A roundup of recent updates to our licensing materials: November 2019 to April 2020
We recently added a new license to our our list of Various Licenses and Comments about Them, as well as a few other minor updates to that page. We also revamped our materials on seminars on free software licensing and GPL compliance. What follows is a brief rundown of those changes.
The Hippocratic License 1.1
This license is the latest addition to our license list, but unfortunately, it falls in the nonfree category. It restricts uses of the software "that actively and knowingly endanger, harm, or otherwise threaten the physical, mental, economic, or general well-being of individuals or groups in violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights." While avoiding harm like this is of vital importance, a copyright license isn't necessarily the correct tool for achieving it. A restriction like this on Freedom 0 (the freedom to run the program for any purpose) may be difficult to enforce, as well as for users to understand, and may cause unintended consequences that could worsen the same problems it aims to solve.
Additional updates to the license list
We also made a few quick updates to the license list since our last report. The Cryptix General License previously stated that it was similar to the X11 license, but it more accurately resembles the FreeBSD or "BSD 2-clause" license. Many lax licenses are quite similar in terms of both language and effect.
Additionally we've moved the Creative Commons Zero license down to the section with "Licenses for Works of Practical Use Besides Software and Documentation." In our last update, we explained why we updated our comments on the license given its explicit denial of a patent grant. Since we do not recommend its use on software, it made sense to move it to a category that does not include software.
The Free Software Foundation routinely provides free software licensing seminars. These events are targeted at legal practitioners and law geeks, providing an in-depth education on free licenses like the GPL. These events happen annually, and offer in-person attendees a great chance to learn from and interact with some of the best legal experts in the free software world. In the past, the educational materials produced for these events didn't have a centralized home, making it difficult for people who could not attend to find the full wealth of information provided. We set about to change that recently by creating a new home page for our GPL seminars, located at https://www.fsf.org/licensing/seminars/. The seminars page provides background and information on our past events, as well as providing all the materials. We hope to grow this resource in the future to include videos from the events themselves.
Other licensing updates
On our our article "How to choose a license for your own work," we added some insight into the decisions confronting the licensing of libraries for free formats. Often, the success of a format depends on others (including proprietary developers) implementing that format in their programs or on their devices. As such, a more lax license may make sense. Ogg Vorbis, however, presents an example where this strategy may not have worked so well:
... this strategy did not succeed for Ogg Vorbis. Even after changing the copyright license to permit easy inclusion of that library code in proprietary applications, proprietary developers generally did not include it. The sacrifice made in the choice of license ultimately won us little.
On our GPL FAQ, we recently added a new entry addressing the situation where a company distributes its own GPL-licensed work as a trade secret. While the copyright holder on a work can deal with it as they please, a company that distributes their own GPL-licensed work as a trade secret is making a contradictory statement about the licensing of that work.
Finally, there was an update to the explanatory text for the Free Software Definition:
For example, if the code arbitrarily rejects certain meaningful inputs -- or even fails unconditionally -- that may make the program less useful, perhaps even totally useless, but it does not deny users the freedom to run the program, so it does not conflict with freedom 0. If the program is free, the users can overcome the loss of usefulness, because freedoms 1 and 3 permit users and communities to make and distribute modified versions without the arbitrary nuisance code.
Licensing team updates
We are looking forward to the summer internship period, and are currently welcoming a few new volunteers to the licensing team. We're constantly making minor updates to help improve the materials we provide. But if we missed something, or if you would like to see more resources added, let us know by sending us an email at email@example.com. Here's what else you can do to help:
Help your colleagues stay informed by letting them know about the FSF's licensing updates mailing list.
Want to know more? Check out our previous licensing updates blog.