github link: https://github.com/stleary/JSON-java

The license reads, "..The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil. ..."

There is also a hyperlink in overview of github link to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Crockford#%22Good,_not_Evil%22

"...Google determined that the license was not compliant with the definition of free and open source software, which does not permit any restriction on how software may be used... Crockford's license is intended to mock potential users of his software[15] and has caused problems for some open source projects who mistook the license for an open source variant of the MIT license..."

Would it cause any legal problems if we are using this library?

1 Answer 1


The FSF says of the JSON License:

This ["not-for-evil" term] is a restriction on usage and thus conflicts with freedom 0. The restriction might be unenforcible, but we cannot presume that. Thus, the license is nonfree.

Similarly it is not open source because it conflicts with term 6 of the Open Source Definition, "No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor".

The use of this license by some FLOSS project is as roughly as problematic as any other non-FLOSS license. It introduces a non-free term in how the software may be used, just like a license that restricts, e.g., commercial use of the software.

  • If the project is otherwise permissively-licensed, this doesn't cause a legal problem, but only a practical one about how the resulting software may be used (i.e., only for "good", rather than for all purposes).

  • If the project uses a copyleft license like the GNU GPL, this does introduce a legal problem. The GPL applies to the work as a whole, and the GPL forbids the introduction of restrictions beyond what the GPL itself requires. If a project maintainer accidentally included code under the JSON License within the distribution of a GPL-licensed work, copyright holders of the GPL-licensed parts could take legal action for violation of their software's GPL terms.

As the FSF notes, it's possible that this not-for-evil term might be altogether legally void. If that possibility proves true in any particular jurisdiction, then the JSON License would, in effect, be a FLOSS license in that jurisdiction.

  • I don't see it as much of a problem even with the GPL, since (like eg MIT and BSD3) it's a weakly-free license, that doesn't require that derivative works be published under the same licence. So including it in a project with GPL code is perfectly possible, simply ignore the "Good not Evil" restriction on the derivative.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 16:50
  • 1
    @MadHatter Oh, hm, that's a good point. Nevertheless, would the actual inclusion of software with such a term (regardless of whether that term could optionally be removed on a derivative) still constitute a further restriction? I still take your point that it's a substantially more solvable problem, even in the worst case. (Possibly this sub-question is so fine it is not worth answering. :))
    – apsillers
    Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 16:54

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