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According to the answers to What can I assume if a publicly published project has no license?, If a repository has no license, then all rights are reserved and it is not Open Source or Free. You cannot modify or redistribute this code without explicit permission from the copyright holder. No surprise there.

However, if the project imports/extends/includes GPL-licensed code, then it has to have a GPL-compatible license. For example, I believe my own GPL-licensed code can freely incorporate code that itself incorporates GPL code.

Can I assume a GPL-compatible license, just because the source code has imports/includes on GPL-licensed code?

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    Could you take a look at If a non-GPL program is illegally linking to a GPL library, can I assume that program automatically became GPL and let us know whether it answers your question, and if not, what remains unanswered?
    – MadHatter
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:30
  • @MadHatter Thanks for the pointer. I had not found that question.
    – gerrit
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:48
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    "if the project imports/extends/includes GPL-licensed code, then it has to have a GPL-compatible license" - Not 100% true -- if you look section 7 of the GPL, you can see that it's possible in principle that the copyright holder has given a special permission to this redistributor to use the code in such a manner (without having to make the whole program GPL). Such an extra permission does not necessarily have to be given to the public at large, but this would require agreement of all copyright holder(s). That's probably unlikely for a big GPL program with many contributors.
    – Brandin
    Oct 6, 2023 at 8:39

2 Answers 2

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Can I assume a GPL-compatible license, just because the source code has imports/includes on GPL-licensed code?

No. If a project does not state a license, but it also imports/includes GPL-licensed code, then the only assumption you can safely make is that the project owner is in violation of the GPL license they received for their dependencies and that they should not be distributing their project.

Suppose project N (non-licensed) does not contain a copyright license, but it can be downloaded. Inspection of the code shows that it makes use of GPL-licensed library G.

It is conceivable that project N really was intended to be closed source and that it should not have been distributed. In that case, the copyright holder of project N can remedy their GPL violation by stopping the distribution/downloads of their project and they are within their rights to take legal action against the people who use the not-licensed portions of project N for violation of their copyrights.

And that is not just because they could sue over anything and everything without regard for the chance of getting a ruling in their favor. There is actually a reasonable chance they would win.

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However, if the project imports/extends/includes GPL-licensed code, then it has to have a GPL-compatible license.

Yes but no. It has to have a GPL-compatible license to be legally distributable; the other possiblity (and perhaps the more likely one) is that the code is being distributed in violation of copyright.

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