he “Wide Open License” (WOL) is designed to make the legal aspect of “open source” software really easy for everybody. It is an open source license whose intent is to not only to free the software but to free its users.

We believe that making the use of open-source software easier in a legal sense can lead to more use of open-source software, particularly in inherently-commercial applications like embedded computing.

What is the WOL?

* Name: (file name)
* Synopsis: (a 1-2 line description for software archivists.)
* Description: (a detailed description for software users.)
* Copyright (year) (your full name)
*                          The Wide Open License (WOL)
* Permission to use, copy, modify, distribute and sell this software and its
* documentation for any purpose is hereby granted without fee, provided that
* the above copyright notice and this license appear in all source copies. 
* ANY KIND. See http://scopeplot.com/dg/wide-open-license for more information.

How do I use the WOL?

Simply include the text above (or one of the ones formatted for Python, Perl, and Matlab) in your source file, and then fill in the blanks.

I’ve seen other informal licenses that look about like the WOL, so what’s the big deal?

You’re very observant. Basically, we gave it a name and a home. We hope to establish “WOL” as a sort of “brand name”, in much the same way that the GPL (“GNU Public License”) already is. We hope that when people see “WOL”, they’ll immediately understand that the software is “wide open”. They’ll know what they’re up against, without having to read the fine print every time. Also, having a brand name makes it easier for the WOL to compete with the GPL for acceptance in the minds of consumers.

Why the heck do we need a “Wide Open License”?

In contrast to many other free/open software licenses, the WOL doesn’t burden users. Specifically, the WOL doesn’t require users to make any derived or associated source code available to others. “Heresy!” you say. Well, maybe. But why make software “free” by enslaving users? What kindda freedom is that?!

In the commercial world, many of us simply don’t have the time or the inclination to make our source code publicly available. We don’t need the hassle. And frankly, that’s part of why we’ve been reluctant to use open-source software in the past. The very real cost that the GPL license imposes in this way often turns what was ostensibly “free software” into “prohibitively expensive software” which we simply can’t use.

Why should I use the WOL?

  • If you’re a software author, you probably have primarily a paternal interest in your software. You want it to “thrive” by being used, and you want it to “prosper” by being developed. So why not make your “software child” easy to adopt? And if you think you child is beautiful (and what parent doesn’t?), you probably want to ensure that it carries your name.
  • If you’re a software user, you don’t want to be constrained by usage terms. And you don’t want a lot of obligations: basically, you just want to use it.
  • If you’re a software distributor you want to avoid getting sued. If everything is nice and clear, there should be no need for anybody to sue anybody.

We believe that making open-source software really easy to use (in a legal sense) will open up the use of open-source software. It’s just that simple.

Why not use the GNU Public License?

The GNU web site explains the “copyleft” principle, the heart of the GPL, as follows:

In the GNU project, our aim is to give all users the freedom to redistribute and change GNU software. If middlemen could strip off the freedom, we might have many users, but those users would not have freedom. So instead of putting GNU software in the public domain, we “copyleft” it. Copyleft says that anyone who redistributes the software, with or without changes, must pass along the freedom to further copy and change it. Copyleft guarantees that every user has freedom.

That works fine for certain broad-based, “community generated” software, but it is problematic for certain inherently commercial types of software, for example, software for embedded systems.

Consider, for example, if you had a embedded software application project consisting of 75% of your own specialized, proprietary software combined with 25% generic, free/open software. If the latter uses the GPL, your 75% now becomes free and open. But since that doesn’t make any business sense, you and your team decide instead that it’s just a lot easier to reinvent that 25% of the wheel yourself.

You can see in this example, that the use of the GPL has had the net effect of discouraging the use of otherwise-useful open-source software in an inherently commercial/closed application. So, rather than provide users with “freedom”, the GPL has, in fact, inadvertantly “restricted” them from using it. You then have to re-invent the wheel–which is just plain wasteful.

Therefore, for commercial projects, a license with more “freedom” is needed. Rather than free the software, the WOL frees the user. (And let’s face it, who deserves freedom more: the software or its user?!) Instead of assuring that “anyone who redistributes the software, with or without changes, must pass along the freedom to further copy and change it”, the WOL assumes we live in a more benign world in which enlightened self-interest leads people to voluntarily share significant improvements with the community when that makes sense, or else they just quietly ship their tailored code. (And that really doesn’t hurt anybody.)

We believe that making open-source software easy in a legal sense will open up its use. We call this principle “wide open”.

But if I want it to be “wide open” why not just put it into the public domain?

By copyrighting your code, you retain the right to impose requirements on its use. The WOL places only the very mild burdens on users that your name and copyright be retained in source copies. So you retain the credit for your work, at essentially no cost to the user.

How do I document the use of WOL-licenced software which I distribute in compiled form, for example, as part of an embedded system?

The WOL does not obligate you in any way with respect to compiled or object-code software, only source-code software. However, as a courtesy (not an obligation), we ask that you acknowledge the original author and the use of WOL software in the user’s manual or other documentation you provide.

Where can I learn more about “open software” and find other open software licenses?


Disclaimer: This page is not to be taken as legal advice. If you were to consult your attorney, he would probably advise you to consult your attorney on stuff like this.
“Wide Open License” and its acronym “WOL” are trademarks of Iowegian International Corporation

The following is a gratuitous commercial to establish the use of WOL in trade (for trademark purposes): “Please buy stuff from dspGuru’s parent company, Ioweigan International Corporation.