I've been researching user-readable software licenses, and it strikes me that even as they get simpler and cut words, they always start with a wordy passive-voice construction:

MIT: Permission is hereby granted ... to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software")

ISC: Permission ... is hereby granted

BSD: Redistribution ... are permitted

Zlib: Permission is granted to anyone

Why do the licenses use this same sort of wording even as they simplify in other places? Is there a legal advantage to using it in favor of the more obvious you may?

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    One disadvantage of using "you" is that it might not be entirely clear who the writers are addressing as "you". They would need to provide a definition of "you" to make that clear, which might make the licence more complicated to read. – bdsl Sep 13 '15 at 18:26
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    That was my first thought, but MIT and Zlib both define the grantee ("any person obtaining a copy..." and "anyone"). And both seem equivalent to the most obvious definition of you – i.e., whoever agrees to the license terms. – Chel Sep 14 '15 at 1:52

Primary Theory

I suspect there might not be a legal answer to this question.

I have always suspected a sort of pseudo-intellectual elitism (or simple preference or carelessness) with passive voice sentence construction in general. I sense license writers have not (yet) escaped this general trend.

I would love someone to prove this theory incorrect. But, alas, I doubt it will happen.

Alternative Theory

But because this is a Law Q&A site, I will advance the following alternative theory. I don't believe it's correct. But I will advance it because it's the only possible explanation I can think of that might be even remotely based on legal reasoning...

Maybe they are just basing their construction on the way the law itself is written? For example, if the law says, "Permission must be granted..." Then it would follow that a writer who wants to comply with the law might choose, "Permission is hereby granted..." instead of something like "The authors hereby grant permission..." or, as the OP suggested, "You may..."

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