[License-discuss] plain text license versions?

Lawrence Rosen lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Thu Sep 6 19:14:35 UTC 2012

Karl Fogel wrote:
> Many coders expect to find plaintext license terms in a LICENSE or
> COPYING file, directly in the source tree.  

I'd count that as another reason *not* to provide plain text license files. I think it would be FAR more useful to have a simple license statement in the source tree of each program that points to the OFFICIAL version of that license on the OSI website. This also avoids the duplication of text -- with potential transcription or legal errors -- in many source code trees, and completely avoids the need to actually read the licenses if one trusts OSI. 

Doesn't CC do that, in a way, with their license logos?


-----Original Message-----
From: Karl Fogel [mailto:kfogel at red-bean.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, September 05, 2012 8:09 AM
To: lrosen at rosenlaw.com
Cc: license-discuss at opensource.org
Subject: Re: [License-discuss] plain text license versions?

"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 beings.
>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. :-) Does this qualify as a "historical?
>technical? inertial? other?" reason in your lexicon? Whichever, why 
>waste time creating an 80-column ASCII format in this day and age? Some 
>people, I guess, still use punched cards for their software, but let's 
>ignore their needs.

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

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.

So there's a very relevant group who want & expect plain text versions.
When we don't provide those versions, those people sometimes manually reformat our HTML pages [1] in order to produce a plaintext file, occasionally introducing errors or at least inconsistencies.  It's better if we just provide canonical versions.


[1] I have had to do this on more than one occasion.

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