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Section 5.4 No License

Subsection 5.4.1 In the Absence of a License

Even in the absence of a license file, you may grant some rights in cases where you publish your source code to a site that requires accepting terms of service. For example, if you publish your source code in a public repository on GitHub, you have accepted the Terms of Service
, by which you allow others to view and fork your repository. Others may not need your permission if limitations and exceptions to copyright
apply to their particular situation. Neither site terms nor jurisdiction-specific copyright limitations are sufficient for the kinds of collaboration that people usually seek on a public code host, such as experimentation, modification, and sharing as fostered by an open source license.
You don’t have to do anything to not offer a license. You may, however, wish to add a copyright notice and statement that you are not offering any license in a prominent place (e.g., your project’s README) so that users don’t assume you made an oversight. If you’re going to accept others’ contributions to your non-licensed project, you may wish to explore adding a contributor agreement to your project with your lawyer so that you maintain copyright permission from contributors, even though you’re not granting the same.
Disallowing use of your code might not be what you intend by posting “no license.” An open source license allows reuse of your code while you retain the copyright. If your goal is to completely opt-out of copyright restrictions, consider a public domain dedication instead using something like the Unlicense
. (Note that not all countries recognize public domain, so public domain licensing tries to address this issue.)

The Unlicense.

A license with no conditions whatsoever which dedicates works to the public domain. Unlicensed works, modifications, and larger works may be distributed under different terms and without source code.
The following table summarizes this the Unlicense:
Table 5.4.1. The Unlicense Permissions, Conditions, and Limitations
Permissions              Conditions               Limitations             
✓ Commercial use
✓ Distribution
✓ Modification
✓ Private use
⚠ (None) ✗ Liability
✗ Warranty
The entire text of the Unlicense can be found at the Unlicense
Examples of open source projects using the Unlicense:
  • kakoune
  • (Ruby) RDF.rb
  • react-use

Subsection 5.4.2 For potential users

If you find software that doesn’t seem to have a license, that generally means you have been granted no permission from the creators of the software at all. Although a code host such as GitHub
may allow you to view and even make a copy of the code, this does not imply that you are permitted to use, modify, or share the software for any purpose.
To be clear, if software has no license at all, that means you have been granted no permission from the creators of the software to use, modify, or share the software, so you had best not do so.
If you find software without a posted license, your options are:
  • Ask the maintainers nicely to add a license.
    Unless the software includes strong indications to the contrary, lack of a license is probably an oversight. If the software is hosted on a site like GitHub, open an issue requesting a license. If you’re bold and it’s fairly obvious what license is most appropriate, open a pull request to add a license.
  • Don’t use the software.
    Find or create an alternative that is under an open source license.
  • Negotiate a private license.
    Be sure to bring your lawyer.

Checkpoint 5.4.2.

    If you come across software that doesn’t have a license, what are your options as a potential user?
  • Request the maintainers to add a license and negotiate terms with them privately.
  • Correct! It’s nicer to ask or remind the maintainers about product license for their software before attempting to use it by any means.
  • Assume the software is open source and use it, but avoid sharing it with others.
  • Assuming the software is open source without a license is not a safe approach. Without a license, you have no permission to use, modify, or share the software, so using it without a license is not advisable
  • Use the software for personal use but refrain from viewing or making a copy of the code.
  • Without a license, you have no permission to use the software, even for personal use. Additionally, if you have access to the code, you may inadvertently infringe on the copyright holder’s rights.
  • Contact GitHub support to report the lack of a license and seek their assistance in getting one.
  • While it’s a good idea to report the lack of a license to the maintainers or project owners, GitHub support is not directly involved in adding licenses to repositories. It’s up to the project owners to choose and add a license to their software.
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