Todd Wolfson

Software Engineer

November 25, 2013

The UNLICENSE is a short, sweet, and respectable license (or lack there of).

When I started open source, I used the MIT license because that was what everyone else was using. At a glance, the MIT license is short and understandable.

I began to question things after a talk by Bryan Cantrill on Corporate Open Source. He dropped terms like Copyleft and explaining why certain licenses are very hostile. I did my research on MIT and found that it was still satisfying my wants.

Some months later, I re-read the MIT license and realized that it required attribution inside all forked repositories. I am not okay with this.

Following the same principles on why I began open source, the software I create should be entirely unrestricted. It belongs to the world, not me.

From this conclusion, I started to look for a license that suited my wants. I stuck around with the MIT license for a few more months but eventually settled.

I narrowed my choices down to the most common public domain licenses:

  • WTFPL - Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License, commonly used on 140byt.es
  • CC0 - Creative Commons 1.0 Universal, the license used by gittip
  • UNLICENSE - The UNLICENSE, my current weapon of choice

I did not choose WTFPL because it was too informal and would not be well respected in court.

I did not choose CC0 because it was too verbose; I wanted a license that was short and I could understand.

I chose UNLICENSE because it was short like the MIT license and easily understood.

There was one major concern I had with the UNLICENSE; it would not hold up in some jurisdictions. You cannot entirely waive your rights on a piece of software in some countries yet every article was vague about where/why. There is a fallback clause in CC0 about this (see #4). However, I trudged on and started making the switch.

A few months later, I decided to do my due diligence on the jurisdiction situation. I came up with it mostly being Moral Rights on a piece of software.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_rights#Table

After reading through the list, I decided that I would not lower myself to their legal level by adjusting the license.

I contemplated releasing software anonymously to forego even these most basic rights. However, I consider that extreme at this current time.

If someone is concerned about my open source software, they can reach out to me and I can license it to them/guarantee I won't sue them over it.

At the time of writing, I have created/transitioned 23 repositories to UNLICENSE.

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