The Mysterious History of the MIT License


Red Hat technology evangelist Gordon Haff explains why it’s hard to say exactly when the MIT license created. Citing input from both Jim Gettys (author of the original X Window System) and Keith Packard (a senior member on the X Windows team), he writes that “The best single answer is probably 1987. But the complete story is more complicated and even a little mysterious.”

An anonymous reader quotes his article at, which begins with the X Window System at MIT’s “Project Athena” (first launched in 1983):X was originally under a proprietary license but, according to Packard, what we would now call an open source license was added to X version 6 in 1985… According to Gettys, “Distributing X under license became enough of a pain that I argued we should just give it away.” However, it turned out that just placing it into the public domain wasn’t an option. “IBM would not touch public domain code (anything without a specific license). We went to the MIT lawyers to craft text to explicitly make it available for any purpose. I think Jerry Saltzer probably did the text with them. I remember approving of the result,” Gettys added. 

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