For more than a year now, I've been developing a paid, commercial application that is based on an existing project posted on GitHub and licensed as MIT. In addition to integrating this project into my own application, I actively contribute to testing the GitHub source project and send bug reports and ideas for improvement to the original developer using e-mails. Because the development of my own application is based on and very much depends on this project posted on GitHub, I want to ask some questions about how to use and license projects on GitHub:

  1. Is it possible for a project that is posted and licensed as MIT to disappear from GitHub at some point? If so, what happens to the copyright of the applications that were developed based on it?
  2. Can the author of a project posted on GitHub change the type of license from a permissive one (such as MIT) to another, more restrictive way of licensing? I ask these questions because I would not like to have legal issues related to copyright in the future.

Thank you for your attention.

2 Answers 2

  1. Absolutely. GitHub, like any other free software distribution site, doesn't give any kind of warranty about future availability. The rightsholder could take it down, GitHub could cease trading, any number of circumstances could cause that project to disappear from that site. If that happens, the copyrights remain with the existing rightsholders, just as they do if the project doesn't disappear.

  2. Yes. The rightsholder can decide to start distributing his/her code under another licence, eg GPL, and may at the same time decide to stop distributing under MIT. What the rightsholder cannot do is take away rights already granted to existing recipients of the code in respect of the code they received; but current versions can be made unavailable to potential new recipients, and future versions can be made unavailable to everyone, should the rightsholder so decide.

    If the rightsholder were to switch to a copyleft licence, you would have to stop interaction with the project, and in particular you couldn't use new versions of the project code to base your proprietary offering on. But assuming you've based your current offering on entirely-MIT-licensed code, then as long as you honour the (very light) obligations of the MIT licence, you can't be stopped from continuing to offer your current offering.

  1. Copyright holder may change a license of the software, but the code what was licensed under MIT license, will be still MIT-licensed, so:
  • If you forked that software AND you DON'T update it, you can ignore all license changes, because you don't use new code.

  • If you ofter or even sometimes update that software, you should see LICENSE file before updating and update or not depending on new license (if (A)(L)GPL or another copy-left license, better option is to stay on old version)

  1. If project will be removed, you can redistribute your copy of it under MIT license.


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