I'm used to "they" as a way to indicate a person resumptive (non-specific). Also, I'm used to the fact that "it" is used only for inanimate objects, when "contributor" is animate.

My only assumption is that "contributor" means "entity" in this license.

Quotes from MPL (most notably section 2.5):

1.1. “Contributor”

means each individual or legal entity that creates, contributes to the creation of, or owns Covered Software.

2.1. Grants

Each Contributor hereby grants You a world-wide, royalty-free, non-exclusive license:

  1. under intellectual property rights (other than patent or trademark) Licensable by such Contributor to use, reproduce, make available, modify, display, perform, distribute, and otherwise exploit its Contributions, either on an unmodified basis, with Modifications, or as part of a Larger Work; and
  2. under Patent Claims of such Contributor to make, use, sell, offer for sale, have made, import, and otherwise transfer either its Contributions or its Contributor Version.

2.3. Limitations on Grant Scope

The licenses granted in this Section 2 are the only rights granted under this License. No additional rights or licenses will be implied from the distribution or licensing of Covered Software under this License. Notwithstanding Section 2.1(b) above, no patent license is granted by a Contributor:

  1. for any code that a Contributor has removed from Covered Software; or
  2. for infringements caused by: (i) Your and any other third party’s modifications of Covered Software, or (ii) the combination of its Contributions with other software (except as part of its Contributor Version); or
  3. under Patent Claims infringed by Covered Software in the absence of its Contributions.

This License does not grant any rights in the trademarks, service marks, or logos of any Contributor (except as may be necessary to comply with the notice requirements in Section 3.4).

2.5. Representation

Each Contributor represents that the Contributor believes its Contributions are its original creation(s) or it has sufficient rights to grant the rights to its Contributions conveyed by this License.

  • 4
    I would assume that they would assume that a "legal entity" is an "it". Seems to be a reasonable assumption to me (and it avoids that whole he/she thing).
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 14, 2016 at 22:27
  • 1
    I don't think this is standard usage. Aug 14, 2016 at 22:45
  • Note that the relevant definition is “Contributor” means each individual or legal entity that creates, contributes to the creation of, or owns Covered Software. And likely the assumption is that most "contributors" are corporations.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 14, 2016 at 23:07
  • @HotLicks "he/she" can also be replaced by singular "they", which I'm used to. MPL, as other opensource licenses, is assumed to be used by individual developers, so my assumption is Mozilla doesn't assume corporations only. Aug 14, 2016 at 23:31
  • 2
    To me "each individual or legal entity" would suggest that they're factoring in companies as well as individuals and that is why they use it. Oct 10, 2016 at 6:29

2 Answers 2


Because the Contributor is not necessarily a person. As the definition you quote says, it is an individual or legal entity. So the Contributor could be an individual, but it could also be some other legal entity.

For example, I had a job where part of my work involved some contributions to an open source project. However, since I was writing the code on behalf of the company that employed me, I was not the Contributor. My company was.

So logically enough, as far as the license agreement goes, an individual Contributor is treated not as a person, but as an entity parallel to the other legal entities (such as corporations) that may also be Contributors. In this respect, the individual is not accorded a personal pronoun, but the impersonal "it" used for any entity. Here is the business dictionary definition of a legal entity. As you see, it's impersonal.

This has the added advantage of being gender-neutral, but I don't think that is the main consideration here.

  • Yea, that was already suggested, and maybe you're right. My main idea that doesn't let me fully accept this theory is that, while many contributors are entities of various sorts, at least as much of them are individuals and, thus, persons. To call them all "it" is easier for sure but, on the other hand, is strange at least (I don't enjoy much being called so, though I don't take it personally). Jan 18, 2017 at 2:17
  • The linked business dictionary definition of "legal entity" includes individuals.
    – verbose
    Jan 18, 2017 at 22:15
  • Definition indeed includes individuals, but has no grammatical usage details. Though I don't intend to start an argument on this. You're probably right. Feb 9, 2017 at 9:47
  • A legal entity is an "it"; what sort of grammatical usage details would be needed?
    – verbose
    Feb 9, 2017 at 9:53

Attempt at selfanswer.

Soon after this question I noted that GNU General Public License FAQ uses "she" meaning "user":

I was already posting a new question, when I noticed that there are similar, but more general questions on this topic present. It turned out that there's a lot of controversy around using gender-independent (let's call them this way to avoid even more controversy) pronouns.

It's covered in questions on ESE (#28508, #48) and WSE (#2979).

So, my assumption is that such word usage is Mozilla's approach to neutrality, polar to a more accepted usage of "they".

Some bonus material, not directly related to the question (OK, completely unrelated, but I had a lot of fun from these comments while reading the questions so I have to post it)(too bad there's no spoiler tag):


[Usage of "one"] is correct, but has practically fallen into disuse because it suggests an embarrassingly high level of education.


The problem with the pronoun "one" is that when one uses "one" one finds oneself forced to use "one" and all one's variations throughout the rest of one's sentence that one is trying to say.

Keith Thompson

On the other hand, it does work in some contexts: "To boldly go where no one has gone before." (Or, as Douglas Adams wrote, "To boldly split infinitives ...")


"Incidentally, one can get beaten up in school simply by referring to oneself as 'one.'" ~ Sheldon Cooper

Lynn Beighley

(Frankly, I wish I could get away with "it." As in "it puts the lotion on its skin." Creepy, right?)

Kinjal Dixit

We just put a standard message at the start of the document which says that gender specific language is used because our writers cant write and our readers dont care.

Dale Hartley Emery

"Terry wants to create an account. She chooses a password and types it into the text box. No, wait, Terry is a man. I think. Damn, that's a lousy example. Pat wants to create an account. Um, I mean Chris. No, wait. Maybe Dale. Er..."

Will Vousden

[Users choose a password, and then they type it in the text box.]

But this suggests that all of the users collectively choose a single password and type it into the text box once.

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