Let's say that there are aspects of the GPL, one of the Creative Commons, and MIT licenses that I want to use for a project. Do any of those licenses restrict me from copying the contents of the actual licenses themselves for use in a new derivative license, even if let's say, that derivative license is not compatible with the originals?

Of course a lawyer would need to get involved with the latter aspects. I'm just wondering if it's a nonstarter.

  • 4
    The very beginning of the GPL license has a copyright statement and tells you exactly what you have permission to do with the license. I assume you did not read it. Oct 12, 2020 at 16:47
  • @user253751 Note that, notwithstanding the prohibition in the GPL itself, the FSF does allow reuse of GPL terms under certain conditions: opensource.stackexchange.com/q/253/50
    – apsillers
    Oct 12, 2020 at 17:29
  • There are a lot of well known FOSS licenses, are you sure that none of them matches your requirements? If you post a new question listing your requirements, someone might be able to recommend an existing license you could use.
    – Felix G
    Oct 13, 2020 at 9:03

1 Answer 1


This is legally possible but socially inadvisable.

The exact wording of licensing terms is generally copyrightable, insofar as it is possible to state the same terms using different words. (I will not attempt to consider whether the legal language in the GPL or CC licenses passes or fails this standard.) The terms, as abstract permissions and requirements, are not copyrightable, but their fixation into a particular human language might be copyrightable, to the degree that some creativity was employed in authoring that fixation.

However, even if the GPL and CC family of licenses are copyrightable, their authors have each granted explicit permission to reuse their written terms.

In their GPL FAQ, the FSF permits reuse of the GPL in a new license, as long as you change the name and omit the preamble. They also strongly advise against doing so, and to use the exception mechanism instead. (See the linked question for more information.)

The Creative Commons organization similarly allows reuse of their terms (in fact, they actively claim their license documents are not copyrightable), but forbid the use of Creative Commons trademarks alongside such reuse, including the name and logos of the organization.

I can't be sure about the MIT license -- it's been around so long and is so widespread I couldn't even guess who the original author of those simple terms might be. Considering the simplicity of the terms, it is probably not copyrightable.

Please strongly reconsider doing this. I'm pleased to see your intent to consult a lawyer. Be aware that the GPL has many terms that are designed to work in concordance with one another. If you take only part, it may not legally operate as you intend in isolation, or may have substantial loopholes, normally closed by another part of the license.

Additionally, if your intent with this license is to attract collaborators or downstream reuse, many people who make community contributions (to software, art, etc.) will be wary of building upon a project with a nonstandard license.


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