[License-discuss] plain text license versions?

Bruce Perens bruce at perens.com
Wed Sep 5 17:31:25 UTC 2012

Arguing the merit of plain text vs. HTML is just Lilliput v. Blefuscu. 
Provide both, for different reasons.

Plain-text is a better source for cut-and-paste operations.
In general plain text divides the actual license text from any attached 
commentary, making it clear which is which.

There is no universally-accepted standard for indicating the character 
set of plain text in the data, rather than in an external indication 
such as the HTTP Content-Type header. There is an assumption, sometimes 
wrong, that plain-text is ASCII. ASCII isn't capable of representing 
non-Latin character sets. Web servers often misrepresent the character 
set of plain text, since the content-type indication is set in an 
external file rather than the content itself.

HTML provides some desirable features:

Web page producers are more conscious of the need to represent the page 
character set accurately. It is possible for a web site to enforce that 
all pages be UTF-8, and for most national characters to be represented 

However, not all sites are this well-disciplined, and there are regional 
issues such as the Han unification in UTF-8 that can cause an 
undesirable rendering of a character for languages like Japanese. In 
logogramic languages, getting a character wrong in a legal document is 
much more likely to cause an unintended change of meaning. This is not 
to say that plain text could render these characters at all.

HTML provides internal anchors which can be referenced by external 
documents, providing a way to link to a particular paragraph (or finer, 
if provided) from an email or article.

HTML provides a wealth of methods for rendering commentary internal to 
the document. It can be called out by changes in font, color, or 
position. It can be hidden and revealed using javascript, CSS, or 
document structure, and selected by hover-over or click.
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