I often run into various licenses for commercial software, and large part of that software has a different text saying the same thing. With license proliferation being a known thing in OSS, are/were there any attempts to fight it in commercial sphere?

If not, what are the unique concerns within the FLOSS community that made deproliferation desirable there, but not in the domain of proprietary software? (Or if there has been such an effort that I haven't heard of, what distinguishes FLOSS such that the FLOSS deproliferation effort been so much more visible?)

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this isn't a question about law, it's about politics and socio-economics.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 4:49
  • @user6726 it is as much politics/economics as a question about Free Software Foundation. Though, if you have an idea of a better community for this question on SO, go ahead and suggest to move the question there. Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 6:38
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    Despite not being strictly about open source software, I think this a good question for OpenSource.SE, because a good answer will probably be of the form "No, there never were any such efforts, because the entire point of deproliferation is [...] which is based on FLOSS-specific concerns such as [...]"
    – apsillers
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 13:59
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about FLOSS. Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 22:23
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    @curiousdannii I added an additional paragraph to frame the question from a FLOSS-centric viewpoint; do you still feel it's off topic?
    – apsillers
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 13:28

3 Answers 3


There are attempts to create some standard or templates in other areas, but none that I know in commercial licenses agreements. If there were, not every contract would end up being different!

An example of related effort is common form for contract standardization and it may contain some licensing-related terms.

Now the thing is that proliferation is rather small in the FOSS world... there are about a 1000 significant license variations (and 5 to 10 times more variations on notices..) .... whereas there are likely 10 or 100 times more variants of commercial license contracts.

That's the price to pay to paying: each license you pay for is also likely to be a whole new shiny thing.

You later asked:

what are the unique concerns within the FLOSS community that made deproliferation desirable there [...]?

With FLOSS, one goal is to facilitate and foster reuse. Yet every package is also licensed and there are subtle license compatibility issues. If every package had a different license building complex system from FLOSS would be a nightmare (it is hard enough as it is) so naturally communities around a programming language, platform or framework have evolved to use similar or the same licensing: this makes reuse much simpler. For instance a lot of Perl project use the "Same as Perl" license, several C/C++-based userland utilities use a combo of LGPL for the library and GPL for the command line tools, several Java-based packages built on or reusing Apache-provided packages use the Apache license, some foundations or larger orgs even enforce this for simplicity and sanity such as the Apache or the Eclipse Foundations. Also FLOSS license terms are not negotiable: you either take it or pass. So there is usually no possibility of per-user variation.

In contrast, the goal of commercial software is not only to maximize usage but to maximize the financial gain. Since every contract needs some transaction (e.g. some signature or agreement and some money transfer) there is not much incentive per se to facilitate these transactions across vendors. Furthermore, each contract is eventually negotiable and customers may want special terms which further increase the number of variations. Yet, some vendors (such as Atlassian at least historically) have always used very standard, non-negotiable licensing terms that apply across all their product lines to avoid license proliferation across their customers.

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    One of the things that brought me to this question is that those licenses have many points in common, just in different words. So I thought that it would be cool if someone had or started an initiative for standardizing those separate blocks, which could be then combined into a needed license with little of "original" points and, as a result, with a low ammount of information that really requires reading Commented Jun 3, 2017 at 1:11
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    @ZeroUnderscoreOu, large sections of the (American) legal system, such as Tax Law, are specifically designed to obfuscate meaning and restrict the participation of lay people. While I can't speak as an expert, I imagine many commercial software licenses are similarly intended make it harder for users to view pieces (like privacy sections) that might be unpalatable to users. Some companies have started adding "plain English" summaries of their licenses or privacy policies. There's nothing stopping every company from doing this, other than a lack of desire.
    – John
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 8:35
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    @ZeroUnderscoreOu your goal is noble and I wish you the very best of luck to get 1000 lawyers to agree on anything. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 10:05
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    @ZeroUnderscoreOu I know one such lawyer that seems to be interested in this kemitchell.com Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 10:24
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    Thanks for the link, I already see some project he is working on which seems related. Also, I noticed you added an answer to the second part of my question (that part is not actually mine, but nevermind). I understand what you mean, but not all commercial products fall under your explanation. Games may be an example, where both pricing & conditions are non-negotiable and often very similar to one another. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:35

In the FOSS world, the main incentive for license deproliferation is the ability to reuse code.

