When smart contracts are deployed on the Ethereum network they are operated by multiple anonymous nodes of the network. Assuming that the code of the smart contracts is subject to the MIT license, if an Ethereum user now interacts with such smart contracts, what are the applicable legal terms, if any?

In my opinion, deployed smart contracts are similar to SaaS-solutions, with the main difference of being operated on a decentralized network.

My understanding of OSS licenses is that they license the use of code but not the interaction with executed code i.e. OSS license do not apply to a user of SaaS-offerings, as the user is only interacting with the code but does not "use" the code. Is that correct?

1 Answer 1


Open Source Licenses are granting rights to do things, that --as worded in GPLv3-- "without permission, would make you directly or secondarily liable for infringement under applicable copyright law".

Your question can be broken down into 2 parts:

  • Is copyright law relevant for the interaction with Ethereum smart contracts?
  • Who is the rights holder that defines the legal terms?

Smart contracts are described here. As you can see, smart contracts are not part of the Ethereum codebase, they are more like a macro within a spreadsheet, and that has its own copyright, independent from the platform that is used to edit/store it (i.e. independent from the copyright of e.g. Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, GoogleDocs, ...).

It is the nature of a public blockchain, that it is replicated many times, one replica for every node. The content of the blockchain is public, any person with an Account can read the entire content. Anyone who puts information on a public blockchain agrees to that (and should own all rights that permit such publication).

So the governing rules for the smart contract will be a) the Terms of Use / Terms of Service of the Ethereum Blockchain (with everything you agree to when creating an Account) as needed to put transactions on the blockchain, and b) the rules of that specific smart contract you are interacting with.

As you can see here, smart contracts have a SPDX license identifier tag, which --if present-- may tell you what you can do with it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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