The TWIT license: Departure from the norm? What norm? Whose norm?

In a previous post I wrote about a new license I had created, the TWIT license. It consists of a small change to the MIT License. I changed the sentence

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

by deleting the phrase “and this permission notice” so the sentence reads:

The above copyright notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

I just deleted a few words. But just that act raises several questions.

Just what did I do? What does it mean? Did I have a right to do it? If not, whose right is it?

Simply put, I changed some writing. By deleting a few words I created a new form of that writing, what is called a “derivate work.”
I didn’t change my own writing. I changed someone else’s writing. And any form of writing — whether it be a novel, poem, play, piece of music, piece of code, the license for a piece of code, or a blog post about how to change the writing that is a license for a piece of code — has an owner, and the owner has the copyright of that writing.

And the copyright owner gets to decide which if any use others can make of the writing, and expresses that decision in the form of a license.

There are some exceptions. For example, you can quote an exceprt from a piece of writing as an example or to talk about the writing, under the notion of “fair use,” but you can’t copy the entire work without permission, as that would be “unfair use,” or at least that’s how I understand it.

What was the effect of my change?

In brief, both the MIT and TWIT licenses have several parts:

  • A copyright statement, “Copyright (c) …”
  • A list of things you can do, “Permission is hereby granted …”
  • A list of the conditions, or actions, you must do if you want to one of the things on the list;
  • A disclaimer, “THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED …”

My change only changed the list of conditions. I made the list shorter by dropping one of them.

I think it safe to say the TWIT license is more “liberal” than the MIT license. You can do everything under TWIT than you can under MIT, so I haven’t taken anything away. I’ve just reduced your obligations.

Now the MIT license is an “open-source” license because it has been declared to be one by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

OSI is a non-profit that was set-up to promote and manage the notion of the term “open-source.” The OSI has created a definition of what it means to be “open-source,” called the Open Source Definition (OSD), , as well as an license approval process by which licenses may be reviewed to see if they meet the terms of the OSD, and a llist of OSI approved licenses. According to OSI a license is “open-source” if and only if the license is on the approved list.

In creating the TWIT license, I started with the MIT license and then made some changes. The MIT license is approved as “open-source.” Is the TWIT license also approved as “open-source.”

In making those changes I departed from the norm established by OSI.I started with MIT, an “open-source” license. Is the TWIT license “open-source.”

I started with the MIT license, an approved open-source license. I made some changes and produced the TWIT license. As I’ve noted the only effect of my change was to ask less of potential users, so I can argue that since the MIT license met the OSI definition, and since I made no change inconsistent with the definition, then the TWIT license also meets all the conditions of the OSI definition, and so the TWIT license is indeed “open-source.”

But can I say the TWIT license is “approved?”

If you and I can decide on our own what it means to be approved open-source, then why do we need OSI? We can sort all this out among ourselves, letting reason prevail.

Others make similar arguments. For example, robbers have as their business model the goal of taking your money. They do this by making an argument you will probably find quite reasonable and persuasive — that your life is worth more than the money they want. You can call their bluff and rely on reason to prevail … once.

So for “approval” to make any sense you need to have an “approver.” Indeed, the approval is worth no more than the reputation and authority of the approver.

Here again we see that open-source is not as simple as it first seems. (Though this is good news for people like myself who blog on open-source topics.)

I had thought of sending off an official requet to the OSI to see if I could get the TWIT license approved, and I’ll be writing more about OSI and approval later, but for now I’ve struck a middle course, by offering the content both under OSI-approved Apache2 the those who insist on an approved open-source license, and the TWIT license for those who are comfortable using that license.

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One Comment

  1. Posted December 2, 2006 at 09:30 | Permalink | Reply

    Dave, there is an extremely permissive license from Sam Hocevar (that’s also a fun take on the BSD vs GPL holy wars of the early 90s) at http://sam.zoy.org/wtfpl/

    In my opinion, it’s the best license ever: short, to the point, and as permissive as it gets.

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