I am looking for a free, permissive license for a small project, providing as few restrictions as possible on the use of my code. Somebody recommended the WTFPL. I want my project to be freely shared, but ...

... beside that, my concerns are:

  • I don't care about attribution.
  • I don't care who uses my code or for what purpose;
  • I don't care if somebody sells my work or uses it in a closed source project;
  • I am not concerned about the language in the license or whether it may offend someone;
  • I don't want to modify the license.

Is the WTFPL a good license for my project, given the requirements above?

If not, why not?

Is there a better alternative?

  • I am no expert but isnt disclaimer of warranty a major point of all open source licenses? Here is GPL as example: "IN NO EVENT [people who ship your code] BE LIABLE TO YOU FOR DAMAGES" and "THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM". Joined to post this! – aitchnyu Jul 28 '15 at 8:01
  • @aitchnyu 1) The disclaimer doesn't need to be part of the license. You can write a disclaimer even if you dedicate the code to the public domains. 2) It's dubious if disclaimers actually protect you. – CodesInChaos Jul 28 '15 at 15:04
up vote 11 down vote accepted

By using WTFPL:

  • you will not get any attribution when somebody use your work
  • offending language/title of the license itself may potentially cause your project to be filtered out in some circumstances
  • you don't drop any potential liability (that might possibly get you into trouble in some countries)

As for better alternative, look at the MIT License.

  • 2
    If you license your code under license X, but then add your own clause, doesn't that license then cease to be license X? – Garrett Albright Jul 27 '15 at 16:53
  • Indeed, but license text itself is not a subject to copyright, so you can copy and modify it freely. You just can't still name it "The MIT License" after applying your changes. – Tomasz Klim Jul 27 '15 at 19:44
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    One option to address point 3 is to use the unlicense license which combines the "give it away" spirit of WTFPL with the non-warranty clause of the MIT License – agc93 Jul 28 '15 at 1:45
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    What makes you think that you will not get any attribution of your work? – Zizouz212 Jul 31 '15 at 22:26
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    You should recommend the ISC License instead of the MIT/Expat License. ISC is equivalent, but shorter, because obsolete legal wording has been removed. – vog Aug 5 '15 at 10:39

The WTFPL fulfills your requirements.

Three very similar things you can do with your requirements are

  • Release it under the WTFPL
  • Release it under CC0
  • Release it into the public domain

These things are effectively equivalent, but in some jurisdictions it is impossible to release copyright into the public domain. Creative Commons writes about this

Dedicating works to the public domain is difficult if not impossible for those wanting to contribute their works for public use before applicable copyright or database protection terms expire. Few if any jurisdictions have a process for doing so easily and reliably. Laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction as to what rights are automatically granted and how and when they expire or may be voluntarily relinquished. More challenging yet, many legal systems effectively prohibit any attempt by these owners to surrender rights automatically conferred by law, particularly moral rights, even when the author wishing to do so is well informed and resolute about doing so and contributing their work to the public domain.

The first two differ in that CC0 places the work in the public domain if possible, and if not grants you a license to do whatever. The WTFPL doesn't attempt to put anything in the public domain, but always grants you a license to do whatever.

Further, the WTFPL makes you more of a rebel, and is more likely to confuse and scare suits. Whether that's a bug or a feature is up to you.

More conservative approaches maintain the copyright, but are still very permissive. They include

  • The MIT/expat license, which is a very simple permissive license, has a liability disclaimer, and is compatible with pretty much every other licensing model.
  • The Apache2 license, which is slightly more complex, and includes a patent grant. It is compatible with the GPLv3 but not GPLv2 or earlier.
  • Any of the BSD licenses
  • The ISC license

They have the advantage of being better understood and are more battle-tested in a court of law.

  • 8
    I like your comment about scaring suits. :-) – Mnementh Jul 27 '15 at 9:55
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    "Few if any jurisdictions have a process for doing so easily and reliably" – In Germany, the process is "commit suicide and wait 70 years". It's not reliable (copyright terms might be extended sometime during the next 70 years), definitely not easy and very time-consuming, and unfortunately also 100% author-consuming. – Jörg W Mittag Jul 27 '15 at 10:29
  • You should recommend the ISC License instead of the MIT/Expat License. ISC is equivalent, but shorter, because obsolete legal wording has been removed. – vog Aug 5 '15 at 10:39
  • Does the ICL license allow sublicensing? AFAIK, no such permssion is granted by ICL. – Free Radical Aug 5 '15 at 10:53
  • The GNU All-Permissive License (gnu.org/prep/maintain/html_node/…) does a similar job as well and also has a disclaimer. – Soong Aug 7 '15 at 9:09

The WTFPL is a license that basically puts the work licensed with it under Public Domain. That is possible and there are multiple ways to do so.

Basically putting a work into public domain allows everyone to use it as he sees fit. That is the same as the WTFPL claims. This also fulfills your requirements as you put them in the OP.


One point here that needs some elaboration is the right to get attributed. While a Public Domain work asserts no rights for the author, it still is needed in some countries (like germany) to acknowledge the original author of the work (otherwise you are plagiarizing). So depending on the jurisdiction someone making a derivate of your public domain work may still put some acknowledgement to you. That is called moral rights, it may also (depending on jurisdiction) include the right, that your work isn't used to belittle or defame you.


Another point often brought forward is the liability for damages your work creates. Many people recommend to put a disclaimer to deny all liability, something like this example:

This documentation is provided on an “as is” basis, without warranty of any kind. Use at your own risk! Under no circumstances shall the author(s) or contributor(s) be liable for damages resulting directly or indirectly from the use or non-use of this documentation.

While such a disclaimer seems useful, it most likely does nothing. In most jurisdictions you cannot with a simple disclaimer avoid to be responsible for gross carelessness. At the same time any user of your work who get damages through the usage cannot just shift the responsibility to you, if you avoided major carelessness. In many cases a warning about possibilities of misuse that lead to damages may be enough to avoid being accountable. So the usefulness of such a disclaimer is low.

The WTFPL doesn't use such an disclaimer, but you're free to add one yourself, if you feel the need for it. As I explained, it will not do much, but depending on your jurisdiction it may have a bit of influence.

Strong language

Lastly it may be pointed out, that child filters may restrict the availability of your work, if the inclusion of the license leads to the inclusion of the language that is considered strong by some. I personally wouldn't care, but if you do, you should use another way to put your work into public domain. Your OP says, that you don't really care either, so WTFPL is OK.

There are some other ways to put your work into public domain:

  1. You can just state, that this work is put into the public domain. You can add or not add a disclaimer to be not liable for any damages your work causes.
  2. You can use the CC0 license from Creative Commons to declare your work as public domain.

Is a permissive license an alternative?

A permissive license like the MIT license or the BSD license granting the user a lot of rights, but they still reserve some for the original author. The WTFPL and other public domain dedications give the user more rights. If you think about the WTFPL the usual permissive open source licenses are more restrictive. Still, your requirements as you put them in the OP are also fulfilled by typical permissive licenses, they allow usage in a closed source project, allow reselling your work and allow the usage for any purpose. So depending how important the rights they still retain are for you, they may be an alternative.

TL;DR: Go ahead, use the WTFPL.

  • 3
    I would say there is a difference between "basically putting it in the public domain" and "granting a license which confers the same rights as if it were in the public domain", but that's nit picking – Martijn Jul 27 '15 at 10:03
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    I don't think Creative Commons' Public Domain Mark is intended for this use. I believe (but may be mistaken) that its purpose is to explicitly label things that are known to be in the public domain (by way of copyright expiry or other ordinary means, rather than author grant). That's how its description reads to me, and otherwise why have both it and CC0? – Tim Pederick Jul 27 '15 at 13:02
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    @TimPederick Exactly right. – Kelly Thomas Jul 27 '15 at 13:29
  • You can't always put your own work in the public domain; there are countries where the only way for copyrightable work to enter the public domain is by waiting for the copyright to expire. That's why CC0 does both: it puts it in the public domain if possible, but because that may not be possible it also gives a license conferring all rights. – cpast Jul 27 '15 at 15:09
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    @TimPederick, KellyThomas: Thanks for the correction, I removed the PD-Mark. – Mnementh Jul 27 '15 at 15:23

Do you want to keep the copyright (in jurisdictions where it's possible to not keep it)? Although WTFPL is brief and to the point, it can be argued that it's rather lacking in the legalese. The suits will definitely not be impressed.

If you want to keep the copyright, WTFPL will get the job done. However, as I and others have mentioned, WTFPL is not going to impress anyone who wears a suit to work. MIT is probably better for these purposes.

