FSF Wants To Police JavaScript Use
Written by Lucy Black   
Sunday, 12 February 2012

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is an organization that I usually support enthusiastically, but its latest suggestion is more doubtful. See what you think.

 

fsflogo

 

There is a lot of open source JavaScript available, jQuery to name just one well known library, and a lot of websites make use of it. Most of it comes with a licence that mandates that you should include a notice that it is indeed free software and available for download and reuse without charge. This isn't a problem - most such packages come with a suitable statement included and you don't have to worry about adding one.

The FSF, however, wants to take this a step further with a demand that you label JavaScript with its licencing status: JavaScript License Web Labels.

It is suggested that it should be a link to a page where the licensing terms can be consulted. Something like

<a href="/about/javascript" rel="jslicense">
JavaScript license information
</a>

The key part of the idea is that this should all be machine readable and so allow an agent to automatically check for the presence of "copyleft" and "copyright" code in the same page. It is suggested that this should only be applied to JavaScript loaded from files; any inline code should have its own licence terms included on the page it is deployed in.

These Licence Web Labels can also be used by tools, such as the LibreJS addon for Firefox, which automatically block any webpage that contains "non-free, non-trivial JavaScript". The argument here is well-rehearsed. Proprietry software is a danger and should be avoided at all costs because its use binds you to its future use and so makes the web and any environment it occurs in less free.

However, blocking a webpage that uses "non-trivial" non-free JavaScript seems to be a step too far. In a world already too governed by licences, copyright and patent issues, this seems to be bringing bureaucracy into freedom. As webpage creators, we have to judge when our JavaScript is "non-trivial" and then decide if we would like it to be proprietary, and hence rejected by any LibreJS user, or label it as free and open source - even if in our view it is a one-off piece of code of no use to anyone else. 

fsficon

Is over-regulating software freedom like fighting for peace?

Perhaps we need to recover the laissez-faire
in our dealings with code and remember the intention of the action as well as its implementation.

More Information

Free Software Foundation

JavaScript License Web Labels

JavaScript Trap

LibreJS

 

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