Daily Archives: November 30, 2006

We license your departure — The TWIT License

I answered an e-mail today and shortly thereafter I drafted a new open-source license — the TWIT License. I departed from tradition. Why? I hope you agree with the Bard:

We license your departure

Henry IV, Part I, I, 3, 123

Here was the e-mail:


I was reading your blog entry – “Open Source Has Grown Up. Shouldn’t We?” – and would like to publish it in Enterprise Open Source Magazine (http://opensource.sys-con.com/). I would like run it on our Web site as well.

Let me know if you would be interested in giving us permission to publish it.


Nancy Valentine
Executive Editor

“Got it covered,” I said to myself. I’ve already licensed this blog under an open-source license, so here’s what I wrote back:


No problem. All the content that I have written, including this post, is licensed under the Apache License. See the page “Licenses” at the top of my blog.

This should give you the permission you need. If it doesn’t , then you have it by this note.

I’m not an attorney, but my reading of the license says you just have to indicate I am the copyright owner, but not to worry. Though I hope we may meet some day, in won’t be in court.


Not bad. Deftly written, with a light touch and even a little humor at the end.

Then I said to myself, “You know that the Apache 2 license is longer than the Apache 1 license, but just what does Nancy have to do?” So I went and read the license. Here is the relevant part:

(a) You must give any other recipients of the Work or Derivative Works a copy of this License; and

(b) You must cause any modified files to carry prominent notices stating that You changed the files; and

(c) You must retain, in the Source form of any Derivative Worksthat You distribute, all copyright, patent, trademark, and attribution notices from the Source form of the work, excluding those notices that do not pertain to any part of the Derivative Works; and

(There is also a (d), but it doesn’t apply in this situation.)

(a) means Nancy will have to include a copy of the License on her web site. And if she were to fix even one typo when she posts my blog entry, then (b) comes into play and she has to post a “prominent notice” that I screwed up.

Which means it is much easier to blog about open-source than to actually do it.

I then decided to see if I could find a better license, but still one that was approved by the OSI folks. I tried New BSD License, but it says:

Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

so Nancy would still have to copy the “list of conditions.” Then I tried the MIT License:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

Not bad, but Nancy still has to copy “this permission notice.”

That’s when I realized I need to draft a new license. So I took the MIT License and changed just one sentence, so it now read:

The above copyright notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

There we go. Nancy just has to copy the copyright notice. Off she goes.

Or should she? Or should you?

I suggest we stay around, to see if we can all agree about what I just did.

Have I actually created a new license? And whether or not I have, is it still an “open-source” license? Can I make this decision myself, or do I have to get someone’s blessing?

Or, put another way, if I have in fact departed from the norm, do I need someone or some group that can, in the words of the Bard, “license my departure”?

We will get into that. But before we do, this incident is yet another reminder that open-source is not as simple as so many people make it. You have to keep your thinking cap on. Most importantly, you need to avoid addressing each situation with sweeping generalities. Each situation must be addressed on a case-by-case basis; see Make or Buy?.

We’ll be looking at this issue in forthcoming posts, but in order to finish this one off and let Nancy do what she wants to do, suffice it to say that I decided to re-license the blog from just Apache 2 to using a dual-license approach, either Apache 2 or a new license, which I called the TWIT License.

But if you think about it, Nancy never got this far. She’s already updating her site. She got all she needed some time back. What was it?

And you thought open-source was simple. So did I at one time, but now I know better.

By the way, if you’re going to follow this thread, then you might want to keep a pot of coffee on hand.You should also have some milk and sugar on hand. Because, as you shall learn, we’re going to be looking at a license that literally contains “sugar,” but a special kind of sugar, one that has left a bitter taste in some people’s mouths — and I’m going to milk this for all its worth.

But, as usual, the Bard will have the last word:

That fellow is a fellow of much license.
Measure for Measure, III, ii, 195.

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