Disclaimer: Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and it is not intended to be considered legal advice. All information contained on this website is for general informational purposes only. For legal advice, contact an attorney. If you are a software developer and would like to speak to an attorney, free of charge, regarding the use of Hippocratic License 3.0, you may contact Sameeul Haque at sameeul @ corpaccountabilitylab.org.

Who authored the Hippocratic License 3.0 (HL3)?

The Organization for Ethical Source worked with our partner organization, Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), to create HL3.

Its author is Sameeul Haque, a Staff Attorney at CAL who leads their Ethical IP Program Area. HL3 was developed with consultation and input from other IP attorneys, human rights specialists, and open source community leaders.

Is the Hippocratic License open source? Doesn’t it violate the “No Discrimination” and “Fields of Endeavor” clauses of the Open Source Definition?

For decades, social scientists have made it clear that technology does not exist in a vacuum. It has to be understood as part of an increasingly complex social, cultural, economic, and political context.

In regard to software freedom, it’s important to ask, to whom are we extending this freedom? OES believes that we must think beyond the freedom of developers and adopters, and consider the freedom, in fact the fundamental human rights, of the people who are most impacted by the technologies we create.

The canonical “Open Source Definition” states that an open source license must not discriminate against any person or group of persons (Clause 5), or against any field of endeavor (Clause 6). OES believes that this definition, originally written in 1998, is too narrowly focused and no longer reflects the contemporary practice of open source. However, within a traditionalist framing, the Hippocratic License’s ethical constraints may be considered a “willful violation” of these clauses.

Ethics can vary from person to person and place to place, so how can the Hippocratic License be considered ethical by everyone?

The Hippocratic License 3.0 aims to confront the potential harms and abuses technology can have on people’s fundamental human rights. It provides leverage for open source communities to establish a clear set of ethical standards that licensees must abide by in order to adopt their code. These standards were derived from a variety of international agreements and authorities on international human rights norms, including the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Labour Organization. These sources are a compilation of international ethical standards agreed upon by the vast majority of nations in the world. We’ve adopted those principles which can and should be applied to private actors.

How enforceable is the Hippocratic License?

First, it is important to understand what enforcement typically looks like for a licensor seeking to enforce a license and what remedies are normally available. Assuming a licensee has violated the terms of a license and requests to cease and desist have failed, a licensor can file a lawsuit against a licensee. The primary remedy available to licensors is an injunction. An injunction is a court order that either prohibits a party to a lawsuit from taking a certain action or compels a party to take an action. In the case of software license enforcement litigation, a court would prohibit a licensee from continuing to use the software. There are other remedies that can be available to licensees, but those would be judged on a case-by-case basis.

With respect to Hippocratic License 3.0, until its enforceability is tested in litigation before a court, we cannot say with absolute certainty that the license is enforceable. With that said, to the extent we can say it, Hippocratic License 3.0 is an enforceable license. It was written and reviewed by several intellectual property attorneys and enforceability was a top priority during Hippocratic License 3.0’s drafting.

There is no question that there are clauses within Hippocratic License 3.0 that are more experimental than others. However, clauses such as the severability clause (Section 8.3) are designed such that if a particular clause is deemed unenforceable, that clause is stricken by the court and the remainder of the license remains intact, preserving all other rights and remedies available to the licensor.

Additionally, HL3 is the only ethical open source license which creates an enforcement mechanism for victims of human rights abuses, by using licensing language to establish a private right of action for these victims, so long as those abuses are also a violation of the ethical standards section of the license.

Why is the Hippocratic License modular?

HL3 offers optional modules that focus on specific areas of concern, such as environmental justice, labor rights, and ethical supply chains. This modular approach is intended to empower open source communities to customize the license to reflect the values, needs, and challenges of their particular communities.

Will there be additional modules added to the base license?

OES and CAL will continue to design additional HL3 modules, while also supporting the development of other ethical open source licenses to combat the widespread use and abuse of software to commit human rights abuses around the globe.

What projects have adopted the Hippocratic License?

You can view a list of featured adopters here.

Is the Hippocratic License registered with SPDX?

Hippocratic License 2.1 is registered with SPDX at https://spdx.org/licenses/Hippocratic-2.1.html. We intend to list HL3 when additional criteria required for its inclusion are met.

How do I annotate the Hippocratic License in project documentation?

Use “Hippocratic 3.0” plus the module indicators (e.g. “Hippocratic 3.0 (HL3-ECO)") for a license configured to include the Ecocide module). Our license builder will provide you with the specific annotation based on your module selections.

Where can I see previous versions of the Hippocratic License?

The Hippocratic License uses semantic versioning, and URLs for all versions are permanent: