13

I'd like to release a program under an open source minimal restriction license but there are 2.73 bajillion options (give or take an order of magnitude).

Basically our only requirements are:

  • Don't hold our company liable for end user use or 3rd party modifications
  • Keep our company's logo and contribution attribution / website in the about / credits dialog

The goal is to allow our user-base to use and customize but deter competitors from redistributing it as their own original work by making them keep our logo if they want to copy.

Reason I say logo and/or reference in the help->about is that no one cares about licenses or readme files to look for attribution; they care if the app meets their needs.

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  • 3
    Yep. That's how I arrived at choosealicense.com which is a great site and there are a heck of a lot of licenses and none are quite clear on this issue as best I can tell. I was hoping to get an answer from the community from someone with relevant experience rather than try to interpret fine print legal stuffs myself. (Also why I gave my two very specific requirements rather than ask a broad question) – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 14:48
  • 2
    What if I borrow some of the source code but not the whole thing (e.g. I'm not interested in the GUI portions). What would it mean to keep your logo "in the help->about dialog" if there is no such thing in the product that I'm making by using components of your open source software? Basically, if I see this requirement, it means that I won't be inclined to use your software. I'll have to go look for something else. If that's what you want, why make it open source in the first place? – Brandin Aug 24 '15 at 18:17
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    @OkumaTony You're free to make any requirements you want. But if you call it "open source" I recommend you try to make your license compliant with the OSI definition. Restricting usage of your software only for GUI products capable of displaying your logo and/or advertising for your company is totally within your rights as licensor. But it ain't open source IMO. – Brandin Aug 24 '15 at 18:32
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    @OkumaTony Yes, but attribution does not mean "You shall advertise our company logo and website in the Help->About GUI dialog box or equivalent." If you want to require that, you must say so in your license. – Brandin Aug 24 '15 at 18:51
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    The biggest problem is that while attribution is usually required, a disturbingly large portion of the community fails to comply with that part of the license. – Abhi Beckert Aug 25 '15 at 0:18
11

The BSD license(s) and the MIT X11 license are some of the simplest and most permissive Open Source / Free Software licenses. With the exception of the original (and officially obsolete) 4-clause BSD license, they are also GPL-compatible (if that is something you care about).

Both the MIT X11 license and the 3-clause BSD licenses require attribution. The BSD licenses list attribution for source distribution and binary distribution separately (the latter explicitly prescribing that the attribution must be in the documentation and/or other materials included with the distribution, which arguably includes packaging etc.), the MIT X11 license simply says to include both the copyright notice and the license in "all copies or substantial portions of the Software" without explicitly prescribing how.

Neither of the licenses explicitly mention anything about an "About → Credits" dialog, which is not terribly surprising, considering that one was written before graphical user interfaces even existed (in the Unix world) and the other was written for one of the first ever graphical user interfaces. However, AFAIK, the MIT X11 license itself is not copyrighted, so you might be able to create a derived version which does what you want.

However, providing attribution in such a dialog is pretty much the standard way for GUI applications to abide by the terms of the MIT X11 and BSD licenses, even though it is not actually prescribed by the license.

  • 2
    I completely missed this line in the MIT "Copyright (c) [year] [fullname]". Does that stay the same when someone produces a derivative work or does it change to the newest author on every release? – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 15:34
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    It stays the same: "The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software." – Jörg W Mittag Aug 24 '15 at 15:36
  • Good point. I just wasn't sure whether that meant include a copyright notice of that form or a copyright notice with the exact author and date. – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 15:37
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    Great (and correct) answer that lead me to the ISC license which I think is what I'm going with. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISC_license – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 15:40
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    Cool, I didn't know about that one. I might switch to it as my default license (from MIT X11). It's OSI- and FSF-approved, GPL-compatible, and even simpler than MIT X11 and 2-clause BSD. (Although MIT X11 is more widely known, which is also a certain form of "simplicity" in that you don't even have to read it if you know it already.) – Jörg W Mittag Aug 24 '15 at 15:50
5

Almost all open source licenses have a warranty disclaimer.

The attribution here is a problem, and - despite you say you want this - I'm not sure you would actually want this. Why not?

