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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.

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