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There is some code on GitHub that I would like to use. The repository has no public declaration of license that I can find. But this particular project has over 200 forks and is a pretty active history of public issues and pull requests. There is one issue opened by someone else requesting a license be added, but with no useful responses.

The repository has no public declaration of license that I can find. Given the nature of e-commerce (in context), it seems likely that many are using this product in a commercial capacity. But in general, are there any safe assumptions that I can make about my right to use/modify/sell or contribute to this software?

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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.

I'm unsure of the legal implications of actually pulling the source local and building/using the software privately though. Perhaps someone else can chime in on that.

From GitHub's licensing help page:

You're under no obligation to choose a license. It's your right not to include one with your code or project, but please be aware of the implications. Generally speaking, the absence of a license means that the default copyright laws apply. This means that you retain all rights to your source code and that nobody else may reproduce, distribute, or create derivative works from your work. This might not be what you intend.

Even if this is what you intend, if you publish your source code in a public repository on GitHub, you have accepted the Terms of Service which do allow other GitHub users some rights. Specifically, you allow others to view and fork your repository.

If you want to share your work with others, we strongly encourage you to include an open source license.

In short, the only thing you can safely assume is that you have no rights to do anything at all with this code. In the particular case of GitHub, you can fork the repository and view the code, but nothing more.


Being it's entirely possible that the owner doesn't realize any of this, I left a comment on the repo alerting them to the situation and pointing back to this Q & A.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ArtOfCode Aug 26 '15 at 20:46
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There is no longer any need to guess the meaning from GitHub's Terms of Service. GitHub explains it themselves pretty well on their own choosealicense.com website:

If you find software that doesn’t have a license, that generally means you have no permission from the creators of the software to use, modify, or share the software. Although a code host such as GitHub may allow you to view and fork the code, this does not imply that you are permitted to use, modify, or share the software for any purpose.

Your options:

Ask the maintainers nicely to add a license. Unless the software includes strong indications to the contrary, lack of a license is probably an oversight. If the software is hosted on a site like GitHub, open an issue requesting a license and include a link to this site, or if you’re bold and it’s fairly obvious what license is most appropriate, open a pull request to add a license.

Don’t use the software. Find or create an alternative that is under an open source license.

Negotiate a private license. Bring your lawyer.

Source: Choose A License article: No license

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