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