Bringing sexy back to software licenses The licensing luncheon. Photo: Courtesy Jez Timms I’ve been developing free (as in freedom) software for several years and have always enjoyed code. opening my source Until recently learning how to the GPL to my software I was unaware of just how can be. apply unsexy open source licenses But it doesn’t have to be that way. Unlike MIT and ISC licenses the and reads like stereo instructions — you know, the kind you don’t read unless you purchased from IKEA or are building an ultrasonic robot. Simply trying to interpret GPL can make one feel a lot like a robot too. GPL is the size of a book Not only is the GPL the size of a novella, it comes with its own — ensuring when (not if, but ) you botch it there’ll be but yourself. FAQ the size of an international airport runway when no one left to blame But you’re not a robot. No problem, you think. Just don’t use GPL, right? Oh if only life were so simple… If you’re planning to submit a theme to , for example, using GPL — you . I won’t get into the details as to why. Because that story is even less sexy than the GPL itself. WP.org is mandatory have to use it After I looked on GitHub to see how others applied GPL to their works, and, much to my surprise, discovered a — both in my own work as well as in others. And not just with the GPL: with all open source software licenses. thinking I’d done GPL right metric ton of licensing issues You see, software licenses . And it shows. Even a quick peek under the covers of the most popular Version Control System on the planet, GitHub, draws the narrative. just aren’t that sexy Common Licensing Issues By and far the most prevalent licensing issue I saw while reviewing code on GitHub where works which whatsoever. Take it from Jeff Atwood, who once made the mistake of not including licenses with his FOSS work: later. didn’t include a license you may regret not including a license Another common licensing snafu I noticed were when works would use a manifest such as and assumed simply setting the object in the manifest was indicative of licensure. This may seem logical, but it is most certainly not the case. package.json license No problem. Just slap on a license… That’s what I saw a few individuals do — even library and toolkit authors — just pick something and plop it in there. Problem solved. To hell with ! license proliferation Yet another issue seen on GitHub was for more complex FOSS licenses like the GPL, against from the to not add boilerplate license headers to project source files. recommendation Free Software Foundation, What’s the big deal with license headers anyway? For starters, license headers are a great way to one during development. Using them feels like sleeping with the enemy. Their omnipresence in source files serve as a constant reminder of the to FOSS development, and they’re a surefire way to frighten off would-be contributors. distract complexities legal issues bring But license headers pose a bigger problem. If kept in source code . True story. Just try applying the GPL license headers to a and you’ll quickly see what I mean. license headers can cause programs to fail Hugo theme Simple licenses to the rescue? Want to keep your software simple and permissive, and skip license headers altogether? Well then you just apply the MIT or ISC licenses and call it a day, right? Everyone understands those. Wrong. ISC and MIT licenses are some altogether. so simple just ignore them For example, I recently had substantial portion of source code I spent copied verbatim, including a majority of my README, and the author of the derivative work didn’t even carry the license through or mention my name. hundreds of hours creating ISC and MIT licenses are some altogether. so simple just ignore them Should we be to fix their licensing issues when their works could carry our names? What is there to be gained by vanity in libre software? so vein as to challenge others In my case I and call it a day. But that didn’t address the actual problem—and I’m still irked. decided to switch to WTFPL Switching to an ambiguous license with expletives may draw attention and entertainment value, but it does little to fix : . the larger problem with FOSS licenses enabling individuals to receive recognition for their work A better way forward What are we to do when the licenses we have today either require the likes of a six-year degree to understand, or are so completely dumbed down they lead others to believe it’s okay to ignore them? Make FOSS licenses sexy again. Solution: Not sexy for attorneys. Not sexy for business stakeholders. Or profiteers. Or profit centers. But sexy for the , the creators of these great, not to mention free, creative works. common man Make FOSS licenses sexy again. Let’s make licenses sexy doing the hard stuff. The ones on the ground floor. Those putting their true passion into their work for the benefit of others. Let’s make FOSS licenses of these creative works. favor the individuals favor the authors Because, if you ask me, a license which is useful is a lot more attractive than one which is easily misused: . actually *cough* GPL *cough* Introducing the BTC License In my frustration with existing FOSS licenses and eagerness to understand what the future holds for open source when tied to blockchain I’ve created and applied it to the module. the BTC License Fetch Inject The BTC license itself is a and was chosen for its existing ubiquity, terseness, permissiveness and functional equivalence with and licenses. verbatim copy of ISC BSD-2-Clause MIT In fact, the difference between BTC and ISC is the copyright line, which, for all intents and purposes, isn’t even considered part of the license. only So why a create new license then if nothing changed? Ah, so glad you asked… Without a new license it’s something so similar to ISC would ever see widespread adoption and use—and no one likes license proliferation whether they realize it or not. unlikely We with which to begin building FOSS licensees. need a canonical example sexier Benefits of the BTC License I expect the change of the addition of a wallet address to the copyright line of software licenses to have the following benefits: subtle Instead of listing the names of the 17 authors, the BTC License lists the address of a bitcoin wallet. No more wondering which John Doe created the work, no more hand-wavy “and contributors” nonsense. Just a single wallet address provides individual authors and groups with wallet access the ability to receive recognition. Identification. single Because the BTC License uses a wallet address, software may be cast into the wild and potentially No more payment gateways, gatekeepers or ; no more advertisements hidden inside documentation, . Just a license and a wallet address with the capability to enable trickle-down for libraries used as a part of a larger works or to remove individual doubt bout how to give back to a software author. Monetization. monetized programmatically. Gratipay begware Because the BTC License uses a wallet address the need for moral rights protections are lessened as it’s less likely anyone is going to take personal offense to a wallet address getting defamed. This small change brings with it another benefit. Those wishing to remain anonymous may do so without requiring use of a pseudonym. Privacy. Finally, adding a wallet addresses will do something powerful. Something FOSS has never seen before. It will make people actually want to look at licenses. No more leaving before the credit roll folks, because, such as things are, everyone still needs to eat. After all, you don’t really think those starving artist are really buying beer and coffee with the money you donated for your work, did you? You did donate, didn’t you? Right after you read their license? Awareness. To help formalize the BTC License I in accordance with their instructions to and received feedback on how to move it forward. submitted it to the SPDX Legal Team Request New License I’ve also spoken with GitHub support to request an allowance of the in markdown files — which would from within their READMEs on the most popular FOSS hub on the planet, which is necessary at least until user agents auto-detect wallets like mobile devices link mobile numbers today. BIP-0021 URI scheme allow individuals to link directly to their wallets We’ll see where things go from here. But no matter what happens, I will continue to push on crypto licenses. Because your hard work, well, it deserves a little recognition. And so do you for being so giving. Let’s bring sexy back to FOSS licenses — not that they were ever sexy to begin with.