The Organization for Ethical Source (OES), the nonprofit helping open source developers ensure that their work is being used for social good, today announced the release of the Hippocratic License 3.0 (HL3), a major revision of the preeminent ethical source license that specifically prohibits the use of open source software in violation of universal standards for human rights.
“Traditional open source is based on the premise that technology is neutral, and that absolute openness, ‘freedom zero’, is the only relevant ethical stance. But with the widespread adoption of open source by mega-corporations, governments, and the military, we’re seeing the limits of that kind of thinking,” said Coraline Ada Ehmke, co-founder of OES and creator of the Hippocratic License 1.0. “The OES continues to develop tools like the Hippocratic License to empower open source developers to take a more principled stance, based on the real-world impact of their work— not just their good intentions.”
Development of HL3 was led by Sameeul Haque, an IP and human rights attorney with OES partner Corporate Accountability Lab (CAL), in consultation with a special-purpose working group that included other ethical source license creators as well as open source maintainers.
“The position of many within the tech industry to keep it value-neutral, amoral, and apathetic does not immunize the industry from conversations about accountability and culpability,” said Sameeul Haque, staff attorney at CAL. “Hippocratic License 3.0 aims to confront the potential harms and abuses technology can have on people’s fundamental human rights.”
Strengthening the enforcement mechanism was a primary focus in the development of HL3, but one of its key innovations is its modularity. The core license provides protections for universally recognized human rights— including specific provisions for Indigenous rights— but also offers optional modules that focus on specific areas of concern, such as environmental justice or labor rights.
This modular approach, powered by a redesigned “license builder” website, empowers adopters to customize the Hippocratic License to reflect the needs and challenges of their particular communities. The site also provides plain-language explanations of each clause of the license, helping maintainers make informed decisions about adoption and customization.
“My experience working in open source ethical AI made apparent the need for deeper commitment and accountability around the impacts of the open source software we build,” said Maureen McElaney, OES working group member and Community Program Manager, IBM Quantum. “A license like this codifies this commitment to ethics and morality, bringing it beyond optics, and gives the contributors to these projects the peace of mind in knowing that their work will not be used to cause harm.”
“I came to the working group somewhat skeptical of the Hippocratic License, but I have become increasingly attuned to the benefits this license can have,” said Mike Nolan, member of the OES working group and assistant director Open@RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). “It is a symbol and tool for workers to demand that our organizations and businesses build these guarantees into how our work is used.”
To learn more about the Hippocratic License visit https://firstdonoharm.dev/.
About the Organization for Ethical Source
The Organization for Ethical Source (OES) is a diverse, multidisciplinary, and global community that is revolutionizing how tech culture works. We are investing in tools like Contributor Covenant as part of our commitment to creating a better future for open source communities around the world. If you’d like to help us shape that future, consider becoming an OES member.