License your code

open source 0 comments suggest edit

A while back I wrote a riveting 3-part developer’s guide to copyright law and open source licensing for developers.

I’m pretty sure you read every word at the edge of your seat. Who doesn’t love reading about laws, licenses, and copyright!?

Seriously though, I hope some of you found it useful. In this post, I want to talk about some recent developments that should make it easier for developers to license their code.

A couple days ago I published a blog post on the GitHub blog about an effort I’ve been involved with, Per the about page:

GitHub wants to help developers choose a license for their source code.

If you already know what you’re doing and have a license you prefer to use, that’s great! We’re not here to change your mind. But if you are bewildered by the large number of OSS license choices, maybe we can help.

I’m interested in helping developers be explicit and clear about their intent for their code. Adding a LICENSE (or an UNLICENSE if that’s your thing) file to the root of your public repository is a good way to state your intent. We even include an option if you really do want to retain all rights to your code, you grinch (I kid! I do not judge.)

But before you can choose a license, you need to be informed about what the license entails. That’s what we hope the site helps with.

Combined with the site, GitHub now has a feature that lets you choose a license when creating a repository on GitHub.

That’s great! But what about all your existing projects? Well one of my co-workers, Garen Torikian, has you covered. He built as a little side project. Note that the project is full of disclaimers:

This site is **not owned by or affiliated with GitHub**. But I work there, and I’m using the API to add each new license file. You’ll be asked to authenticate this app for your public repositories on the next page.

Perhaps in the future, we may integrate this into

But in the meanwhile check it out and get those projects licensed!

Found a typo or error? Suggest an edit! If accepted, your contribution is listed automatically here.



7 responses

  1. Avatar for bcs
    bcs July 17th, 2013

    What? No warning about how radically AGPL restricts who is even allowed to *look* at your code? (Many commercial shops forbid their people from doing ANYTHING with AGPL code including downloading or even looking at it).

  2. Avatar for John Atten
    John Atten July 18th, 2013

    This is too awesome. Keep up the great work!

  3. Avatar for haacked
    haacked July 18th, 2013

    I'm not aware of any provision within the AGPL that restricts who may look at the code. Can you point it out?

    > Many commercial shops forbid their people from doing ANYTHING with AGPL code including downloading or even looking at it

    And many commercial shops don't allow employees from looking at _any_ open source code at all. I don't think the focus of the site should be how some reactionary employers approach open source. I think it should be about distilling the essence of the licenses themselves as much as possible.

  4. Avatar for Ken
    Ken July 18th, 2013

    If there is a glut of licensing options then one might ask themselves what is the likelihood that such licenses are actually enforced in courts in all countries. If not, then what is the point?

  5. Avatar for Andrey Shchekin
    Andrey Shchekin August 11th, 2013

    The ironic thing is that at some point GitHub was the only popular service that did not have mandatory choice of license (as compared to SourceForge and Google Code). And NuGet gallery does not require license, which I noted before as quite bad (for example, for GPL packages).

    If services do not care (and actually regress from older and better practices), it is quite expected that users of these services do not care as well.

  6. Avatar for Matthew Nichols
    Matthew Nichols November 13th, 2013

    GitHub culture question: Do you think it would rude to submit a pull request to a project adding the BSD license (and a nice explanation of it's implications)? It seems like "do what you want but don't sue me" is what people intend if they put code out there with no license, but maybe that is just me. Thoughts?

  7. Avatar for haacked
    haacked November 13th, 2013

    Personally, I don't think it's rude. But I'd start with an issue and offer to make a PR. I wouldn't lead with the PR. And I'd personally lead with MIT, but that's just me. :)