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Heron-Centric: Ruminations of a Language Designer
Open Source Licenses versus Public Domain
by Christopher Diggins
July 9, 2005
Why don't open source developers just put their code into the public domain?


I am a supporter of public domain code, but I am not a big fan of open source licenses.

The GPL is thankfully becoming outmoded, but some of the current popular licences which are considered "commercially friendly" such as the Boost License and the BSD License are still scary and hard to work with. What license do I use? How do I combine the licenses? What does "derived work" mean? Am I in danger of being sued?

It is becoming increasingly common to see source files containing more warnings and copyright information than actual code. What purpose do the commercially friendly open-source licenses really serve anyway?

Most open-source licences legally obligate attribution, but any fair and ethical use of source code would naturally provide attribution. Only a small fraction of people would pass public domain code off as their own, but so what?

Theoretically the licenses are supposed to protect authours from liability, but the notion of holding an authour of public domain code liable for damages seems to me ludicrous. We don't write physics equations or chemistry formulas with disclaimers, so why do we need disclaimers for source code?

I believe that if more developers started putting code and algorithms in the public domain and without disclaimers, it could lead to the technology of software development progressing at the pace it deserves and help overcome the fear seeded in our hearts by overly litigious corporate entities.

Any comments?

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About the Blogger

Christopher Diggins is a software developer and freelance writer. Christopher loves programming, but is eternally frustrated by the shortcomings of modern programming languages. As would any reasonable person in his shoes, he decided to quit his day job to write his own ( ). Christopher is the co-author of the C++ Cookbook from O'Reilly. Christopher can be reached through his home page at

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Christopher Diggins. All rights reserved.

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