It creates a legal hazard. Your company logo and name is a trademark. When someone adapts the work, they and they must retain the logo and company name, they open themselves up for trademark infringement suits. They may not pass themselves off as you, yet you want to enforce this possible confusion. That's not a good idea.

You probably want to prevent that a very bad product is distributed with your name on it. This is part of the reason trademark law exists. If nothing is stopping them from making a really bad derivative work, and you force them to put your name on it, that's probably not a situation you want to find yourself in.

The GPL suite of licenses does include the following phrasing:

An interactive user interface displays “Appropriate Legal Notices” to the extent that it includes a convenient and prominently visible feature that (1) displays an appropriate copyright notice, and (2) tells the user that there is no warranty for the work (except to the extent that warranties are provided), that licensees may convey the work under this License, and how to view a copy of this License. If the interface presents a list of user commands or options, such as a menu, a prominent item in the list meets this criterion.

and in 7.b of the GPLv3 allows

Requiring preservation of specified reasonable legal notices or author attributions in that material or in the Appropriate Legal Notices displayed by works containing it;

So this allows you to require attribution to be maintained (along with off course the new copyright holder) in some prominently visible place.

Such provisions exists for all of the GPL suite, GPL, LGPL, AGPL, versions 2 and 3.

  • Great points about the potential for looking bad as a result of someone else's poor work. (I can usually handle that job myself.) I definitely did not see 7.b of GPLv3. That basically does the same thing as the first two lines of ISC plus it builds a trackable path of subsequent changers - assuming of course the rules are understood and followed. – Still.Tony Aug 25 '15 at 14:07
1

IANAL, but the first is accomplished by ensuring there is a statement that keeps your company not liable for anything regarding the released software and that's it. You claim you're not even liable for the software you release in the first place. (you know, bugs happen, are you gonna pay for those? NO) This then applies to successive modifications by third parties, too.

e.g. GPL has this:

  1. Disclaimer of Warranty.

THERE IS NO WARRANTY FOR THE PROGRAM, TO THE EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW. EXCEPT WHEN OTHERWISE STATED IN WRITING THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND/OR OTHER PARTIES PROVIDE THE PROGRAM “AS IS” WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE ENTIRE RISK AS TO THE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF THE PROGRAM IS WITH YOU. SHOULD THE PROGRAM PROVE DEFECTIVE, YOU ASSUME THE COST OF ALL NECESSARY SERVICING, REPAIR OR CORRECTION.

The company logo and stuff should be guaranteed by Perl's style "Artistic License" their boilerplate contains a liability waiver, too. (like pretty much every software license or EULA everywhere, but those made for aerospatial and militar applications)

  • 1
    The way I read the Perl style Artistic Licenses (if you're referring to this one choosealicense.com/licenses/artistic-2.0) is that you CANNOT use the trademark of the contributors. I want exactly the opposite. – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 14:54
  • You are very right. I got confused as the artistic license sprouts out a similar concern to the one you have, but it focuses on keeping the company name and logo respectable and not having it associated with low quality code modifications. You instead want a license with invariant sections for publicity and the only one that comes to my mind right now is the GFDL which is specifically written for documentation and won't stand court if applied to software. I should give a deeper look to CC licenses, there might be one with invariants. – ZJR Aug 24 '15 at 15:03
  • That looks really good but the closest I see it coming to require attribution to original source is the requirement to indicate when it was modified to create the next version. "You may convey a work based on the Program, or the modifications to produce it from the Program, in the form of source code under the terms of section 4, provided that you also meet all of these conditions: a) The work must carry prominent notices stating that you modified it, and giving a relevant date." ... – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 15:27
  • I had no luck with CC licenses. Apple and Microsoft Not-So-Open licenses might have something about that publicity stuff you want in them, but AFAIK they don't have boilerplate versions you can apply to your products... needs further investigation. Also Mozilla and the Apache license might have similar statements regarding trademarks. – ZJR Aug 24 '15 at 15:31
  • All this work and getting foiled every time I think I have the answer is why I posted this question. I appreciate your work and this is a perfect illustration of what I did for the two hours preceding asking. – Still.Tony Aug 24 '15 at 15:43

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