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I wish to share some documents in the .md format and to license them permissively. Do I need to specifically seek a license that specifically covers the scope of static documents, or can I use a license that generally applies to software?

My understanding is that "software" can and generally does include supportive documentation related to it - if the document I intend to share has no accompanying software or code within the same project, but is supported and published by software, will a software license be legally applicable to my document(s)? Would files such as configuration files used by software constitute software itself, and thus validate the use of a software license?

If I wish to allow open source collaboration in the creation and publishing of the document(s), will that affect what license I should choose?

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    This issue, as I understand it, is that software licenses contain certain terms that are meaningful for software but not obviously meaningful for regular documents. For example, the "preferred version for modifications" of a PDF is probably more than just the PDF itself - it would include whatever supplementary documents were used to generate it. Markdown files are "source-like" in the sense that the document itself is the preferred form of modification, so I think this could work. But the expert advice is always to use a license designed for documents. Nov 7 at 14:19
  • FWIW, markdown documents are technically still source code. So it is as logical to license it under a software license as it is to license it under a more general license. A software license will also cover using your markdown document to produce the HTML version or the PDF version using the appropriate compiler.
    – slebetman
    Nov 10 at 5:18

2 Answers 2

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The practical answer is that if you want "open source documentation" you should probably just use a Creative Commons license; you can choose between permissive (CC-BY) and copyleft (CC-BY-SA) licenses. The FSF do also produce a documentation-oriented license, the GNU Free Documentation License, but use of that outside the core GNU ecosystem is just about zero.

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    +1 from me. And FAOD, it's perfectly OK to distribute your work as, eg, GPLv3 software accompanied by CC BY-SA documentation.
    – MadHatter
    Nov 7 at 8:57
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    The Debian people have complicated feelings about the GFDL. The main problem is with invariant sections, but there are other concerns as well (note that document is a draft position statement and may not represent the "official" view of the Debian project as a whole). I would suggest avoiding it in favor of CC-BY-SA, or CC-BY if you don't want copyleft.
    – Kevin
    Nov 7 at 19:35
  • Another major user of the GFDL is KDE. Much of the documentation on docs.kde.org is available under the GFDL. However some of it seems to be under CC licenses.
    – wonderbear
    Nov 7 at 20:37
  • When you say "open source documentation", do you mean to include things like poetry, food recipes, music, exegesis of other works, etc. etc?
    – OmarL
    Nov 8 at 9:13
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    @PhilipKendall "simple" recipes (i.e. lists of ingredients and factual descriptions of process) are unlikely to reach the level of expression to get copyright protection, (at least in the jurisdictions I know about) so that one might be the exception.
    – origimbo
    Nov 8 at 11:03
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In addition to Philip's answer, for MIT-licensed software, the MIT license can be applied to the documentation too (i.e. "associated documentation files"), but of course, it will be permissive.

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions .....

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    I'm just a little bit twitchy if you can have "associated documentation files" to zero software: what are they associated with? While it's 100% clear what the intent is here, there's just a little bit too much risk for my taste that some court somewhere will decide to be a bit too literal. Nov 7 at 17:34
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    @PhilipKendall: In principle, you could just accompany it with a simple Hello World program and call it a day.
    – Kevin
    Nov 7 at 19:40
  • @PhilipKendall The MIT license would not apply to documents-only that's without software.
    – ruben2020
    Nov 8 at 3:16
  • @ruben2020 In that case I'm confused by your answer as the OP explicitly states "the document I intend to share has no accompanying software or code". Nov 8 at 11:24
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    While crayon licenses are generally frowned upon, modifying the MIT by stripping the "this software and associated" part seems trivial enough. You may want to also replace the capitalized Software by Documentation for clarity.
    – MSalters
    Nov 8 at 12:58

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