Subject: Re: prohibiting use that would result in death or personal injury
From: "Derek J. Balling" <>
Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2000 09:55:10 -0700

Wow... hadn't thought of that one yet. That's a VERY good point. I 
certainly wouldn't want to get sued because some poor schmoe was 
using my GPL'ed Perl scripts to monitor his aircraft engines or 
something.... :-/

But the ramifications to that argument can be wide-reaching... that 
means no OSS installations on "mission-critical" hospital hardware. 
No embedded OSS applications in EMT hardware.

If someone can take Linux (for example), and put an application on 
top of it, is there a liability to Linus (et al) if the OS causes a 
problem in the application, causing, let's say, an advanced 
defibrillator to pump out the wrong amount of power?

Making that restriction is entirely "logical" -- why would Linus (or 
anyone else) want to open themselves up to that potential lawsuit? 
But by the same token (to dip into RMS's domain), why shouldn't the 
EMT-Hardware-Company be free [as-in-speech] to use Linux as a base 
for their defibrillator product?

[Obviously no such defib exists to my knowledge, I'm just using it as 
an example of a potential embedded application.]

It is obvious now, that any product using the GPL has opened its 
owner up to liability in the case you've described, and I don't see 
the GPL actually getting changed in this regard (it seems it would go 
against RMS's moral code for it, and I can acknowledge that side of 
the argument).

No clear-cut answers here, but I think the problem is actually much 
more insidious than you realized. :)


At 12:33 PM -0400 7/22/00, Justin Wells wrote:
>Can an opensource license include this phrase:
>    You must not use our software where there is any risk of death or
>    personal injury.
>Lots of licenses say that, and the reason is that in many jurisdictions it
>is not possible to disclaim liability for something that might kill or
>seriously inujure someone.
>So what software licenses do instead is prohibit any use that might result
>in death or personal injury.
>I think this contradicts the "fields of endeavor" portion of the OSD. However,
>I also think it's an entirely reasonable thing to put in an open source
>This restriction would prevent you from using the software to fly an aircraft,
>or as part of a military weapons system, or as part of the safey 
>system keeping
>trains from colliding. Those are definately fields of endeavor.
>I'm interested in hearing what others think.
>If it's not allowed in an open source license then the author of any
>opensource software package is open to almost unlimited liability in the
>event that someone uses their software in a critical system and, as the
>result of some bug, someone dies.
>Though it doesn't seem fair, I can imagine the victim's side arguing
>that since the opensource author allowed their software to be used
>in any field of endeavour (including critical systems) they were
>negligent in not ensuring that the software was suitable for use
>under those conditions.