In relationship to my other question What if anything is wrong with the Apache License 2.0? and following on from How can a "crayon" license be a problem?

Is a license certified to by copyfree (i.e. listed on copyfree.org) sufficient weight to consider it more than a "crayon" license?

I think an important point of a copyfree license is you are saying "it doesn't matter how you use my code" so unlike a copyleft license you don't need to enforce it but nonetheless it needs to provide some legal weight

I've been doing a lot (too much!) of research trying to select the right license for a new project. I came across some articles about the GPL being enforced (both good and bad). Are there any good examples of copyfree licenses coming under legal fire and being either effective or ineffective?

  • point of order. I see we also have a law.stackexchange. There must be considerable overlap with this kind of question but I think this is still the right place to ask. Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 0:20
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    I think there is a misunderstanding as to your definition of "crayon license." Crayon licenses are really licenses that are flawed legally - often created by programmers with no prior legal experience, and often include clauses that are ridiculous, at least to the legal system. For example, a programmer may make a clause to transfer copyright to the project owner - such a clause is ridiculous because copyright cannot be transferred without a written signature (in most jurisdictions). Crayon licenses aren't ensured to be legally stable, that's all the term means. A new license isn't a "crayon."
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 1:03
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    I haven't defined the term here but I agree with your definition. The problem is some licenses look to the untrained eye like they might be legally sound but might not be. So I think more is needed to make a license "safe to use". It should have been reviewed by a competant lawyer and ideally backed by an organisation. Legal precedent for it being used would be helpful too. Failing that lots of projects using it would be good. Commented Aug 26, 2016 at 7:27

1 Answer 1


No, I do not think that this website offers any legal guarantee on the licenses it certifies. To back this claim, here is what I found on this page http://copyfree.org/policy:

It is not the policy of the Copyfree Initiative at this time to use its certification process as an endorsement or review of the legal quality of a given license draft, nor any other standards of judgment beyond simple conformance with the principles embodied in the Copyfree Standard Definition. Plans are underway to establish recommended guidelines for license selection for interested parties, but these plans are not at present reflected in, or intended to be inferred from, any content of the Copyfree Initiative site. We hope that the presence of both the certified license list and the rejected license list serve your purposes for choosing licenses that conform to your general licensing policy preferences, though further information should be sought from other sources such as qualified legal professionals where appropriate.

This is somewhat like the list from the FSF http://www.gnu.org/licenses/license-list.en.html they comment lots of software licenses and say whether they deem them to be free or not. See for instance their comment on the WTFPL:

This is a lax permissive non-copyleft free software license, compatible with the GNU GPL.

We do not recommend this license. If you want a lax permissive license for a small program, we recommend the X11 license. A larger program usually ought to be copyleft; but if you are set on using a lax permissive license for one, we recommend the Apache 2.0 license since it protects users from patent treachery.

What they mean by "lax permissive non-copyleft" license is precisely what you are looking for: a "copyfree" license. They still agree that this is a "free" license but they discourage its use.

Going back to the list http://copyfree.org/standard/licenses it contains both licenses which can be considered "crayon" licenses such as the WTFPL (still quite a popular license) and the Beer-Ware license, and licenses which are very fine, and very recommended:

  • CC-0

  • MIT/X11 license (best known as the MIT license but referred to as the X11 license by the FSF).

  • Simplified BSD license

  • the Unlicense

CC-0 and the Unlicense are public domain dedications while MIT and BSD require attribution. I would definitely recommend that you choose one of these four.

Note that the FSF argues for CC-0 over the Unlicense:

The Unlicense is a public domain dedication. A work released under the Unlicense is dedicated to the public domain to the fullest extent permitted by law, and also comes with an additional lax license that helps cover any cases where the dedication is inadequate. Both public domain works and the lax license provided by the Unlicense are compatible with the GNU GPL.

If you want to release your work to the public domain, we recommend you use CC0. CC0 also provides a public domain dedication with a fallback license, and is more thorough and mature than the Unlicense.

  • Sorry to add the same comment in three different threads but it seems to be relevan to each of them. I recall I wanted the MIT license originally then came across this news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3402450 A problem with the common licenses is the lack of a patent clause (though I am in the EU where this shouldn't matter, my software might not stay there). Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:23

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