to understand that.

No, the problem is that the other guys WANT to use Douglas Crockford's code.

It's they who are needy and demanding, not Douglas, who doesn't have to "understand" anything.

A license like this has two red flags. I previously worked in a programme providing corporate governance of open source. It's a fairly big industry with companies like Black Duck helping companies manage their legal risks, and licenses like this aren't popular.

Firstly, it's non-standard. As others have said, it's the author's right to make it non-standard, but I don't recommend people try that unless there's a really good reason to do so. If it's non-standard, a lot of companies simply won't use it. There's no box to check, so you can't have it. Good tracking software will of course allow for exceptions and deltas to the standard contracts, but it still creates delays and management overheads as if it's allowed at all, it will require someone's manual sign-off.

This gets worse when you consider the whole chain of software use. One library inside another library that's used by a subcontractor who added it to a build script that's used by the main contractor to distribute to developers. The whole thing needs to be linked through, which is hard enough with standard licenses.

Now startups don't need to worry about sign-off from some department, but they still need to stop and inspect the nature of the licenses they're using, and a non-standard license causes extra time and energy lost.

The second problem is ambiguity. A non-standard contract can still be precisely written, so developers know what they're getting into. In this case, though, it's not. It hinges around the definition of "evil", which is naturally ambiguous.

Comedy goes a long way, but is not always appropriate. This is a good article on the subject: http://www.natpryce.com/articles/000225.html "It may be less amusing to the programmer writing the code but, more importantly, it is less infuriating for the programmer maintaining the code." Think the same applies to licenses.

Well said. And while I absolutely agree with several other posters that Crockford has free reign to define the terms of use of his product, he didn't choose the most effective terms for what we all assume is his goal: spreading the use of json.

A license is like a piece of code that binds to a system of laws at runtime. Effective license terms, like effective code, work within the problem domain and avoid ambiguity where it is likely to cause problems. His license compiles, but can throw runtime exceptions depending on context.

Seems like this could be avoided by simply approaching the author and offering to pay for a version of the software with the license you want. If I'm not mistaken, the author in question has in fact given companies in the past permission to use this particular library for "evil purposes".

Most importantly though, one should refrain from making demands on people who are offering you things for free.

If you like the code and are willing to use it under the terms provided, use it. Otherwise you're no worse off than you were before. Write your own version and get on with life.

> Seems like this could be avoided by simply approaching the author and offering to pay for a version of the software with the license you want.

or taking the JSON grammar and implementing it from scratch. It's not exactly complex, the most complex part is strings and even those are rather simple.

Someone should start an open source project called EvilJSON which reimplements it but flips the good and evil in the licence so you can't use it for good.

I might do this, think of all those communist countries out there that are unable to use this software due to this stupid clause! :-)

I believe you mean all of those capitalist countries out there that are unable to use this software due to this stupid clause.

It doesn't work like that. For the code to be part of a Linux distribution like Debian, they have to be able to distribute it to everyone, so such a request would amount to asking can you please remove the clause from the license. And your point about not making demands to things you get for free is not true in general. When someone offers money to the local animal shelter under the condition that it's only used for cute red cats, they're right to refuse I'd say. Bad licenses obstruct the progress of free software, so it's necessary to call them out.

Maybe someone add Debian should have paid attention when they included the incompatible license? This really looks like a Debian tantrum because they screwed up by including it.

It seems like this Debian developer is mad because an author didn't write a license the way he want it written?

It's an easy mistake to make seeing how Crockford's license is almost, but not quite, identical to the MIT license (which would've been fine).

Refusing the money and sarcastically thanking the donor for "ruining animal shelters" are two drastically different reactions.

Seems like this could be avoided by simply approaching the author and offering to pay for a version of the software with the license you want.

That's not an option for Free Software distributions like Debian, so everybody loses except evildoers.

If its not an option for Debian, it is only because of their own peculiarity that it isn't. The type or magnitude of the "payment" is unspecified and open to any negotiation at all. They could even send him an email asking for a GPL license to it in exchange for rewards in the afterlife.

He may not go for it, but they are certainly capable of asking.