If you don't want to keep the copyright, put it into the public domain. CC0 is a good tool for this, since it covers jurisdictions where you can't actually put it into the public domain by using an extremely permissive license in those jurisdictions. But there are other possibilities: for example, SQLite is public-domain, but the SQLite folks also sell licenses to people in jurisdictions where the public domain isn't feasible.

Bottom line: MIT is wordier, but a stronger equivalent to WTFPL. CC0 goes even further, and may match your intentions better, but I can't be sure of that.

The best license for work like this is Unlicense (http://unlicense.org).

It is very similar to WTFPL without having an offensive name and also without the strange language in the license text is clearly intended to be entertaining but fails to do so (in my opinion). You might not be offended by the language but other people will be.

Unlicense has a nice single line summary:

This is free and unencumbered software released into the public domain.

And remains crystal clear once you go into the details:

Anyone is free to copy, modify, publish, use, compile, sell, or distribute this software, either in source code form or as a compiled binary, for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and by any means.

WTFPL is lacking a section limiting your liability which could make you a target for a lawsuit if some corporation uses your code and hits a nasty bug. Unlicense does include a section on liability just like every good open source license.

Finally Unlicense nicely handles the challenging problem of "public domain" being different from one jurisdiction to the next, especially those where it isn't actually legal to release code into public domain using a license.

The http://unlicense.org website is also an excellent resource explaining everything you need to know about using the license.

  • What is the legal effect of this license in jurisdictions that does not jurisdiction that does not recognize the right of an author to dedicate their work to the public domain (e.g. Norway and Germany)? – Free Radical Jul 28 '15 at 1:42
  • @FreeRadical I live in one of those countries myself... The official website goes into detail at length on the subject, but basically if the work can't be licensed as public domain, then instead it's licensed under terms that are as close to public domain as possible. – Abhi Beckert Jul 28 '15 at 6:13
  • Could you comment on OSI's co-founder Bruce Peren's characteristic of the Unlicense as a "crayon license" - source: lists.opensource.org/pipermail/license-review/2012-January/… – Free Radical Jul 28 '15 at 11:36
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    @FreeRadical I think he's wrong. He argues that the license could be miss-interpreted in court, in my opinion that's bullshit and GPL is far more likely to be miss-interpreted (since it's so complicated). Unlicense is a hybrid of SQLite's license and the waiver in the MIT license. Since SQLite could be the most widely distributed open source project in the world, any suggestion that it's license is childish is ridiculous. Also I believe SQLite's license is part of the reason why it is so widely deployed, which is why I like the license. – Abhi Beckert Jul 29 '15 at 5:01
  • @AbhiBeckert We appreciate your thoughts, but we do have a Be Nice policy in effect. – Zizouz212 Aug 1 '15 at 20:21

WTFPL, Version 2 is a good license for your small FLOSS project. It meets all five of your requirements in that:

  • Author attribution of any kind is not required.
  • Anyone may use your work for any purpose.
  • Others may sell your work or use it in closed-sourced projects.
  • It contains language, even though some may find it offensive.
  • License modifications are not necessary.

WTFPL is also less restrictive than most other licenses in that it:

  • Has no limitations or conditions for use.
  • Can apply to both software as well as other kinds of creative works.
  • Is approachable to a wider audience given use of simple language.
  • Is terse and more accessible to those with cognitive disabilities.
  • May be translated into any language as long as the name is changed.
  • Does not contain a “public domain” dedication.
  • Is a GPL-Compatible Free Software License.

As for a better license for a small FLOSS project, there isn't one which ensures you will not have to, at some point, modify the license. But if you relax that requirement you may also want to consider zlib License, which is simple and permissive, and does not contain much legalese.

  • If you don't choose a license, then nobody but you is allowed to use the code. That would be contrary to the second requirement. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Jul 25 at 19:52
  • Like the first requirement, the second uses the phrase “I don't care”. Without clarification we should take these words at face value. Therefore, a user's choice to violate some copyright law by closing the source and selling it is none of the author's concern because they literally do not care. – Josh Habdas Jul 26 at 5:25
  • Changed question to remove the ambiguity. I don't think this aclarification invalidates any other answers, as they seem to assume that the purpose of using a public license is to encourage reuse of the project. – Free Radical Jul 31 at 4:57
  • Adjusted answer with respect to the updated question and clarifications provided. – Josh Habdas Jul 31 at 7:31

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