Fighting license proliferation at its core: Mighty and Beastie Licenses

Chris Zumbrunn chris at
Sat Sep 10 20:26:38 UTC 2005

One understandably might think that proposing alternatives to
the MIT and BSD licenses with just drafting differences would
be the exact opposite of a license non-proliferation effort.

However, it could be the best place to start raising the bar for
what is considered a "reusable license" that also optimizes the
feasibility of "reusable code".

What do you do if you want to merge code from several projects
with MIT and BSD-ish licenses. Currently the only proper way is
to include the entire bunch of licenses, since they will differ ever
so slightly even if just due to the name of the projects and the
intermingling of copyright notices with the license text. Strictly,
you can for example not relicense the entire code base under
a single BSD-ish license. You can only sublicense. Only the
copyright holder can relicense under a different license.

In a perfect world, I think open source software would just
contain the copyright notices in the source code, specifying the
license that applies to that code, but the license itself would not
contain any direct references to that project, copyright holder or
contributor. Instead, the license would refer back to the
copyright notice that referenced the license.

If in addition to the different conditions, licenses also have
different grants and different warranty disclaimers, the troubles
starts to develop to the scope that has been identified as a
concern regarding license proliferation.

Another factor that makes dealing with license proliferation more
difficult is the verbosity of the license. More verbose licenses
tend to increase the likelihood of jurisdictional incompatibilities
and I think it would be fair to say that non-verbose licenses have
been a good thing for open source and have not caused trouble
in the courts.

Having said all that, here is what a redrafted BSD license that
takes the above into account could look like:


Beastie License

  Redistribution, use, public performance, sublicencing and
  selling with or without modification (the "Deployment") of
  works (the "Work") referencing this license in their copyright
  notices (the "Copyright Notice"), are permitted provided that
  the following conditions are met:

  1. Deployment must retain any Copyright Notice, the above
     grant, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

  2. The name of the Work must not be used to endorse, promote
     or name works derived from the Work without prior written
     permission, which may be obtained by contacting the contact
     address provided in the Copyright Notice (the "Project").

  The Work is provided "as is" and without warranty of any
  kind, expressed or implied, to the maximum extent permitted by
  applicable law, but with the warranty of being written without
  malicious intent or gross negligence; in no event shall the
  Project, a distributor, author or contributor be held liable
  for any damage, direct, indirect or other, however caused,
  arising in any way out of the Deployment of the Work, even if
  advised of the possibility of such damage.


To optimize code reusability for projects combining source code
that is subject to different conditions, these conditions could be
added or removed and the license name changed so that the
copyright notices can refer to the appropriate version.

By removing clause 2) from the "Beastie License" you get a
"Mighty License", similar to the MIT license.

By adding the following clause 3) instead, you get the "Copyback

  3. Reasonable efforts to support the Work must be made by
     contributing any modifications and additions, enabling the
     Project to easily obtain such contributions and granting
     the Project rights for Deployment of such contributions.

By adding the following clause 3) you get the "Copyleft License":

  3. Recipients of the Deployment must be enabled to easily and
     at no additional charge obtain the deployed work in its
     editable form, including any modifications and additions
     as well as the permission for their Deployment.

Source code that references the "Copyleft License" in its copyright
notices would still be combinable in a larger work licensed under
any of the previously mentioned licenses.

By adding the following clause 3) you get the "Snowball License":

  3. Any work that in whole or in part contains or is derived
     from the Work or any part thereof, must be licensed as a
     whole at no charge to all third parties under the terms of
     this license.

The "Snowball License" of course would be a pointless exercise,
since by definition it and the GPL would be two-way incompatible
with each other. So, in reality the GPL would take that slot.

Having licenses that are so similar and non-verbose also has the
advantage of making it possible for a novice to understand the
concepts of Open Source licensing in 3 Minutes.

Just food for thought.


chris at  +41 329 41 41 41
Chris Zumbrunn Ventures -
Internet Application Technology - Reduced to the Maximum

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