Wordiness in licensing is a real problem. Here are the word counts of several common licenses:
| 60|| wtfpl|
| 118|| isc|
Personally, I use the ISC. It is short, permissive, and understandable: just a grant of permissions (first paragraph) and denial of warranty (second paragraph). MIT, zlib, et cetera are fine too—they’re in the same vein, just a bit wordier.
Copyright © 2014 John Doe <email@example.com>
Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software for any purpose with or without fee is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice and this permission notice appear in all copies.
The software is provided “as is” and the author disclaims all warranties with regard to this software including all implied warranties of merchantability and fitness. In no event shall the author be liable for any special, direct, indirect, or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of this software.
Compare this to the pages and pages of license and accompanying FAQ associated with the multiple versions of the GPL. Creative Commons has the same problem—at least they have human‐readable summaries, but the underlying legalese is long and complex.
The other problem with GPL‐alikes is that they’re incompatible with so many other free licenses. The GPL isn’t just incompatible with permissive licenses like ISC/BSD/MIT; it’s not just incompatible with other copyleft licenses like CDDL and Mozilla; it’s even incompatible with itself—version 2 and version 3 are not compatible!
This isn’t just a theoretical problem either:
- Samba and the Linux kernel both implement Windows filesharing, but can’t share any code because they use incompatible GPL versions.
- LibreCAD can’t use LibreDWG (a library for AutoCAD file formats) because they use incompatible versions of the GPL; last I heard, LibreCAD was having to reimplement their own DWG functionality from scratch.
All this with supposedly “free” code. This is the biggest reason I always release my projects under permissive, non‐GPL licenses.
In response to this whole “licensing is too complicated” thing, a lot of people are just putting their stuff online with no copyright attached, with the implicit suggestion that people do whatever they want with it. Or they put a cute little statement like “This isn’t worth copyrighting, so I’m making this available for anyone to use for free.” I understand the desire, but please don’t do this! In most countries today (including USA and the EU), everything is copyrighted by default. Just releasing the source isn’t enough, because even if you do that, legally nobody has the right to modify the code, and nobody has the right to share changes, until the copyright holder explicitly grants that right. Yes, it sucks to have to do that—but it’s the world we live in today. At least put in something like WTFPL or ISC. People who don’t care about copyright will use your code anyway, but this way people who want or need to be careful about legality will be able to use it too.
tl;dr: Don’t just put the source online. Use WTFPL or ISC.