I am from a small private for-profit company, let us call it CompanyA for this example.

We are using a popular java framework called SpringBoot to build our software on top of it. The license of SpringBoot is Apache 2: https://github.com/spring-projects/spring-boot/blob/main/LICENSE.txt

Now, our team is building a small project on top of SpringBoot. We called our small project Alice.

However, we did not indicate any license for project Alice.


  1. Therefore, what would be the license of project Alice?
  2. Does it "inherit" the license of SpringBoot, making the licensing of Alice https://github.com/spring-projects/spring-boot/blob/main/LICENSE.txt as well?
  3. Again, I did not indicate any license for project Alice. But I claim in my company " Alice is proprietary to our company CompanyA and meant for internal use". Is that claim correct?
  4. What to do to make Alice "proprietary to our company CompanyA and meant for internal use"?
  • This question has the answer. I would vote to close it, but the question has a bounty, so closing is not possible at the moment. Commented May 31 at 10:20

1 Answer 1


I don't know SpringBoot, so I don't know if works built on top of it are considered to be derivatives of SpringBoot by copyright law. But here's the thing: we don't need to care.

If SpringBoot were licensed under a "copyleft" free licence, that would be an important question, since such licences generally require that derivative works be licensed under the same terms. But Apache is one of the "permissive" free licences, which don't have such a requirement. They do require things like the preservation of existing copyright notices, and in Apache's case, the contents of any pre-existing NOTICE file; you might want to do those anyway, since they're not onerous, and that allows you to completely dodge the "derivative work" question. Note also that any chunks of code you copy directly from SpringBoot into your codebase would continue to be covered by the Apache licence.

You further note that this new work is not intended for distribution outside CompanyA. Assuming all your changes are done by employees of CompanyA, and thus CompanyA is the sole (additional) rightsholder in the work, the decision not to distribute it is an additional protection against obligations. As the GPL FAQ notes, purely-internal use by a company isn't distribution, so those obligations which are triggered by distribution (including Apache2 s4) don't apply.

So, to answer your questions:

  1. It's up to you.

  2. No.

  3. Assuming you don't distribute it outside CompanyA, yes (and as the FAQ notes, that includes no offsite copies for external contractors).

  4. Don't give anyone else a copy!

  • “purely-internal use by a company isn't distribution” — Why not?  Don't licence terms apply within a company?  Of course, if software isn't being distributed to anyone outside a company, then the company needn't provide the source to anyone outside either.  But if an employee uses the software as part of their job, shouldn't they be entitled to its source, in the same way as anyone else?  If a megacorp modifies a GPL app and has tens of thousands of its employees use it, doesn't that violate the spirit of the GPL at least?
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 3 at 21:04
  • This is what I am trying to understand. And if I see no license. What is preventing me to just distribute it outside? Except for the implicit company rule
    – PatPanda
    Commented Jun 4 at 5:14
  • @gidds firstly, read the GPL FAQ to understand why it's not distribution. You can argue the moral point until the cows come home, but from a legal standpoint when an individual makes a copy of something (s)he already has, copying has occurred, but distribution has not, and this is as true when the individual is a legal person as when (s)he's a physical one. Yes, licence terms apply inside a company, but if those licence terms are triggered by distribution - as most significant free software licence obligations are - the absence of distribution is relevant.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jun 4 at 6:50
  • @PatPanda if you see no licence, you have no right to use the code at all.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Jun 4 at 6:51
  • Ah, so legally, it's corporate personhood that prevents internal sharing from counting as distribution — yes, that makes sense.  (Though I guess we'd need a lawyer to understand the details of how corporate and natural personhood might interact.)  And, as you say, that makes the moral difference moot.  Thanks.
    – gidds
    Commented Jun 4 at 13:11

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