I don't understand. The guy complain that json license is not "Free" in the FSF sense of "Free". So what? Not all licenses has to be FSF or FSF compatible. How is it harmful to FSF is the license of some piece of code is not compatible with GPL?

Guess what, I can't use GPL in my projects, because it's not compatible with the kind of license I release my programs. You can't use this software because it's not comapatible with GPL. Feel the pain. FSF would advice people not to use GPL software if they can't stand the license. The same applies to you, if you really want to use your software for evil purpose, just license it that way. Otherwise, use something else. It's that simple.

This is about being a Free Software license, which is a much more basic set of conditions than the GPL, e.g., BSD/MIT falls under it too, as well as a host of other licenses (look it up). It is harmful in the sense that the success of free software depends on the licenses allowing unfettered distribution, while this license prevents that.

It's a license that's misleadingly almost-free. It's like the old 4-term BSD license with the "obnoxious advertising clause".

> It's a license that's misleadingly almost-free.

Like the GPL is misleadingly almost free? As in it's free but if you release software which uses GPL software, it is under GPL? I am not arguing about the meaning of free, I am arguing against your "it's a license that's misleadingly almost free". Just like GPL's terms doesn't make it non-free, "don't use it for evil" doesn't make it non-free.

EDIT: I see people arguing about "don't use it for evil" violates "can use it for any purpose" clause. Fine. GPL's clause violates "use it to distribute software without making my whole software GPL."

On the terminology side: language is about communication, and there is a broad consensus on the meaning of "free" in terms of free software, exemplarized by the FSF's defnition, the OSI open source definition, and the DFSG. None of these definitions is identical to the others, and no doubt there are edge cases that would fall under one but not another, but neither the GPL nor Crockford's license is one of them; under this consensus meaning of "free" (which you claim not to be arguing about), the GPL is a free license and Crockford's is not.

On the practical side: the GPL is established and popular enough that you should know what you're getting yourself in for with GPL code. In theory I can imagine someone unfamiliar with the free software movement hearing that a piece of GPL code was "free" and assuming that meant they could use it in their closed products, but in practice when people talk about "free" software they tend to either mean the free software definition, or "freeware" (i.e. binaries which can be downloaded without charge) - which generally doesn't permit modification and redistribution. So I don't think this is a practical concern.

By contrast Crockford's license is not popular or established. Worse, it looks exceedingly similar to a popular, established license - the MIT license - which is free (in the free software sense). So it's very possible to accidentally download a Crockford-licensed piece of code, thinking that you can use it in a free software project, when in fact the license does not grant all the rights you would need to do this - as is demonstrated by the fact that the author of this post did exactly that.

Crockford is free to distribute his code under whatever license he likes, but using a license that looks very much like the MIT license but grants you a much smaller set of rights (a set which puts it on the other side of a line that, while in many ways arbitrary, is of great practical relevance when it comes reusing code in the wider internet community) is not nice.

If it were really established that in software free means "Free" the way FSF defines it, then we would not have this 100+ messages discussion here arguing what is free, and in which context.

Maybe if would be easier if instead of "free" we started using more precise terms like Free(c)FSF, $Free, or name actual licenses, since each one goes under some assumptions.

My position depends on "free" being a broadly-applicable concept. If I'd said "Crockford's license is not DFSG-compatible" then the response would (quite rightly) have been "well, who cares, the DFSG is just Debian's set of arbitrary rules". The reason the line between free and non-free matters so much from a pragmatic perspective is that there is this consensus, the criteria for being included in Debian are (more-or-less) the same as those for getting free hosting on sourceforge, or for being able to use the OSI trademark, or...

> but using a license that looks very much like the MIT license but grants you a much smaller set of rights (a set which puts it on the other side of a line that, while in many ways arbitrary, is of great practical relevance when it comes reusing code in the wider internet community) is not nice.

So what is he supposed to do? His options are either use the MIT license unchanged, or invent his own? He liked the MIT license, and he wanted to add one of his own conditions. It's as simple as that.

