Finding the Right License with TLDRLegal

February 15, 2013

I’ve not spent much time thinking about software licenses in my career. Partly this is because I don’t sell software and partly it’s because “Who can be bothered?” As with anything legally-related, “Who can be bothered?” is not justification to avoid thinking about an issue. And, even though I don’t sell software, I¬†certainly provide software in the form of downloadable code.

As for yourself, if you provide scripts for others to use, or if you make anything public via GitHub (or the like), then you, too, ought to be thinking about licensing. At the very least, including a license can protect you from being sued when someone uses your code and has problems. (And, as is always the case with lawsuits, you could theoretically be sued whether the cause of the problem was your code or the foolishness of the person using the code.)

In fact, if you’re a user of any one else’s software (which is all of us), you ought to be aware of what licenses mean, too. A software’s license will tell you whether you can, for example, use software (or code) in a commercial project or not. There’s a strong argument to make that you shouldn’t even use code you download (from GitHub or elsewhere) that does not have a license, as a license could later be applied that would render your use illegal.

Those are the arguments for licensing, but once you accept those premises, how do you decide what license to use or what a given license means? Historically, I either hit Google/Wikipedia or I didn’t bother at all. But now there’s TLDRLegal.

This site is extremely easy to use, letting you:

And all of the features are described in understandable non-legalese.

The next time you’re curious what the MIT license is, or the GPL v.3, or how they compare, fire up TLDRLegal. And if you distribute code or software in any way, use TLDRLegal to add a license to that software today.