[Numpy-discussion] Proposal to add clause to license prohibiting use by oil and gas extraction companies

Daniele Nicolodi daniele at grinta.net
Wed Jul 1 18:20:45 EDT 2020

On 01-07-2020 12:34, John Preston wrote:
> Hello all,
> The following proposal was originally issue #16722 on GitHub but at
> the request of Matti Picus I am moving the discussion to this list.


Hello John,

I don't have copyright on any of the Numpy code, however would like to
express a few problems I see in this proposal.

First, as you write, such a license does not qualify as Free Software as
defined by OSI or the DFSG. Adopting this license would mean that Numpy
could not be included in many distributions that give their users the
guarantee that the softer they receive is Free Software. Debian would
remove Numpy from its archive, for example. Fedora would probably do the
same. Conda would need to do the same, but being Numpy at the base of
the Python scientific stack, this would effectively kill Conda. This
would have immediate ripercussions on companies that offer services
based on Numpy and on software that depends on Numpy.

Second, the term of the license are extremely vague, at least in a legal
framework. In particular, "used for or aid in" is a very poor choice of
words. It could be argued that if I use Numpy in the code that handles
the orders for my pizza shop and I am asked to deliver pizzas to Exon
employer working late at night I am "aiding in the "the exploration,
extraction, refinement, processing, or transportation of fossil fuels".
Thus, someone that has copyright on (even very small) part of the Numpy
code could sue me and demand a free lifetime supply of pizza for me to
continue to be able to use Numpy. In practice this would make everyone
avoid using Numpy in their software by being scared of violating these

At the same time, the wording may be too vague to be enforceable in
court. This in practice would mean that most of the "good guys" (as per
the Climate Strike License definition) would be avoiding to use Numpy
because they do not have the resources to fight alleged license
violations in court, while the "bad guys" will continue to do it because
they have a whole legal department to handle something like this.

Third, if a software project would be to adopt something like the
Climate Strike License, why shouldn't it adopt licenses whose terms are
thought to advance some other political agenda? While the fact that the
reliance on fossil fuels is the cause of climate change is widely (but
not universally) acknowledged and we may agree that the the big
economical interests in the enterprises related to fossil fuels are
holding back alternative solutions, there are many other causes on which
an agreement would be very difficult and would drag the project members
into interminable discussions.

Fourth, are we sure that making fossil fuel companies and companies that
rely on fossil fuels less efficient (by forbidding access to the Python
scientific software stack) would make them less dangerous for the
climate? Absurdly, the Climate Strike License forbids a company that
wants to migrate from a busyness model based on fossil fuels to
something more sustainable to use a software with this license to
evaluate and form their plans.

Free Software (in its copyleft or permissive licensing variants) has
been so successful also because its promoters have not tried to leverage
it for other (noble or otherwise) scopes. There has been talk in the
past to incorporate other clauses in the Free Software license to
advance other causes (from "cause no harm" kind of things to provision
to ensure the economical viability of the development) and the
conclusion has always been that it is not a good idea. The reasons
presented ere are just some. I am sure you can find more detailed essays
from authors much more authoritative than me on this matter.


More information about the NumPy-Discussion mailing list