GitHub and Open Source Licenses

As Simon wrote last November, although GitHub is self-described as the “world’s largest open source community,” a significant number of the projects hosted there come with no rights whatsoever for you to use their code in an open source project. That’s because so many don’t include an OSI-approved open source license.  It seems as though someone at GitHub agrees with the view he put forward; yesterday they made a number of moves to rectify the situation.

For a start, they’ve launched the microsite, The site offers a very simple overview of three main types of license, with examples of other projects which use them. It also links to more comprehensive list of license options, still laid out it a very easily digested format. One of the options it highlights is that of not licensing the work at all, but what this actually means in terms of retaining copyright is spelled out in as much detail as any of the other options. Hopefully more users will now choose more appropriate licensing, in line with the way they actually want their code to be used.

Even more exciting than the microsite though is GitHub’s decision to add a step to the creation of a new repository, encouraging  users to license their copyright as open source. This is a very positive step forward and shows that GitHub takes open source licenses seriously and is committed to addressing existing licensing problems. Of course this needs to be the first step in a longer process, but all congratulations to GitHub for this admirable move forward. Read more in today’s InfoWorld article.

3 thoughts on “GitHub and Open Source Licenses

  1. I suspect any developer who hasn’t actually dealt with lawyers or licensing issues first-hand just winds up scratching their head and wondering what all the fuss is about and why people don’t get on with getting stuff done.

    No developer naturally thinks about this stuff until they either find they’re not free to use something, or works at a company that requires them to think about licensing (and I’ve seen some that definitely didn’t).


    • Perhaps. But anyone who understands the nature of copyright — that you have no rights whatsoever until the copyright owner gives you a license — quickly realises the issue. For example in the Debian community, a group of uber-geeks if ever there was one, there’s no confusion about the absolute necessity for an open source license if you want to be free to collaborate.


      • Agreed. It’s an education problem.

        I like how simple GitHub made the choices – MIT, Apache or GPL pretty much covers the spectrum (modulo the MPL nuances, but I don’t know how much good they’ve done).

        I don’t think that choosealicense does much for the education part – there’s no “Why should I care about this?” link, although the content you see under “No license” would do.


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