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This might not be a very "open source" question, but I thought I might find in this forum the right people for the question.

For a mortal human being creating a PDF with the license terms for a product is not an easy task.

We can hire a lawyer for it. However, I was wondering... if the kind of license I want is exactly the same as the license of another product out there... can't I just copy their license and change a couple of things such as the name of the product and company?

Is copying someone else's license allowed?


A bit of context: I would like to have the same non-commercial license of another open-source project I saw. And perhaps even the commercial one.

Thanks! ;)

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  • License texts are texts like any other: they fall under copyright law and the usual conditions apply. Feb 25 at 12:47
  • @planetmaker Interesting that GPL explicitly says you can distribute exact copies of the license. Other licenses like BSD do not confer that right. Copyright infringement if you use one of these?
    – doneal24
    Feb 25 at 13:29
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    And may we add our usual warning against crayon licences and licence proliferation?
    – MadHatter
    Feb 26 at 21:34
  • @MadHatter: The OP also mentions "non-commercial" which may be incompatible with free software.
    – ecm
    Feb 27 at 17:32

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It would have helped if you had provided a link to the license you want to "re-use". Some licenses contain specific clauses which deal with your question. for example GPLv3 states:

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

So if the license of the other product contains a clause like this it will be easy for you to decide.

In other cases it is not so clear cut. For example the MIT License does not have a statement concerning the use of the license language. The OSI webpage says:

License Copyright: Unknown. License License: Unknown. License Contact: Unknown.

In cases like this I would just check how the majority of other users of that license deal with it. Or, if possible, contact the author of the license language for clarification.

If there is no precedence and there is no way to contact the author of the license, I would not reuse it for my own software.

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    Re the MIT license: Technically, the MIT license requires you to make copies of it in order to comply with it. Reusing it on your own software is a bit of a gray area, but in practice I think it is profoundly unlikely that anyone will care.
    – Kevin
    Feb 26 at 6:35
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    @Kevin I took the MIT License as an obvious example that re-use without explicit language is possible and common practice. There are many licenses like that, for example the BSD licenses, it appears to be more like the rule than the exception, especially with the traditional licenses for OSS. Other licenses, such like Creative Commons licenses, have an explicit statement regarding its use and re-use. Feb 26 at 9:11

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