the djb way

djb and copyright

Scrounge around in the distribution files and source code of your contemporary Unix system and you will find a plethora of files named "LICENSE", "COPYING", and library headers commented with blocks of license and copyright information.

These files represent their authors' terms of use for the software on your system, supposedly enumerating to varying degrees what you can and can't do with it, and what the author can and can't do to you.

The idea is, just by using the software, you are agreeing to all the terms, obligations and restrictions specified by the author.

Now take a look around in any of the software distributed by Bernstein. What's this? Nary a "LICENSE" or "COPYING" to be found!

In most packages only the "README" file has a simple copyright statement, such as this one from the qmail distribution:

qmail 1.03
Copyright 1998
D. J. Bernstein,

Like his source code, Bernstein has highly optimized the whole "LICENSE" algorithm --to the point there is no LICENSE at all. Just this simple, single, clean statement of copyright.

Some people seem to need labels, so here's ours: Bernstein distributes "License Free" software.

In other words, Bernstein finds existing copyright law a sufficient way for him to publish his work, protect its integrity, and convey you the right to use it pretty much however you want. No more lawyers, no implied contracts, no mucking legalese; the US Code and decades of precedent in traditional publishing will suffice.

Before continuing here, check out Bernstein's own thoughts on these matters:

You should also note that Bernstein is an especially ardent opponent of software patents, and his long-running legal battle with the US government --who attempted to stifle publication of his crypto work-- is legendary. What is obvious to us from these readings is this: freedom of information libertarians have no greater champion than djb.

The critical point with respect to the "License Free" software paradigm is that Bernstein thinks software LICENSEs --unlike copyright-- are legally unenforceable anyway. Trying to use them just plays into the hands of the corporate interests who would attempt to dictate such onerous terms as already may be found in the fine-print of the so-called "shrink wrap" and "click-to-accept" licenses that plague commercial software.

In contrast, the "License Free" software protocol allows you to:

What more could one want?

Well there's the rub of copyright law, what you can't do without the copyright holder's permission:

This is what "copyright" is all about; the holder of the copyright is the only one who legally has the "right" to "copy" the work, unless and until the holder explicitly grants such rights to others.

In fact, Bernstein does explicitly grant substantial rights for redistribution. See, for example:

Moreover, djb has released a substantial amount of "License Free" software into the public domain, with no restrictions whatsoever, including:

Still, Bernstein's "License Free" software distribution tends to draw petulance and disfavor --if not open hostility-- from many self-appointed "Free Software" and "Open Source" advocates, who don't want any of "their" rights restricted. Geez, talk about a pack of bleeding whiners!

This is so unfortunate. Most of the statements and arguments we have seen on this matter are uninformed or misinformed, and often just a load of crap. And in the noisy narcissistic squabbling among the various factions about what is "Open" versus what is "Free", and whether some work warrants one label or another, the larger issues regarding insidious corporate efforts to legitimize LICENCEs as a means to subvert copyright go completely ignored.

We're no lawyers, and we don't want to be. We're programmers and hackers and sysadmins, after all. And hey!, we care about reading source code, not legal dockets, for crike's sake! For this reason alone we find a lot to like in the concept of "License Free" software.

But we aren't about to waste our time here with any useless discussion about what terms of distribution are "best", "right", or "wrong" either. If the "License Free" model doesn't do it for you, that's okay, even understandable. Thanks for visiting, maybe you'll come again another time.

As for us, no matter how an author chooses to freely contribute his or her work, we feel very fortunate to get it. It's the author's sweat, blood, passion, inspiration, and reputation on the line, not ours; and so LICENSEd or "License Free" is utterly and completely the author's prerogative, certainly not ours.

And you'll not ever hear us dissing anyone for their choice in the matter.

We are the little people, and we live in heady times. Whether GNU GPL, LGPL, Berkeley, MIT, Artistic, "Charityware", whatever --however you take your "free"-- it's a bonanza, a software feast, a cornucopia of powerful information technology. This is fat city and we love it all and thank everyone who has ever contributed to it, now and in the future.

And so we stand in the company of thousands of others the world over, who simply and gratefully accept the many virtues and practical excellence of the djb way just as it is: straight, no chaser --and "License Free".

Copyright © 2003, 2004, Wayne Marshall.
All rights reserved.

Last edit 2004.04.06, wcm.