As another commenter pointed out, the cognitive dissonance is the free software community is mind blowing. We are all for freedom and choice, as long as you are playing by our rules. We are against regulation, but only bad regulations. Ours are meant to do good and you are supposed to follow them.

While the right to fork is fundamental to the free software philosophy, on a social level we emphasise that it should be a last resort (and that it's often worth putting up with a less than ideal upstream in the interests of compatibility). E.g. the FSF recommends using the perl license for perl packages, even though it recommends against that license in general. This is nothing new.

What Crockford's done is the equivalent of changing a few bytes in the PNG format and making his software use this "new" format. Making a completely new file format/license is fine, but you should only do it when your improvements are big enough to justify the incompatibility. A new one that's just a trivial tweak to an existing one, but incompatible, is bad.

You can use GPL software to distribute proprietary software. Google does it all day long.

Don't write "use" when you mean something else entirely.

"Free" for the FSF does not mean "compatible with GPL".

Lots of GPL in-compatible licences are "Free" according to the FSF. Here's a whole list of "GPL-Incompatible Free Software Licenses": http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html#GPLIncompatibl... Some notable ones: Apache Licence, BSD licence, etc.

The BSD licence is not GPL-incompatible. It is the original BSD licence which is GPL-incompatible, because it has an advertising clause requiring all advertising material for a product to include a note for each contributor under that license.

He complains about the license not being DFSG-compatible, which is different. The DSFG are a set of very simple rules to decide if some piece of software is eligible for inclusion in Debian.

Shouldn't this be, Why you should know what you're doing legally before you contribute code to free software? Or perhaps, The system works, notice how we avoided the mistake of including software with an eccentric and non-free license from being included in free software?

It takes me back to the frenzy over VLC on iOS. People write code, we need to respect their choices with respect to how they license it, even if their choice is whimsey with a dangerous side of legal morass.

This argument sounds dangerously like a tirade because Mr. Crockford did something that did not benefit the free software movement. His software is un-free, just as the GPL is un-free. I'm ok with that, even if my lawyer isn't ok with me using his code.

I agree with your argument, however I don't agree that the GPL is un-free.

First of all, there's a clear distinction between the GPL and this modified MIT license - the GPL was written with the help of actual lawyers and it's a solid license that can stand on its own in a court of law. If you think that the GPL gives you certain privileges or takes away some freedoms, then it's actually easy to verify that by simply asking a lawyer.

Also, GPL is a license that has restrictions on distribution and not usage. Usage of GPL-software is completely free. Of course, sometimes the usage/distribution boundaries are blurred when you're speaking about platforms, so GPL 3 drew a line in the sand to prevent cases such as Tivo, however to quote Linus Tolvards which represents the other side of the coin in any talks related to GPL [1]:

"""If you're a mad scientist, you can use GPLv2'd software for your evil plans to take over the world ("Sharks with lasers on their heads!!"), and the GPLv2 just says that you have to give source code back. And that's OK by me. I like sharks with lasers. I just want the mad scientists of the world to pay me back in kind. I made source code available to them, they have to make their changes to it available to me. After that, they can fry me with their shark-mounted lasers all they want."""

This is also not a matter of free / un-free. But rather a mater of legal liability. If somebody can prove that you used the software for "Evil", whatever that may mean, then you're legally liable. So what's evil anyway? Is making money evil?

[1] http://www.forbes.com/2006/03/09/torvalds-linux-licensing-cz...

The GPL says plainly that it shall not be modified. I find that equally worrying. What if I save a word wrapped version of it to a file?

You're making a confusion between the content and the distribution format.

the GPL is un-free

Now that's a contentous statement, depending on one's definition of "free" and "un-free". However the GPL, unlike this "no evil licence", is an FSF approved, and OSI approved, and DFSG approved licence. They aren't in the same category.

If FSF had the foresight to trademark Free Software™ and Open Source™ we wouldn't have this sort of confusion.

The OSI tried and failed to trademark "Open Source". It failed because it was too generic IIRC.

Trademark law isn't needed. There isn't really any disagreements over the terms "Free (as in freedom) Software" or "Open Source".

