License Framework: Develop Best Practices

Chuck Swiger cswiger at
Tue Jun 15 05:26:17 UTC 2010

On Jun 14, 2010, at 8:30 PM, Warren Block wrote:
> On Tue, 15 Jun 2010, Marco Br?der wrote:
> But it is not very useful in its current state, because several popular
>> licenses are missing and some license foo is not right / specific enough to be
>> considered legally correct (for example there is no 'one BSD License', there
>> are at least three of them, all legally different). The legal consequences of
>> even very small differences can be very huge. We actually have to make this
>> legally right or the whole thing is useless.
> This points nicely to something I've been wondering about.
> Could it be a problem for non-lawyers to categorize ("give an opinion") on a license that isn't an exact word-for-word duplicate of a known license?

Where I live, someone without a legal degree cannot offer legal advice-- giving rise to acronyms like "IANAL" (I Am Not A Lawyer) and "TINLA" (This Is Not Legal Advice).  You should not rely on automated tools including the ports framework to provide arbitrarily complex guidance appropriate for various combinations of licenses, local peculiarities, and so forth-- if you don't feel comfortable you understand and comply with the licenses of the software you use, hire a local lawyer-- don't ask for legal advice from a world-wide mailing list.  :-)

However, there are plenty of sites like SourceForge,, GNU/FSF, and so forth which provide support/hosting for various projects and provide a classification of licenses.  Like almost any human activity, such a categorization process is imperfect-- but "good enough for now" works just fine, until someone notices/complains about some issue, in which case it will probably be quickly fixed.

There are probably some things which the FreeBSD implementation of licensing could be improved.  For example, if port maintainers or committers make an effort to confirm with the original author(s)/copyright holder(s) that the license of the software is being correctly categorized and recorded that with the CVS/SVN commit adopting the license categorization in the port Makefile.  It might also not be a bad idea to not display anything about licensing until a human enables some Makefile switch which acknowledges the limitations of the system (ie, license description coverage is incomplete, etc, etc).


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