There are things that a contract cannot properly require a party to do, such as committing crimes or pleading not guilty. I think also you can't have a contract that requires someone not to vote.

But copyright licenses are not contracts, and there are many licenses that are revocable, and are automatically revoked under certain conditions.

Can a copyright license require doing, or punish (via revocation) not doing, things that a contract could not?

For example, can I license a piece of software only to people who do not vote, by saying that the license is revoked automatically if a person votes? Can I license a short story to be freely copied and read by anyone, on the condition that they never plead guilty to a crime? Or, can I license people to download and view copies of a short film, only on the condition that they do not exercise their right to use excerpts of the work for criticism or parody under fair use?

If I can't get a license like this to "work", do the people I distribute copies to end up with a more permissive license without the unenforceable terms? Or do they end up with no license at all?

  • 2
    Found where the question went wrong: "copyright licenses are not contracts". There is such a concept named "license" which is not a contract, But that's not what you meant when you wrote "copyright license" -- you actually meant "The text that grants a license under particular terms", and that IS a contract.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 18 at 18:55
  • What is the part of the license that isn't the contract that grants the license?
    – interfect
    Jan 20 at 23:59
  • Just like an employment contract is different from a paycheck (although it obligates the company to send you a paycheck if the terms are fulfilled) a contract granting a license is different from the license. But the word "license" is often used to refer to the contract, and that's what your question has done.
    – Ben Voigt
    Jan 25 at 19:13

1 Answer 1


Copyright licences are contracts

At least in common law jurisdictions - they are their own thing in civil law.

Therefore, they can be unenforceable for all the same reasons a contract can be unenforceable.

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