Some discontinued library mentions the MIT license only in their readme:


Do license mentions in README file without actual LICENSE file mean same in court?


1 Answer 1


Yes, it's OK to not have any license file.

  1. Without any license, the default is that all rights are reserved. If someone other than the author wants to use this code, they have the obligation of obtaining a valid license.

  2. For open source projects, there are a variety of conventions to unambiguously indicate licenses. For example:

    • separate files named like LICENSE, COPYING, NOTICE
    • license headers in individual files
    • a section in a README file
    • machine-readable metadata such as SPDX-License-Identifier headers or package manager metadata

    If an author follows one or more of these conventions, it is likely that a court will find that the author intended to issue the license. Special files such as a LICENSE do not have magic legal power, they are just one industry convention among many.

However, things become difficult if there is conflicting information, and the linked project is an example:

  • In the README, it is said that

    FCAlertView is available under the MIT license. See the LICENSE file for more info.

  • However, no LICENSE file exists.

  • In the source code files, we instead find “all rights reserved” copyright headers without any mention of an MIT license

    Copyright © 2016 <the author>. All rights reserved.

The project in general also suggests that the author is not very experienced, so they might not fully understand the consequence of issuing an MIT license for their code.

So while there are indications that the software is available under the MIT license, there are also indications to the contrary. It would therefore be unwise to use the code without obtaining clarification about the licensing status from the author.

  • Hmm... damn be Xcode for adding those "All rights reserved" automatically!! the author surly did manually mention "See the LICENSE file for more info.", but just didn't add LICENSE file and/or clean Xcode's mess
    – Top-Master
    Jul 26, 2021 at 17:45
  • Wait a second!? people take MIT-License template and just add their copyright at top of it. This project has both MIT-License mentioned and separate Copyright mention too. As long as the copyright does not add restrictions, it's still considerable MIT License, right?
    – Top-Master
    Jul 26, 2021 at 18:00
  • 1
    @Top-Master RE copyright notice: yes, but “all rights reserved” is an indication that the author does not intend to grant any license. RE developer's fault: absolutely not. The author can do what they want. Downstream users are on the hook for obtaining a valid license. Licenses are not primarily about applying restrictions for how we can use their code. More importantly, they are about giving us permissions we do not have by default. Without a license, the default under copyright law is that all rights are reserved by the author, and we as users have no rights.
    – amon
    Jul 26, 2021 at 18:04
  • 1
    @Top-Master No, the “all rights reserved” files aren't necessarily excluded – we just have conflicting statements from the copyright holder. And no, the owner couldn't redefine “MIT license” to refer to some other document. That name has a pretty clear meaning in this context. Such legal trapdoors are typically excluded by the contra proferentem legal doctrine.
    – amon
    Jul 26, 2021 at 18:49
  • 3
    @Top-Master Most likely she just forgot to include the LICENSE file. On the README.md I notice there is a link "Something Missing? Email your suggestion..." maybe you could try that and it's hopefully a simple matter of her pushing the missing file. Technically speaking, MIT license requires including the license text with the software, so as it stands, technically it's not correctly MIT-licensed yet, if you can't find the actual license text ("permission notice") anywhere with the software.
    – Brandin
    Jul 27, 2021 at 13:12

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