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7 tools for cutting through software legalese

Serdar Yegulalp | June 20, 2016
EULAs got your eyes swimming? Head spinning from open source licensing terminology? These resources help you get the straight dope

Does anyone, aside from the lawyers out there, enjoy wading through the minutiae of software licenses, be they EULAs (end-user licensing agreements) or open source licenses? Nope. We just want to open an account or get stuff installed, and get running.

Sadly, there's no way to flat-out ignore software licensing. Like visits to the dentist, it's something that has to be confronted eventually -- after all, nobody enjoys either gum disease or lawsuits. But nothing says you have to go it alone.

Here's a collection of resources -- websites, software, and print -- that help untangle the Gordian-knot language and legal arcana found in common software licenses. Note that these offerings typically come with a disclaimer that they do not constitute legal advice; for the real lowdown, you're always best off having a lawyer handy.

Terms of Service: Didn't Read

Nobody reads the terms of service for software, and they definitely don't read the ToS for websites. That's bad enough when it's a consumer-oriented site like Facebook, but it's far worse when it's a site with some degree of professional users (LinkedIn, GitHub, et al.).

Terms of Service: Didn't Read provides a list of common services, with ratings for the clarity and quality of the ToS on each one. Potentially problematic terms in a given ToS, such as indemnification of the service or the right of the service to change its terms at any time without notice, are spelled out in plain English. The site also offers a browser add-on to provide you with notifications about sites you visit if they're in ToS:DR's database.

TLDR Legal

Think of TLDR Legal as a search engine for code and software licenses, EULAs, and ToSes. Type the name of a piece of software or a service, and you're provided with a clear and concise summary of what you can, can't, and must do in each case. For EULAs, there's a plain-English breakdown of the major points of the EULA in one column, with the original EULA text in another. (This also works as a training mechanism: Read enough such side-by-side analyses, and it gets easier to parse EULAs on your own.)

TLDR Legal's database is an ongoing project, so not everything is covered in full detail. For instance, while the terms of the YouTube Partner Program are in the database, they haven't yet been summarized or analyzed, although the terms for YouTube itself do have an analysis. 

Best feature: Each analysis has a change history associated with it, so you can see how the analysis has changed over time.

Choose A License

If you're about to release a piece of software as open source, Choose A License helps you cut through the legalese and pick a software license that best fits your aims.


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