Quick Reference For Choosing a Free Software License

Rod Dixon, J.D., LL.M. rod at cyberspaces.org
Sat Aug 11 19:41:15 UTC 2001

I did not mean to chill anyone from freely expressing their views on a web
page. My point was only regarding statements about the law.  There was much
on the web page that did not express legal opinions, and I had not complaint
about those matters at all. I thought the chart was particularly useful
(with one suggested change). I still think the web page is a good idea, and
I see you have made useful suggestions as well.

My main suggestion, however, was that some of the text - - the legal
stuff - -  should be re-written so it is clear that an opinion of the author
is being expressed rather than a legal opinion being passed on by the

Perhaps an illustration of my distinction would be helpful:
[1]"Open source software only uses source code that is in the public
domain." Or,
[2]"I think open source software only uses source code that is in the public

Both statements are expressions touch upon legal matters. I am hopeful that
it is obvious why statement 2 should be used by those wishing to make it
clear to the reader of a web page that an opinion is being expressed. I do
not think it is sufficient to use statement 1 with a disclaimer that the web
page author is not a lawyer. The reader may still rely upon the statement,
if it is emphatically expressed and not apparent to the reader to be a
statement concerning a question of law (some may view it as a political
point expressing a libertarian viewpoint). Of course, in my hypo, the harm
that is befallen (with regard to the web page reader) is the error. Both
statements are wrong with regard to the law, but only statement 2 is clearly
expressed as an opinion that the reader will take for what it is worth.

I hope my point is taken as constructive. I would never argue that only
lawyers should speak on legal matters; journalists and some politicians
frequently do a fine job. The critical factor may be to stay within a
context (...difficult as that might be in some contexts on the Internet...)
where a reader is likely to conclude that they are reading commentary,
opinion, or belief, but not legal advice.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Forrest J Cavalier III [mailto:forrest at mibsoftware.com]
> Sent: Thursday, August 09, 2001 9:13 AM
> To: license-discuss at opensource.org
> Cc: forrest at mibsoftware.com
> Subject: RE: Quick Reference For Choosing a Free Software License
> Rod wrote:
> > Oh, my! I most defintely do not want to discourage you, and the
> chart is not
> > a bad idea, but your commentary is written as if you ARE
> dispensing legal
> > advice.
> Rod, you are a very frequent contributor to the list, and I
> don't want to discourage you.  But... you have never criticized
> a non-lawyer for posting to license-discuss.  What is
> different about a web page?  It has a very clear, prominent
> statement that the author is not a lawyer and it is not legal
> advice (even though such statements are not required.)
> This is a great resource!  I like the page as it is, legalistic
> wording and all.
> To make it an even better resource, can I suggest:
>    - Provide links/references for the "some people think" or
>      other opinions.  This is what readers will need to
>      track down case law and form clearer opinions.
>    - For the "community likes it" item, use the counts of license
>      types at sourceforge.net and/or freshmeat.net.  GPL is the
>      most popular, so you can remove the '?' for that one I think.
>    - Add more licenses.  (I wouldn't try to expand the table
>      horizontally, just vertically.)  Are you going to do only
>      Free software licenses, not Open Source?
>    - Put the "Explanations of columns" further up on the page, and
>      set it as <H1>
>    - Change the "Does not restrict You!" to be "Does not restrict
>      the copyright holder."  (Software users, not just authors,
>      will be reading the page too.)  I think the paragraph following
>      is mostly ok, but the first sentence has the opposite meaning
>      from what you intend.
>    - The page isn't overly long right now, but if it grows, you
>      might want to split some of the sections into separate HTML
>      pages.
> Keep up the good work!
> Forrest J. Cavalier III, Mib Software  Voice 570-992-8824
> http://www.rocketaware.com/ has over 30,000 links to
> source, libraries, functions, applications, and documentation.

More information about the License-discuss mailing list