Government best practices

License guidance

Note: This information might be able to merged intelligently somewhere else in the repo. But I wanted to get a conversation going around some text beforehand.


When a government agency puts out a data specification, they often include a “terms and disclaimers” at the beginning of the specification. While some of it is necessary legalese, it could probably be improved so it not only doesn’t scare away the open source and open data communities, but instead encourages them to work with the spec.

Here is an example of real terms and disclaimers attached to a data specification - the name of the agency has been removed.


This specification document (“specification” or “document”) was created by [INSERT AGENCY NAME]. The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] grants the person or entity intending to use, reproduce, or distribute this specification the limited right to use, reproduce, and distribute copies of this document if you comply with all of the following conditions:

  1. When reproducing the document, you reproduce the entire document (including these license terms and disclaimers) without any modifications;
  2. When distributing copies of the document, you distribute the entire document (including these license terms and disclaimers) without any modifications;
  3. You do not modify or create derivative works of this document and do not include all or part of the document in any compilations or collective works;
  4. You do not use this document or the information contained within it to create another data format; and
  5. You do not use “[INSERT AGENCY NAME]” to identify, endorse, or promote any products, services, or materials that utilize the data format described in this document.

The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] does not grant you any other rights and you agree that you do not obtain any implied rights. The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] provides this document to you AS IS and without any warranties. The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] hereby disclaims all warranties, whether express, implied, or statutory, with respect to this document, including the warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title, and non-infringement. Further, the [INSERT AGENCY NAME] makes no representations or warranty that the contents of this document are free from error or suitable for any purpose, nor that the implementation of the specification will not infringe any third-party patents, copyrights, trademarks or other rights. The [INSERT AGENCY NAME] shall not be liable for direct, indirect, special, incidental, exemplary, or consequential damages (including damages for loss of profits, loss of programs, business interruption, or any other pecuniary loss, or loss of data or information) arising from or related to this document, your use of this document, or any product or service that utilizes the data format described in this document, even if the [INSERT AGENCY NAME] has been advised of the possibility of such damage.


The above text doesn’t give clear guidance to developers on how they can use the data specificaton following these terms. Certainly not in a form they’re used to. How would we edit or extend the above to cover the use case of open source development?

Further, since this is a product of the government, we actually do want people to be able to remix, improve, and resubmit the specification. What the current text is trying to do is to prevent people from circulating a malicously modified version of the spec under a false agency banner. But since the text is overreaching, it also prevents the good iterative work properly licensed or public domain contributions can provide.