To sum this story up: a programmer wrote a small piece of software that other people want to use and gave it away for free, with an idiosyncratic license. Therefore, sysadmins are entitled to disparage him.

This story definitely makes me want to get more involved with organized free software.

Don't say "Free Software", please. Because you actually mean "FSF-compliant" license. Some people don't give the slightest damn what FSF or any other crazy institution has determined to be a "free" (as in thought/speech) software license. In my humble opinion, a true "free" software license is the kind of license that lets you do "whatever the fuck you want to do" with it - in other words, "public domain".

GPL (whatever the version might be), in my opinion, is not a true "free" license because it forbids you to, for example, re-publish the source without attribution or using them without being GPL-compliant or any number of other restrictions. BSD is much better, but still has some restrictions. Even WTFPL[1] is not "free" (as in speech/thought), because it requires you to change the "name" upon re-distribution.

So, yes; Douglas Crockford is harmful to "FSF"-kind of "free software", but I think GPL and BSD are also harmful to the more "idealistic" definition of "free software".

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WTFPL

I think the FSF has done enough to deserve a defacto trademark on the term Free Software. Certainly I see no reason why your particular definition deserves to supercede the established convention.

I don't like Stallman the man, but really appreciate everything he and others at FSF have done and I think they certainly deserve a lot. But I personally don't like their definition of "free" (and when they draw the line) and it irritates me when I hear their "free" is becoming the de facto definition. Just like it irritates them when they hear Linux (and not GNU/Linux).

(I haven't done even 1/100000th of what Stallman has done, and don't think I ever will be, but still I'm sure I can criticize him. You didn't suggest I can't - I just wanted to say that I'm aware of this fact!).

GPL/BSD are "restrictive" to protect the freedom of the software. You cannot have freedom without having a rule for freedom. Free software is not anarchy software.

> You cannot have freedom without having a rule for freedom.

Of course you can. Freedom is the lack of restrictions.

I think you're confusing freedom with rights, which do indeed need protection. An argument could be made that what the GPL attempts to do is assert a right to the source code which they protect with restrictions to the developer's freedom. (Just as the right to life is protected with restrictions to the freedom to kill.)

> Freedom is the lack of restrictions.

That's just the negative sense of freedom. People mean sometimes a different sense of "freedom" , where to be free to do something implies rights, which then implies duties.

See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/liberty-positive-negative/

You accidentally repeated parent's mistake.

There is nothing restrictive in BSD at all. Proprietary shops love BSD.

> WTFPL requires you to change the "name" upon re-distribution

Just to be clear: only the name of the license, and only if you modify the license. So it's just the name "WTFPL" being protected. As for the thing being licensed, you are utterly and completely free to do anything you want with or to it.

Writing a complete json parser would have taken less time than writing this rant...

This non-Free license is intended to mock people who take licensing seriously.

It seems to be working. (Though I might add a "too" in front of seriously). Sometimes ridiculous things need mocking.

(And just for the record, I do fully expect future generations to find our preoccupation with "owning" and "licensing" every stray line of text or bar of musical notes to be thoroughly ridiculous.)

As long as violating one without a profit motive can get an individual convicted to pay $1.5 million dollars, there's nothing ridiculous about taking licenses seriously.


That's the satire. That's the joke. It's like an insane bit of legal performance art. The fact that you actually do have to take it seriously is the punch line.

If you don't like his license, don't use it. Drop the packages out of the system, kill PHP and YUI and jQuery and anything else that's decided they're okay with the licensing specifying that it shouldn't be used for evil and taking a slight poke at how restrictive a non-restrictive license can be. In the end the morals survive but the platform suffers. Or approach him and ask him to relicense, or create a derivative or one of the other options.

Blog post reads more like the author has a specific problem with Crockford and is doing this in public to try make him seem foolish.

Crockford triggered an argument at least as old as the Lutheran reform.

The irony is that Crockford's licence is an unintended success in line with Eich's JavaScript itself.

JavaScript, as a Lisp in disguise which survived early standardisation, browser wars, Microsoft's JScript, European bureaucracy (the E in ECMA?), Adobe and Crockford's own jslint, is a success at being something very, very useful.

Crockford's "Good, not evil" licence, it could be argued, is a free licence only if the definition of good/evil is a personal one. One of the main issues of Luther's reform is that good and evil are a personal choice [1]. Crockford is succeeding at indirectly making people think of who has the right to tag something as good or evil.

[1] At least that's what I remember from school.

One of the main issues of Luther's reform is that good and evil are a personal choice

I wouldn't say it like that. Luther's main position was that salvation or forgiveness of sin was a personal matter between God and the sinner; that salvation comes directly from God and cannot not be conferred by a priest or church, in exchange for money, etc. and that the Bible itself was the source of divine knowledge, not the church.

Good and evil are arbitrary concepts that are not formally recognized by courts (am I wrong?) so the phrase in the licence is meaningless. How can anyone be so lawyerised to care about that?

Lawyers, licences, copyrights, patents are modern though police. So many people consider every creative action (and unfortunately often abandon it) afraid of what laws they might be potentially braking by executing this action.

Good and evil are arbitrary concepts that are not formally recognized by courts (am I wrong?)

I'm pretty sure court judgements have use moralistic statements and refered to things like "respect" or "evil", "inhuman". Judges are humans, not compilers.

In fact a search of the British court judgements shows many instances of "evil" being referred to in judgements ( http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/sino_search_1.cgi?sort=rank... ).

It's the legal ambiguity that is the problem.

> Judges are humans, not compilers.

This is exactly why I would not worry about it. No judge is going to look at that clause and think it is in any way intended to be enforced. Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of room for common sense in a courtroom.

I disagree. While it //is// unprofessional to joke around with licensing, I think the author of the article (and some of the commenters her) seriously exaggerate the thread of a legal suit.

Who will sue? EFF? Crockford?

I am no expert in "license law", but I am sure a you-are-using-this-for-evil accusations would not stand a chance.

google "frivolous lawsuit".

Corporations troll each other in court quite often, in order to bleed the defendant and/or force them to resolve the case off-court, for a sum of money. Using code licensed under such a troll-bait like the "good, not evil" clause while having nice corporate revenue is a big mistake.

Crockford's heirs could sue. There is long established precedent of greedy heirs harassing the beneficiaries of their ancestors' largesse.

Seems like more of a case for copyright reform than the relicensing of a javascript verifier. (Unless we are only interested in putting a bandaid on symptoms I suppose.)

If you don't like the license, don't use the software. I think it's fairly ironic that freedom is supposed to undermine freedom.

The man has the freedome to write up any license he wants and you have the freedom to not use it.

I like the article, it's well written but (once again ironically) it also reads like the typical "the stuff is cool, I really want to use it pleaaaaase change the license" which I typically hear from people complaining about the GPL.

This article goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished.

Not evil deed.

>It’s fairly clear that the JSON.org license clause goes against both of these, making any piece of software using that license neither Open Source nor Free Software

I'm sorry, is there some definition of Open Source that I'm not aware of?

There are a few definitions. The FSF has one http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html the OSI has one http://opensource.org/osd-annotated Debian has one http://www.debian.org/social_contract#guidelines They are nearly all extactly the same.

Another defintion is if the code is released under and OSI approved "open source licence" (http://opensource.org/licenses/alphabetical ) or an FSF approved "free software licence" ( http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.html ). Again AFAIK, nearly exactly the same.

wouldn't they be referring to http://opensource.org/osd ?


You chose that word carefully (and even underlined it). Are you sure, eleven minutes later, that you really mean that?

You would hate a person who took the time and effort to build a piece of software, then clean up and release the source code for anybody to use? A person who is doing a selflessly good thing that possibly benefits others and at the very least does no harm? You'd hate this person? Not just disagree with or be annoyed by, but hate?

Is that really the sort of person you want to be?

This whole thread is ridiculous. So I'm going to contribute something productive, and give a plug for a sensible JSON replacement, edn: https://github.com/edn-format/edn

I think that this has probably been taken a little too literally. It would be interesting to get the original author’s opinion.. I agree completely with Sehe’s comment about the terms of the statement not being clearly defined and thus no judge could reasonably use it in court against any uses of the software. Good and Evil are subjective opinions to which each individual has their own beliefs.

