Google’s Chris DiBona emailed me this morning to tell me that unless I removed a specific line from the license of my jsmin-php project (a PHP port of Douglas Crockford’s JSMin), Google Code would no longer host the project.
The license in question is the one attached to the original jsmin.c, and is a slightly modified version of the MIT License. Here it is with the offending line emphasized:
Copyright (c) 2002 Douglas Crockford (www.crockford.com)
Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:
The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.
The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil.
THE SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED "AS IS", WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO THE WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND NONINFRINGEMENT. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE AUTHORS OR COPYRIGHT HOLDERS BE LIABLE FOR ANY CLAIM, DAMAGES OR OTHER LIABILITY, WHETHER IN AN ACTION OF CONTRACT, TORT OR OTHERWISE, ARISING FROM, OUT OF OR IN CONNECTION WITH THE SOFTWARE OR THE USE OR OTHER DEALINGS IN THE SOFTWARE.
As Google (and some others) interpret it, this additional requirement constitutes a vague use restriction and thus makes the license non-free. Chris explained that if I were to remove that line from the license and “return to a proper open source license that we support”, then jsmin-php could stay on Google Code. Otherwise, he said, “we can’t host you”.
Of course, I can’t change the license, because it’s not my license. It’s Douglas’s license, and he wants people who use his software and derivative works of his software to use it for good and not evil. All derivative works and copies of jsmin.c either include this license or are in violation of it.
I added jsmin-php to Google Code in 2007. Since then, it’s been downloaded over 20,000 times. As of today, its new home is GitHub.
I don’t really mind moving the project—I’ve been intending to do it for a while anyway—and I certainly appreciate the fact that Chris was kind enough to send me a personal email about this before taking any action. But jsmin-php is unlikely to be the only project affected by Google’s discovery of JSMin’s license.
In my reply to Chris, I asked him:
There are quite a few other projects on Google Code that are ports of jsmin.c or include either ports or the original. Does this mean those projects will also be banned from Google Code unless jsmin.c's license changes?
Chris responded: “Sadly, yes.”
I don’t know if Google intends to proactively hunt down all projects using JSMin or whether they’ll only take action when someone rats you out, but if you currently have a project on Google Code that is derived from or includes jsmin.c, you might want to consider migrating to a new host with less restrictive policies.
I asked Douglas what he thought of this. He responded: “When did Google stop being against evil?”
Update (2009-12-09): Via @miraglia, here’s a hilarious excerpt from Doug’s talk, “The JSON Saga”, in which he gives some background on why he added this clause to the license and how often people ask him to remove it:
When I put the reference implementation onto the website, I needed to put a software license on it. I looked up all the licenses that are available, and there were a lot of them. I decided the one I liked the best was the MIT license, which was a notice that you would put on your source, and it would say: "you're allowed to use this for any purpose you want, just leave the notice in the source, and don't sue me." I love that license, it's really good.
But this was late in 2002, we'd just started the War On Terror, and we were going after the evil-doers with the President, and the Vice-President, and I felt like I need to do my part.
So I added one more line to my license, which was: "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil." I thought I'd done my job. About once a year I'll get a letter from a crank who says: "I should have a right to use it for evil!"
"I'm not going to use it until you change your license!" Or they'll write to me and say: "How do I know if it's evil or not? I don't think it's evil, but someone else might think it's evil, so I'm not going to use it." Great, it's working. My license works, I'm stopping the evil doers!
Audience member: If you ask for a separate license, can you use it for evil?
Douglas: That's an interesting point. Also about once a year, I get a letter from a lawyer, every year a different lawyer, at a company--I don't want to embarrass the company by saying their name, so I'll just say their initials--IBM...
...saying that they want to use something I wrote. Because I put this on everything I write, now. They want to use something that I wrote in something that they wrote, and they were pretty sure they weren't going to use it for evil, but they couldn't say for sure about their customers. So could I give them a special license for that?
Of course. So I wrote back--this happened literally two weeks ago--"I give permission for IBM, its customers, partners, and minions, to use JSLint for evil."
[laughter and applause]
And the attorney wrote back and said: "Thanks very much, Douglas!"
You can see the full video of the talk at YUI Theater (the excerpt above is from 39:45).