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A recent flurry of comments on a JSHint issue alerted me to the fact that the JSON data-interchange format has a license.

The content of this license can be debated elsewhere.

What I'm unclear on is what it means for JSON (or any other data-interchance format) to have a license.

If an a library simply consumes and parses JSON, does it have to include this license? I understand that using a library that contains this license would require a user to include it. I'm talking about writing a library from scratch.

What if I have to use JSON because a third party service only communicates via JSON. If I'm serializing and deserializing data according to the RFC, do I still need to refer to the license?

  • The license also applies to the documentation. I think referring to 'software' is mostly just a legal CYA. – Sean McSomething Aug 26 '13 at 20:15
  • Yeah... it just occurred to me that the license refers to documentation and software. Since JSON is neither, does this license make any sense? – Dancrumb Aug 26 '13 at 20:16
  • I wonder what "software" the license is referring to, because JSON is a standard for a data-interchange format, not executable software. – Philipp Aug 26 '13 at 20:31
  • The system described in the text of the standard is not eligible for copyright. Baker v. Selden made it clear in 1879 that ideas (and systems and instructions) cannot be protected by copyright, and are free to be used by anyone, unless impeded by a patent. The text of the standard and any software implementations of the standard are protected by copyright, so you need a license to distribute them; the logical instructions in the standard are not restricted, unless by patent. (But, then again, I'm not a lawyer, so what do I know?) – apsillers Aug 26 '13 at 20:47
  • Also, looking over the thread you reference, I could not find any comment to support your assertion that "the JSON data-interchange format has a license." The participants in the thread largely assumes that removing Crockford's actual code will resolve the problem: the license allows usage of Crockford's JSON implemention, whereas usage of the JSON format is already allowed, since it is not eligible for copyright nor fettered by any patent. – apsillers Aug 26 '13 at 21:16
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Note that the license refers to the reference implementation of JSON, not to the JSON format itself.

As an aside, I find it amusing that people get so worked up over the "not evil" clause. See this Douglas Crockford video for some perspective.

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    +1 for noting the reference aspect. As to the "not evil" clause, Crockford is geeky enough to understand that he created this problem, not everyone else (OK, Stallman created it, but that's the more-general case). – Ross Patterson Aug 26 '13 at 21:42

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