According to Berne convention no one can copy / reproduce materials unless an author granted permissions.

I thought that "open" licenses open copying / composition / distribution among compatible licenses relying on copiright law.

But some EULAs talk not only about copying but restrict when, where I can run / debug / study software. It is not about copyright.

Please help me to understand why any should not only discuss copying but also usage?

Should FOSS licenses explicitly allow to compile code and run executables?

International law seems doesn't define what is software and how it can be used. We understand that we can read book or listen to the music recording. Why we need to state that an application can be launched?

  • 2
    Powerful corporations have successfully argued in court that since running a program copies it from your hard disk to memory, copyright law applies. They were able to do this, not because it makes particularly good sense, but because they were powerful corporations. – user253751 Feb 2 at 9:10

Both the Free Software and Open Source definitions include the freedom to run programs for any purpose:

Free Software Definition: The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

Open Source Definition: 6. No Discrimination Against Fields of Endeavor
The license must not restrict anyone from making use of the program in a specific field of endeavor. For example, it may not restrict the program from being used in a business, or from being used for genetic research.

Any software that comes with a EULA that puts restrictions on how you can run and use the software cannot be FOSS. If it claims to be released under a FOSS license then that's a worrying incompatibility that you'd want to be resolved before using the software.


On a typical computer, when you run a program you copy it from permanent storage (disk or equivalent) into RAM. A copyright holder that were being difficult could attempt to argue that running a program was therefore equivalent to copying it, with all the obligations that implies.

I imagine most courts would look fairly scathingly at this kind of shenanigans, but explicitly putting the permission to run the software into the license removes any possibility of people trying that argument. This increases confidence in the open source software, because there is less chance you will run into difficulties, and is therefore a good thing.

  • 5
    U.S. law explicitly codifies the right to copy into RAM, called the "essential step defense" in 17 USC 117(a)(1), though it only applies to owners of a copy rather than licensees (and when one is an owner vs. a licensee of a copy is a Complex Topic -- the latest case law I know of is Vernor v. Autodesk) – apsillers Feb 1 at 15:23
  • 2
    @apsillers And I think all that kind of complexity indicates why it's a good idea to put the permission explicitly into the license! – Philip Kendall Feb 1 at 17:56

Some open source licenses do specifically grant the right to run the software.

For example, the MIT license says:

Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software,

The BSD licenses say:

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met

A software license agreement can put restrictions on when and how the software can be used. The EULA of a proprietary software might forbid you, for example, from using the software when you stop paying your monthly subscription fees or from using an educational version in a commercial setting.

However, when it does that, then it is usually no longer considered an open source license (according to the OSI definition) or free software license (according to the FSF definition), because both definitions require that anyone who receives the software can use it without restrictions and for any purpose.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.