Public Domain Python

Tim Peters tim_one at
Sat Sep 9 21:31:06 CEST 2000

> You hit the nail on the head with "Public Domain".
> That's one of the reasons I have started to use Python (and why I
> won't use Java).  If changes to the license (or changes in the way
> that Python is 'managed') mean that I can no longer consider it
> Public Domain than I'll go back to a language that supports type
> checking.

Python isn't public domain, though, and never has been.  Public domain means
there's *no* copyright (which can only happen if the copyright holder
explicitly gives up copyright forever -- the decision to put something in
the public domain is irrevocable), and so no restrictions now-- or ever --on
how you can use it.  So long as there's a copyright holder, they can change
the rules across releases (as, for example, CNRI just did, starting with
Python 1.6b1).

Icon (from the University of Arizona) is a good example of a dynamically
typed, "very high level", mature language that has always been in the public
domain.  It's good for the soul to download their source code and just look
at it:  no copyrights, no disclaimers, no clauses, no licenses, no threats,
no excuses, no preemptive ass-covering, nothing at all but glorious code.
So if you're paranoid about legal shenanigans, Icon's about the safest
language on Earth.

> You can always uses older versions of the language, where the older
> license does apply, of course. IIRC, the license doesn't include any
> terms whereby the licensor can change the terms of the license, so
> older instantiations can't be changed, as far as my meager under-
> standing of the law in situations like this goes, anyway.

Mine too, except that, if you read the CNRI License FAQ very carefully,
you'll find repeated hints that CNRI believes they can *terminate* your
"right" to use older versions of Python (from 1.3 up to but not including
1.6b1) anytime they feel like it, and without cause.  The FAQ says they
don't "intend" to try to do that, but you won't find anything promising they

When I collected the FAQ questions, I also suggested the answers I believed
the Python community wanted to hear.  The suggested answer to #4 was that
CNRI would not take action against users of older Pythons, provided they
were in conformance with the requirements of the old license.  This is one
of the few cases where the answer changed beyond recognition by the time
CNRI finished editing it.  So they were offered the chance to put people at
ease about this, but went out of their way to keep it unclear.  Some people
see that as Machiavellian, others as ordinary legal caution about not making
black-&-white statements that could come back to haunt them, but--
overwhelmingly --most people aren't even aware of it <wink>.

we-stay-up-all-night-so-you-don't-have-to-ly y'rs  - tim

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