why does allowing click-through licenses "just feel wrong" to me?

Brian Behlendorf brian at collab.net
Wed Aug 7 04:33:53 UTC 2002

Maybe it was the initial Subject line, "Legal soundness comes to open
source distribution", which did little to endear me to the topic - as if
those of us distributing open source software today are not "legally

Partly it was visions of hundreds of click-throughs as I go through my day
using and installing software; it's annoying enough when I have to do it
to download a JVM from Sun.  With respect to Larry's click-wrap proposal:
from my experience with corporate lawyers, none of them will feel that an
omnibus click-wrap license will suffice; they'll all insist on agreement
to their own.

It also doesn't solve the issue for people releasing software but not part
of a Linux distribution - how do they know if someone's already accepted
the click-through?  And whether that previous click-through sufficiently
disclaims warranties?  Bruce's suggestion of a single uniform agreement is
the only workable solution there, though we'd also need agreement as to
where new packages can look to see if that license has already been

Though, a click for a warranty disclaimer is the least of my concerns;
that someone would slide another term in there that was OSI-conformant but
still really silly would be easy for me to miss.  Larry's proposed
click-wrap license only disclaims warranties - my worry is that expanding
the OSD to allow for non-copyright-based contracts (did I get that
terminology correct, Larry?) opens a pandora's box by allowing licenses
with terms that are OSD-conformant but clearly silly or unwise, but which
OSI must certify anyways, diluting the value of the term "Open Source".
We simply don't yet know what additional constraints to put in place to
prevent that, and creating new ones in response to what is submitted is
hardly fair.  Russ's proposal is a good start, but I don't know if it's
enough; I'd need more time to think of examples.  Though, it's not fair
for me to block a proposal when I can't think of good counter-examples.

Maybe it feels wrong when one ponders: what if a developer lost a case
because he couldn't provide *proof* that a licensee had accepted the
click-through.  Far fetched?  Is it any more of a guess than the claim
that click-through is required for warranty disclaimer?  If that were the
case, it implies that someone somewhere has to maintain a registry of who
accepted what disclaimers, to present as evidence in court if needed.
The collection and management of such a database terrifies me.  Perhaps an
unregistered click-through, where no record of that acceptance is kept
anywhere, is enough - but that would be an interpretation based upon the
history of relevant cases, whereas there is no case history today that
suggests that a click-through agreement of any sort is either necessary or
sufficient (as Rod Dixon put it) to disclaim warranties.  So there's an
impedance mismatch in the logic somewhere...

With a bit more time I might have come up with the same arguments around
consideration and privity that Mahesh made, though surely I wouldn't have
made them nearly as clearly.  Thank you, Mahesh - nice to have you around.

I guess my reaction mostly has to do with a sense that it's not in the
Open Source community's interests to increase the # and scope of licenses
out there, and to force people to have to be aware of licenses to simply
use the software.  Right now, people can by and large ignore open source
licenses *unless* they intend to modify *and* redistribute.  That's an
awfully nice aspect that would be a shame to lose.  The existance of
licenses that OSI has certified with unenforceable use provisions
notwithstanding.  :)  (see the P.S.)

Furthermore, if there are legals trends that work against the Open Source
community's interests, such as the ever expanding black hole of
tort/liability law, the OSI Board should be showing leadership by opposing
such a move, by establishing norms in the industry for a court to look at
when trying to make a decision on a difficult case.  Right now, if a judge
was asked to decide whether an open source developer is liable for damages
incurred by an end-user, I'd be dollars to donuts he'd compare the
"injurious reliance" against the lack of consideration and privity, and
look at the *norm* in this industry where it's quite clear that open
source developers are not responsible for the consequences of use of their
work, and conclude that in no situation should such a developer be liable
just because he didn't get explicit agreement to a warranty disclaimer.
If such a decision came down, we'd have our precedent, and never have to
worry about needing click-through warranty disclaimers again.  On the
other hand, if the judge surveyed the open source landscape, and found
lots of open source organizations with a click-through, yet the developer
in this case did *not* require a click-through, seems like the judge would
be much more likely to find against the developer.

It's within our power, as the OSI Board and the community of people
working on software and software licenses, to establish the norms in this
industry that those asked to make a judgement call in a case will compare
to.  In so far as we're not breaking the law, I believe it's in the
interests of the community to make these norms as simple as possible for
developers to manage.  Asking developers to get click-through, and require
it from redistributors, seems like a small price, but the norm it
establishes could end up being fairly regressive in the wrong context.

To some people in the community there will be no distinction between OSI
now allowing some new behavior, and encouraging it.


P.S.: OK, so I was wrong that current OSI licenses are only to be
interpreted under copyright theory, rather than general contract law.
Though I note that I downloaded and ran Mozilla recently without
consenting to any license, so I don't see how they expect the use
provisions in that license to apply to me.

P.P.S.: Taking a stand against the expansion of liability in software is a
Good Thing.  Medical doctors in the U.S. are leaving their profession in
droves because the cost of malpractice insurance has skyrocketed in recent
years.  A similar thing could happen to the software development industry
if liability ever really does become a problem.  I'm all for a law that
says you get your money back if software doesn't work...

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