[License-review] veto against Unlicense
pamela at chesteklegal.com
Sun May 17 13:58:54 UTC 2020
On 5/16/20 6:30 PM, Langley, Stuart wrote:
> In my opinion its uncertain whether a court would treat it as a license. Reasonable minds disagree. It's more likely that a court would look at the intent of the dedicator, but because the Unlicense is written rather poorly there remains a non-remote chance it would be treated as just a failed transfer and leave the dedicator, but more likely their heirs, with a right to sue in some jurisdictions. I could argue either side, but from a practical standpoint, that non-remote chance is enough that I do not advise clients to distribute software under the Unlicense.
These risks also exist for other open source licenses and this doesn't
look quantitatively different, or so high that we can't say that the
document does a reasonably good job of ensuring software freedom. Under
other licenses there have been licensees who have tried to withdraw
their grant, most recently when Linux added a code of conduct. There
could be heirs that want the code used in some different way, but we
already have that risk in the US because of termination rights. Here we
have a very clear statement from the copyright owner that they have no
intention of exercising copyright rights in the work. One could have an
unfaithful grantor who later changes their mind, or heirs who think they
see a pot of gold, but this clear statement would be a pretty high
hurdle to get over. Assuming this would be treated as an abandonment
under US law, the events you describe are less likely to occur than in
the case of a license because the legal effect of the abandonment is
that there is no copyright.
> If a license does not give me certainty that I won't have to go to court to defend myself, it's not a worthwhile license.
Our task here isn't to decide whether it's a good license, only whether
it's an open source license. There are a number of approved licenses
that have a great deal of ambiguity, including some widely used ones.
This one appears to me to be within an acceptable range of ambiguity. (I
also give more latitude to licenses in widespread use than new ones.) It
isn't pretty, but I think it works.
This does bring up a question. The submission asked for placement in the
"Licenses that are popular and widely used or with strong communities"
category. I don't think that category is correct given that a dedication
to the public domain, not licensing, is the primary goal. There aren't
any other appropriate categories that I see, so I would then default to
Pamela S. Chestek
PO Box 2492
Raleigh, NC 27602
pamela at chesteklegal.com
More information about the License-review