License Or No License – There Is No “Implied”

A rather hackneyed attempt at channeling Star Wars’ Yoda Puppet I admit (“do or do not, there is no try”), but it ties into an interesting point I found out this week – there is NO middle ground for licensing online.

Let me explain: I use software source code obtained online, both for my consulting work and my own use, and I always check the license. Obviously, while Open Source is fine and dandy, some variations (GPL and some Creative Commons variations) require code publishing, which on private code isn’t an option.

So far, so good. But what if the license is not explicitly mentioned in the source? It turns out that the implied license is for all copyrights to be retained. Counterintuitively, this means that what appears to be the most casual code can have the strictest licensing on it, by default.

Fortunately, this has not been an issue so far for me, since I’m very careful that my clients have a spelled out license for any code used in their products (and obviously, one that doesn’t require revealing proprietary code). But the thought that I could have grabbed code and risked “locking in” some odd license is quite annoying.

What to do?

  • Obviously, if you are programming for business, confirm every license for any code you use. And if there is no license, then there is – you just haven’t seen it!
  • And if you do your own code for release, consider an explicit license for it.

I’m guilty of the latter, but I’m resolving that the code on my site will be more explicitly spelled out in the future. For example, this site helps with license selection by spelling out the terms of various common ones. Take a moment to check them out, and remember: “No License” is not an option!

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