May 30, 2019

PolyForm Projectsimple, standard, plain-language software licenses

Together with lawyer and coder colleagues, I’m proud to announce The PolyForm Project, a new project to publish simple, standard, plain-language software source code licenses.

PolyForm aims to fill the gaps in standardized software licensing. Creators of art and film and music have a full range of well known, off-the-shelf terms to choose from, from noncommercial to share-alike and permissive terms, and even public domain dedications. But to date, standardization has only blessed the permissive and copyleft corners of software licensing. Now PolyForm.

I’m excited about this work because I expect it will both enable new ways to support software creators and also make more code available to more people more of the time. I’ve seen time and again how gaps in the licensing spectrum make it hard for companies to loosen their terms over time. I’ve seen time and time again how nonstandard terms and ad hoc solution hobble academic and other gratis licensing programs. Instead of blazing their own paths through commercial and noncommercial terms, developers of all kinds will be able to walk the paved path of PolyForm terms, going forward.

I’ve done some work along these lines in the past. Prosperity, a direct adaptation of Creative Commons’ Non Commercial language to software licensing, was the original public license for License Zero. I’ve seen a surprising amount of interest in, and use of, that form since. Individuals have used it for hobby projects. Firms have used it for core products. Developers have used it as basis for public-private licensing, with or without License Zero, or simply to express their rules for their work.

PolyForm’s draft language differs in style from Prosperity, hewing closer to Blue Oak than the old, academic style of MIT. I’m thrilled with how much the language has improved from earliest drafts. It has only gotten easier to read and apply. I’m excited to see how open comment and revision will refine it, going forward.

You can read more about PolyForm, and download the draft language in various formats, on

Your thoughts and feedback are always welcome by e-mail.

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