If one project wants to use another project’s code, it is bound by the license under which the other project released its code. If the project later wants to incorporate code from another source with an incompatible license (i.e. such that both licenses cannot be satisfied at the same time), it cannot do so.

Of course every license is issued at the sole discretion of the copyright holder, who can then choose to re-license or dual-license their code. This is “only” a matter of negotiation if the copyright holder is a single person or organization, which is why some projects have Contributor License Agreements (CLAs) under which contributors transfer copyright for their contributions to the maintainer.

If a project has no such agreement in place (plenty of projects don’t), its copyright is distributed across its contributors, and the license terms can only be changed if all of them agree—which is usually impractical.

None of this is an issue if all projects involved are under the same license (or at least compatible license): they can be freely combined, and the resulting code stays under the same license (or the sum of all requirements from all licenses involved). Therefore most FOSS projects choose one of the standard licenses to make their life easier.

In the commercial world, things are a bit different: The code is usually works-for-hire, with the copyright holders being companies rather than individuals, and there are hardly any practical barriers to an interested client company negotiating individual license terms with the vendor of a particular piece of software.

Shared copyright usually happens because of one company licensing a piece of software from another and incorporating it into their own. Here the borders tend to be clearer than in the FOSS world (one copyright holder per component), and parties to the contract usually have each other’s contact information.

In short: Because individual negotiation of license terms is easier in the commercial world, there is less incentive to have standardized licenses.

  • Similar to @Philippe Ombredanne you answer the question from single client-company point of view, where contract negotiation surely has place. I'm talking about mass market licensing, where conditions are really similar between different products and are not subject to per-buyer change. Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 17:17
  • @ZeroUnderscoreOu true, then again—as soon third-party components are involved, their licenses dictate the terms that can be given to end users, so these considerations have repercussions on end user licenses as well. If the program uses GPL code somewhere, it has to be under the GPL itself. On the other hand, the GPL isn’t even an EULA in the strict sense: essentially it says “anyone is free to use the covered program for any purpose, but if you decide to modify it, certain restrictions apply”.
    – user149408
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 19:01

While I can't directly answer your question

  1. In the commercial sphere I'm not sure there's an economic motivation to fight license proliferation. Most people don't read software licenses (and don't understand what's in them). It seems like this can only benefit companies (they can slip things past their users). I certainly don't see it hurting companies.
  2. I would argue that, when viewing the Open Source Initiative's website, one can see an active effort on their part to curb OSS license proliferation. Specifically, the way the licenses are grouped, listing some as redundant, as well as their choice to only list popular licenses on the main Licenses Page, will both have the effect of guiding people towards a smaller subset of popular OSS licenses (and hence helps curb license proliferation).
  • I can't speak about actual results, as I haven't followed them, but I know that OSI at least state their position against proliferation. I haven't really understood your second point. Limiting the scope of offered licenses isn't actually deproliferation, but it should have similar results. Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 9:12
  • @ZeroUnderscoreOu "but it should have similar results" sounds exactly the same to me as "working to curb proliferation"...how is setting up a website in such a way so as to curb proliferation not also acting in support of deproliferation?
    – John
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 9:48
  • @ZeroUnderscoreOu, I think my response reads as more aggressive then I intended. It's meant as an honest question without attitude.
    – John
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 9:49
  • Maybe I read it wrong, but I thought you are saying OSI's deproliferation attempts are not really effective. Additionally, I think they aim to noncommercial field only anyway. Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 9:58
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    @ZeroUnderscoreOu, Ah, that's not what I was trying to say. I edited my question for clarity.
    – John
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 10:07

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