GitHub CEO backs MIT open source license

Tom Preston-Werner cites the MIT License for its brevity, compared to the wordy GNU General Public License, and the permissiveness of its terms

The CEO of popular code-sharing site GitHub is endorsing the MIT License as a mechanism for open source software usage, citing its permissiveness and brevity.

Appearing at this week's O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore., GitHub CEO Tom Preston-Werner called the MIT license "the perfect license right now" and "freaking awesome." He noted how short and to-the-point it is compared to the wordy GNU General Public License, which Preston-Werner described as having too many restrictions. Specifically, the MIT License grants permission to use, copy, and modify a piece of software free of charge, as is, without restriction or warranty.  Authors or copyright holders cannot be held liable for damages or other liability. Copyright notice must be included in copies of software.

"If a project that you work on or some code that you've put on GitHub or on the Internet anywhere does not have a license, the best thing you can do for freedom, if you believe in freedom as a first principle and want to give people the maximum rights to your software, is go into your software and add this license -- today," Preston-Werner said. "Unlicensed software, software without a license, is problematic. People can't use it."

GitHub recently debuted a license chooser and the choosealicense micro-site, to assist with choosing an open source software license.  Many projects on GitHub have offered no easily identifiable copyright licensing information.  

Permissive licenses such as the MIT License is the way world is moving, said OSCON attendee Greg DeKoenigsberg, vice president at Eucalyptus Systems, which provides software for building Amazon Web Services-compatible clouds and uses GitHub.  But there is a risk, he warned. "The risk behind permissive licenses, especially with large consortiums, is that the various organizations, because they are not compelled to contribute code, will hold back more and more code and will fight to differentiate and that will at some point prevent them from contributing code." 

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