There's no such thing as "too literally" in a legally binding contract, which is intended to be used anywhere on the world. All it takes is one open-minded judge. Sure it's 99.9% subjective, but why take a chance? What happens if it's used by a company that openly labels itself as evil? Not so subjective anymore...

Crockford's act of granting special licenses to companies who may have evil-doing clients is a strong indicator that the clause is not a joke, that in practice it is taken seriously. A court would take this into account.

The real problem with this stupid joke is that it requires a trip to court to invalidate it. Thanks Douglas!

> The real problem with this stupid joke is that it requires a trip to court to invalidate it.

I find myself strangely okay with the idea of requiring people to walk into a courtroom and admit that they intend to enact or permit evil.

Uhm it's more typical in a court to accuse or deny. And invalidation would prove the whole thing a waste of time anyway.

I would also quite like to see this happen.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, but you could argue that by granting it to some 'evil' clients, that he is invalidating his statement, proving that it is just a joke, and just laughing at everyone that asks for a special licence. Furthermore, has Douglas any intention to take someone to court over this? I don't know much about him, but I highly doubt it.

The key issue here seems to be whether the "good not evil" clause is in any way legally enforcible.

If it's not, it's a bit of harmless fun.

If it is, then potentially anyone using software licensed under the license discussed in the article is in some serious trouble, and the article itself has merit.

So, any lawyers around who can give us a definitive answer to that one? Sadly, all the lawyers I know specialise in UK rather than US law.

It's not harmless fun if you have to get lawyers involved. The legal system is not the place for harmless fun, because it often backfires and causes harm. In this case, Crockford has issued special licenses to companies which may do evil, which is a pretty strong indicator that the clause is in fact not a joke.

How would one enforce this license against a fictitious "Evil Inc." who self-proclaim "We do Evil", well now that's not subjective anymore? Hmm...

... oh hang on, aren't jokes supposed to be funny?

(Not a lawyer, so don't take this as definitive)

Generally, ambiguity in a contract goes against the party that wrote the ambiguous clause. I believe that applies both in the US and the UK (and I'd expect nearly anywhere else whose contract law arose out of English common law).

Based on that, I'd expect someone trying to enforce a "good, not evil" clause to have a tough time.

So quit whining and write your own json parser.

Am I wrong here but isn't all this concern a bit excessive because the only person who can actually sue you for a breach of this license is Crockford.

The author makes a valid point - people should be able to use free software for any purpose and inclusion of this restriction in the license makes it non-free.

In this specific case, I'd argue Mono is intrinsically evil and therefore should be prevented from using Crockford's software at all. If Microsoft embeds a Crockford-based JSON parser in their own releases, they are in clear violation of its terms. ;-)

" I'd argue Mono is intrinsically evil"

Could you explain why this is? I use Mono and I'm genuinely interested.

>> " I'd argue Mono is intrinsically evil"

> Could you explain why this is? I use Mono and I'm genuinely interested.

From the op's profile: "I really don't like Microsoft much."

Apparently not liking MS much is reason enough to dislike an open source project implementing an interesting runtime and languages, which provides options to use aforementioned runtime and languages without being married to MS.

I suspect the reason he dislikes it, as many seem to, is that it's potentially legally unstable as Microsoft own IP related to C# and .net. I don't know the specifics (I don't use Mono myself), but I have heard people talking about possible problems in future if Microsoft changes their mind about encouraging Mono.

> I suspect the reason he dislikes it, as many seem to, is that it's potentially legally unstable as Microsoft own IP related to C# and .net.

This has been on the horizon ever since Mono's inception. This is what wikipedia has to say:


On July 6, 2009, Microsoft announced that it was placing their ECMA 334 and ECMA 335 specifications under their Community Promise pledging that they would not assert their patents against anyone implementing, distributing, or using alternative implementations of .NET.[79] However, their position regarding the non-ECMA components like ASP.NET, ADO.NET, and Windows Forms (which are the bone of contention) remains unclarified.

