back to article GitHub to devs: pick a license, we dare you

When Microsoft announced back in January that its flagship development tools Visual Studio and Team Foundation Service would play nicely with Git, it was a sign that the tool and its online manifestation GitHub had become part of the programming furniture. Many supporters chalk that status up as a win for all things open …


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  1. dogged


    The MIT license is popular in code you're giving away as a public service.

    Everything I have on t'interweb for free download uses it. It's nice and simple.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: MIT

      Which MIT license? Do you mean X11? That's OK for small code, for bigger programmes Apache 2.0 is better as that have guards against patents - which is good for devs.

      A better choice for users is the GPL software.

      For cloud-based services, users should choose Affero services as this resolves some issues the GPL has in that model.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: MIT

        1) There is only one "MIT license". There is no "X11 license". Look it up. Wait, I 'll do it for you:

        2) No licence guards against patents. Work on your IP basics.

        3) GPL a "better choice"? Opinions, my dear. Which GPL, btw? 2 or 3? Or maybe LGPL?

        4) Thank you for the attempt at complexifferoizing the IP horror.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: MIT

          1) MIT has used many licenses. That one is referred to as "X11" as it was first used for X Windowing. Look it up. Wait, I'll do it for you:

          2) "IP" is a nonsense term and not worthy of discussion. Patents are a specific thing and can be guarded against.

          3) The GPL is the best choice for users, bar none. Note: I said USERS. I am sorry if users freedom is something you can't comprehend. GPLv3 (or Affero for Cloud). As a *USER* you should not accept any other license.

          4) See 2. IP is a nonsense term and not worthy of discussion.

          1. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: MIT

            The GPL is the best choice for users, bar none.

            Personally I prefer licenses out of the "here, do what you like" stable. I think that the idea of adding reams of carefully worded clauses to a license in the name of "freedom" has a lot in common with fighting for peace or fucking for virginity.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: MIT

              "Fighting for peace"? What? The GPL ensures *user freedom* be ensuring that the user can get the code and do what they want, when they want and how they want. There are no limitation on the user.

              If, however, the user wishes to distribute they new stuff (and there's no reason they have to) they then have to respect the freedom of all subsequent users and the GPL does this.

              It's not hard to understand.

              If, as a developer, you don't like the idea of user freedom there is a simple answer. Don't pick the GPL. A short-sighted decision, but one you are free to make.

        2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: MIT

 describes how the Apache Licence addresses patents by "requiring a patent license on contributions that necessarily infringe a contributor's own patents." I'm not a lawyer but I think they should have said "rely on" rather than "infringe", and that it probably means that I can't scoop Apache-licensed code into Robert's Hypothetical Considerably Better Browser, hypothetically sold by me and incorporating my hypothetical patented gesture control system, without licensing those patents to other users of the software that I helped myself to. Or something like that, a bit.

        3. Jolyon Smith

          Re: MIT

          1) What a dumb assertion.

          You can insert anything in that statement in place of "X11 License" and it will be just as meaningful (i.e. not at all).

          Here, let me show you:

          There is only one MIT License. There is no "cheddar cheese". Look it up.

          >>> provides link to a 3rd party reproduction of a non-copyrighted license that fails to mention cheddar cheese as "proof" of non-existence of cheddar cheese.

          In common use, "X11 License" is used interchangeably with MIT License. You can argue this is inaccurate since the X11 license is technically only AN MIT License, not THE MIT License. But it does never-the-less exist even if in practice it does not have anything that distinguishes it from THE MIT License - which is what tends to be the case in such examples of "interchangeability". Take your own advice - "Look it up", you will find that MIT/X11 is predominantly synonymous in the licensing field.

          (I haven't yet found an example of a supposed distinction between an X11 License and the Expat license (also AN MIT License but more widely acknowledge as identical to THE MIT license) which includes any additional clauses, despite the assertion in this respect in some quarters, referring to a prohibition on unauthorised use of the author's name in any sales or promotional activity).

  2. Steen Hive


    "That omission is problematic because unlicensed code's copyright rests with its author, without the coder having to do anything to claim it."

    "Problematic" is not how I'd describe it - "Works as designed", more like. Copyright subsists in all creative works by design, if someone mints cash with unlicensed code, getting whacked for cutting out the author in the absence of a licence stating otherwise is proper order. There's plenty of liberally licensed code out there - if you do feel the need to mint cash with copyrighted code, the bloody thing's on Github - not exactly an orphan work, so pay for it.

    1. Robert Grant

      Re: Problematic?

      I agree, although I can appreciate that a busy developer leafing through Github might at least appreciate a warning that (s)he can't use some code, or assurance that it's fine. Similar to flickr's licence information.

  3. andy 103

    Two sides to the argument

    "The code is so useful, a third party uses it in a product that mints cash. The cunning coder could then, thanks to Copyright, have a legal lash at the product's owners."

    I agree that if someone does that deliberately then it doesn't seem right. But equally if I put time/work/effort into building something and someone else just takes that for their own financial gain (without giving me anything), then is that right either? Some people expect to make money from their work and just because they use a particular solution to host and store the code doesn't mean that shouldn't matter anymore.

    I think this point also goes hand-in-hand with "developers [...] can't confront the chore of picking a license". What would be the correct licence if you wanted to host your code on Github and expect to be paid if others made financial gain from it? I don't know, and I bet some others wouldn't either. So what happens then? I don't bother to pick a licence at all - and now back to square 1.

  4. stratofish

    "It's also added a new feature that pops a license-selection menu front and centre when users create a new project. GitHub's made the MIT, Apache and GPL licenses most prominent, but also offers eleven others. Users who choose one of the offered licenses are offered the handy short-cut of a file containing the relevant text automatically appearing landing in their project's directory."

    Err, I created a new GitHub project at the weekend and didn't get this. I'm in the project settings page now and licenses are not mentioned at all, let alone a way to add one, which I would like to do.

    I see from StackOverflow that I have to add the license files manually to the repo now. Fair enough but GitHub are in no position to complain if they seem to be doing their best to not mention licenses at all on the project pages.

  5. Keep Refrigerated

    Is it just me that sees the problem of putting closed source code on an 'open' repository?

    Given the mission of GitHub is to share and fork code, why would anyone put code that they want to 'protect' on GitHub in the first place?

    I mean, if you're really interested in extracting a profit from it, then you have to be prepared to pay legal fees to go after someone who forks your code without seeking a license. Therefore aren't you just creating a rod for your own back by way of exponential lawyer fees and the inevitable Pandora's box of not being able to prevent the code going viral?

    You don't see Microsoft putting Windows code, or Adobe putting Photoshop code up online for everyone's perusal - there's a reason for that.

  6. phuzz Silver badge

    I've always gone for:


    It's code you found free on the internet, what do you think you can do with it?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    surely it won't be long before a troll-like entity starts sniffing around GitHub for something it can wave before a court.

    FFS don't start giving people ideas you morons!!!

  8. Dom 3

    "unlicensed code's copyright rests with its author, without the coder having to do anything to claim it." is misleading, as the copyright rests with the author regardless of the licensing (unless they assign it to someone else, or the licence gives it away). As I find myself pointing out on a continual basis, the GPL (for instance) is based on a very strong *assertion* of copyright, not an abrogation of it.

  9. Mr Flibble

    What? No WTFPL?

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