chris blogs

August 2009

22aug2009 · Why I use the MIT license

The internet probably is the closest thing to working anarchy mankind ever had. I don’t want to, and I don’t see any point in restricting other peoples’ freedom. Since 2004, I therefore license all my new code under the terms of the MIT license or comparable licenses (notably the Ruby license).

I do this for pragmatic reasons. I’d prefer to do it like Bernstein, but this is unfortunately a lot more hassle for non-private users of my software. Using MIT is also easier than creating my own licenses. The MIT and the ISC license fit my idea of software licensing best. I mainly use MIT because it’s more popular and well known.

I have evaluated putting some works into the public domain (or license them as CC0), but I can’t do this easily for various reasons: First, I live and code in Germany, where you can’t place things into the public domain without already being dead for a long time. Second, I do not want to give up all my moral rights, because then the code can actually be used against myself (mainly “any distortion, mutilation or other modification of, or other derogatory action in relation to the said work”, I don’t care about the rest). I do not know if this matters in real life, and I hope it does it not, but I don’t want to risk it. (Still, I think CC0 is the most important recent addition to the license landscape.)

(In general, I’d even prefer if my code was regarded authorless—which does not mean I don’t care about it. But neither I don’t care at all what you do with the code, and I’ll not endorse it nor want to be identified with it in other ways—especially if you distribute modified copies! I’ve been considering anonymous or pseudonymous releases for these reasons. Again, pragmatism strikes: apart from murky and inconvenient ways to release and ensure archival, it is problematic for others that depend on the legal system to use my works.)

I consider it unfortunate that we spend so much energy on licensing debates, clarification of terms and persecution of violation. Rather, let’s code. As long as there is a single available copy of free code, its freedom is kept and can be multiplied at no cost. For code that is worth anything, it will.

I realize “bad guys” don’t cease to exist—whether they “steal”, don’t share, lock up code, or have business models in mind you don’t like. But it’s not my fault they are that way, and neither it is my job to “teach them lessons”. Good deeds have to come from yourself, and why should I not give anyone the possibility to do so.

Thus, more power to you! Now go forth and do whatever you think is right.

NP: Danger Mouse—Revenge

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