There are concerns regarding MS community promise, and of course about the components which remain unclarified. If it ever goes to court, it will be a battle similar to Google vs Oracle over Java. MS might create trouble, but when that happens, that isn't going to be easy.

Even considering that, how is Mono intrinsically evil? When MS sues, hindsight will say Mono team was misguided and naive to trust MS, but that still doesn't make mono evil.

There's plenty of possible problems, but I think Microsoft regards it as a nice way to keep developers developing using their tools, similar to how Adobe takes a pretty hands off approach on piracy of Photoshop.


The more people use Mono, the more valuable the .NET runtime, and Windows itself, becomes.

Pretty much, always a bit puzzled when people assume that Microsoft will throw the toys out of the pram at some stage. It's a net benefit for them if more people are using the language, rather than shifting to C or C++ and sticking with that instead.

My concern is that by using Mono you make the .NET runtime more popular and Windows more valuable. Since Microsoft has a long history of hostility towards software freedom (despite several open-source software they publish themselves), I don't think it's wise to further empower them.

This clause was put in there for humour and is completely unenforceable in court, and that's even if someone actually wastes his or her time challenging it. They should get over themselves.

Funnily enough, Apple seems to be OK with this license, as it's shown on all iOS devices inside that long list of acknowledgments/legal inside settings somewhere.

Apple doesn't do evil.

That they use the licence makes this undeniable, right? This is the ultimate proof we're after?

The real sad part is that is likely used by JsonSerializer class which was just kind of a quick hack to quickly add json support to a few things and it has been deprecated in favor of DataContractJsonSerializer.

So the only people who are using that are people who started using it really quickly after it was released and haven't updated their code to stop using it.

To use Javascript you don't need a license. Javascript object literals are part of Javascript, ergo, you don't need a license. Json, which is the string representation of a javascript object literal for transmission and storage, doesn't need a license either.

I can do whatever the fuck I want with JSON and nobody can touch me.

Look, I can even use it for EVIL if I want!

So sue me.

Json isn't copyrighted. Json parsing libraries are.

My software is for those who put their mugs at the right side of the desks. Wait, which side is right?

Legal repurcussions? what I'd like to know is how many times has this "do good not evil" phrase in a license actually come up in court or been tested by lawyers? Probably never.

If it ever actually ends up in court it has had far more than a single repercussion. Mere legal threats, or even the possibility of them, can seriously get in the way of productivity.

Yes, it's stupid, and we should all lighten up and be able to laugh about it. We should also be able to laugh at obvious jokes about having weapons at an airport.

There are some really unfunny people in this world, and in the meantime we unfortunately have to just deal with it.

I read that you can't distribute code that has no license.

Why can't you do that?

Will someone punish you for that if author won't sue anybody?

Will his descendants inherit the right to sue distributor?


I read that you can't distribute code that has no license.

Why can't you do that?

Because copyright law says so - it reserves the right to copy to the author.

Will someone punish you for that if author won't sue anybody?

I believe depends on whether you fall under a criminal or civil violation. http://www.chillingeffects.org/copyright/faq.cgi#QID885

Will his descendants inherit the right to sue distributor?

Yes, it's pretty common for estates (of which the descendants are usually the executors) to sue distributors.

Mind-bending. Especially condition for violation to be criminal:

1) for commercial advantage or private financial gain


3) by distributing copyrighted work where the infringer knew or should have known the work was intended for public distribution.

Does that also cover non-American authors? And distribution of works of American authors abroad?

> I read that you can't distribute code that has no license.

You can. It's just that unless otherwise stated, the owner has the copyright in most legislation. Without the license, if you derive from someone's code, he can sue you stating he never granted you the right to use his work.

Code is, generally speaking, copyrighted. Copying something copyrighted without permission is copyright infringement. A license is one way to get permission in writing.

My guess is the latter, but I'd love for a properly informed individual to answer this.

"Son, you will NOT use this software for evil. The LAW won't let ya!"


Is this _really_ a big deal?

"Good" and "evil" are relative concepts, not absolutes.


> Before the jokers in the room claim that this kind of problem is deserved by Mono


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