Say No to Copyright

Unlicense Yourself: Set Your Code Free

What is the Unlicense?

The Unlicense is a template for disclaiming copyright interest in software you've written; in other words, it is a template for dedicating your software to the public domain. It combines a copyright waiver patterned after the very successful public domain SQLite project with the no-warranty statement from the widely-used MIT/X11 license.

Why Use the Unlicense?

Because you have more important things to do than enriching lawyers or imposing petty restrictions on users of your code. How often have you passed up on utilizing and contributing to a great software library just because its open source license was not compatible with your own preferred flavor of open source? How many precious hours of your life have you spent deliberating how to license your software or worrying about licensing compatibility with other software? You will never get those hours back, but here's your chance to start cutting your losses. Life's too short, let's get back to coding.

The Unlicense

To opt out of the copyright game altogether and set your code free, put your next software project into the public domain using the following (un)licensing statement:

This is free and unencumbered software released into the public domain.

Anyone is free to copy, modify, publish, use, compile, sell, or
distribute this software, either in source code form or as a compiled
binary, for any purpose, commercial or non-commercial, and by any
means.

In jurisdictions that recognize copyright laws, the author or authors
of this software dedicate any and all copyright interest in the
software to the public domain. We make this dedication for the benefit
of the public at large and to the detriment of our heirs and
successors. We intend this dedication to be an overt act of
relinquishment in perpetuity of all present and future rights to this
software under copyright law.

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 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.

For more information, please refer to <http://unlicense.org/>

In a saner world, you would only need the first two paragraphs. For the time being you'll probably want to retain the whole shebang. (You should feel free, though, to leave out the last line containing the link to this site, if that's your preference.)

You would traditionally put the above statement into a file named COPYING or LICENSE. However, to explicitly distance yourself from the whole concept of copyright licensing, we recommend that you put your unlicensing statement in a file named UNLICENSE. Doing so also means that your project can more easily be found on e.g. GitHub, Bitbucket or Google Code Search, enabling others to reuse your code in their own unencumbered public domain projects.

For a comprehensive listing of software using the Unlicense, google for the first line of the Unlicense. It was purposely worded uniquely, which means that all the returned search results are likely to relate to the Unlicense in some way.

Unlicensing Contributions

In order to ensure your project remains completely free and unencumbered by copyright, it is advisable that you ask any contributors to explicitly dedicate their code base contributions to the public domain.

At minimum, you should ask them to accompany any non-trivial patches with a simple statement like the following:

I dedicate any and all copyright interest in this software to the
public domain. I make this dedication for the benefit of the public at
large and to the detriment of my heirs and successors. I intend this
dedication to be an overt act of relinquishment in perpetuity of all
present and future rights to this software under copyright law.

Better yet is to ask the major contributors to digitally sign a more explicit copyright release (see an example WAIVER file), and then to keep a record of such signatures in an AUTHORS file accompanying your software. Using GnuPG, contributors can sign a copyright waiver file as follows:

$ gpg --no-version --armor --sign WAIVER

Note that if a contributor makes significant changes or enhancements in his capacity as an employee of some organization, then the above may be insufficient and you would additionally need to ask for a copyright disclaimer signed by a company officer. For more information, have a look at how the SQLite project handles this. The Free Software Foundation also provides an example of a simple copyright disclaimer to be signed by an employer.

For a concrete example of this contributor process, see how the unlicensed RDF.rb project has handled this.

Unlicensed Free Software

Here follows a sample of some of the software projects that have already adopted the Unlicense or a derivative thereof:

If you would like your own project added to this list, drop us a note on the mailing list or create a ticket.

For a more comprehensive listing of software using the Unlicense, google for the first line of the Unlicense. See also a list of authors who unlicense the software they write as a matter of course.

Public Domain Software

Some examples of well-known public domain or license-free software libraries and applications:

For other listings of public domain software, see Whoow, Wikipedia, SourceForge, Ohloh, Google Code Hosting, Alioth, Savannah, Launchpad, CodePlex, RubyForge and the Python Cheeseshop.

Some other ways to set your code free:

Unlicensing Resources

If setting your code entirely free still seems a somewhat daunting prospect, try these perspectives on for size: