[License-discuss] plain text license versions?

Luis Villa luis at tieguy.org
Wed Sep 5 16:25:45 UTC 2012

On Wed, Sep 5, 2012 at 8:08 AM, Karl Fogel <kfogel at red-bean.com> wrote:
> "Lawrence Rosen" <lrosen at rosenlaw.com> writes:
>>> Have we (OSI) ever seriously adding putting plain text versions of
>>> licenses (where available) to the OSI website?
>>While this makes no difference to the legal implications of a license,
>>converting to plain text destroys information useful for human beings to
>>comprehend the license. It is like removing indentation and line endings
>>from source code. Please don't encourage old-fashioned ways of representing
>>licenses so they can't be easily read by the only ones that matter: Human
>>This is part of my existential battle, including within Apache, to
>>acknowledge that HTML allows for a richer vocabulary of expression. Quit
>>down-versioning our creative works. :-)

What richer vocabulary did you have in mind? I'm open to the idea, but
my experience in creating MPL (and doing some very amateur study of
typography in legal documents) is that most formatting of legal
documents is either (1) fairly easy to replicate meaningfully in plain
text or (2) not very good typography.

For example, compare:

https://www.mozilla.org/MPL/2.0/ (typographically sophisticated HTML
license, using cutting-edge browser features)
https://www.mozilla.org/MPL/2.0/index.txt ("plain" ASCII text,
generated by pandoc from Markdown)

The HTML version is literally cutting-edge, both in the sense of
attempting to comply with best practices for legal typography, and in
using some CSS features that were not available in a stable Firefox
release until slightly after the license was released :)

Despite that, the plain text version is (1) not lossy (very
important!) and (2) looks pretty good.

Some things that are "lost" in the transition:
* use of Small Caps for titles. This makes things look less beautiful,
but no information is lost.
* use of typographically-correct quotes. Ditto - less beautiful, no
information lost.
* hyphenation/justification. Ditto.
* fonts. Ditto.

The one thing I can think of offhand that is slightly messy is
bold/italic, but those should really be used less in legal documents,
not more (see, e.g., discussion at
http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/?page_id=1770 )

> Actually, I think we should provide plain text versions.  (See
> http://projects.opensource.org/redmine/issues/8, which is about this.)

I'm very uncomfortable providing text versions where the author hasn't
provided a canonical version.

> Many coders expect to find plaintext license terms in a LICENSE or
> COPYING file, directly in the source tree.  While they can of course
> still understand the text if it's in HTML, they prefer plain text -- and
> their editor software will often display HTML as raw markup rather than
> as a pretty page.

Note also that asking the various license parsing tools out there to
grok LICENSE.html rather than just LICENSE.txt would be a pain. In
general, the licensing community is trying to make licensing
information *more* amenable to being automatically parsed, not less,
and I think OSI should definitely support that.


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