Machine-readable licenses?

Ben Tilly btilly at
Wed Sep 8 19:07:19 UTC 2010

The best way to do that would be to have people categorize the known
open source licenses.  And then have a tool that looks at the license,
figures out which one it is, and tells you the answer.

Given how often there are debates about whether a given license meets
the OSD, I wouldn't trust a solution that was more automated than that
for a long, long time.

On Wed, Sep 8, 2010 at 12:49 AM, Andrea Chiarelli
<a.chiarelli at> wrote:
> Hi David,
> you are right.
> I'm looking for any formal description of an Open Source license so that it
> can be interpreted by software and rendered in a way similar to Creative
> Commons licenses.
> It could be understood in its essential principles by not lawyer people, but
> obviously it cannot substitute the legal version of the license. It could
> say at a glance what can I do and what cannot I do with this software.
> I found CC REL as a formal language for Creative Commons licenses and there
> is a GPL v3.0 definition in CC REL (
> ).
> However I'm not sure that its vocabulary works well for software licenses,
> so I'm wondering if there is some similar project specifically for this.
> Is it an utopia?
> Thanks
> Andrea
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "David Woolley"
> <forums at>
> To: "License Discuss" <license-discuss at>
> Sent: Wednesday, September 08, 2010 8:25 AM
> Subject: Re: Machine-readable licenses?
>> Matthew Flaschen wrote:
>>> Andrea Chiarelli wrote:
>>>> Does anybody know a project aiming to define a machine-readable
>>>> language in order to describe Open Source software licenses?
>>>> Something similar to CC REL (
>>> They already have machine-readable code for GPLv2
>>> ( and
>>> LGPLv2.1
>> I don't think that is what the OP meant.  I think they meant something
>> like:
>> copyleft/source3years/sourceprocessingcostonly/......
>> Whilst I think that a lot of legal documents would be a lot clearer if
>> written in programming language syntax, this is not going to work because,
>> in legal documents, every word tends to be carefully chosen, and summarising
>> in terms of keywords derived from another licence is unlikely to reproduce
>> the intended meaning accurately, and almost certainly not going to reproduce
>> it to the satisfaction of the drafting lawyer.
>>> (
>>> There is no reason this scheme can't be extended for other licenses.
>> --
>> David Woolley
>> Emails are not formal business letters, whatever businesses may want.
>> RFC1855 says there should be an address here, but, in a world of spam,
>> that is no longer good advice, as archive address hiding may not work.

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