For example, Gists on GitHub don't have a field to track the license that they are available under. You can simply choose to create a public Gist or a secret (private) Gist.

Many of the open source licenses have text that seems to indicate that you must include the full license in a distribution:

The MIT License:

The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.

The BSD 3-Clause License:

  1. Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.

The Apache 2.0 License:

You must give any other recipients of the Work or Derivative Works a copy of this License

The GPL, on the other hand, appears to not require you to carry the full license text, but simply tell recipients how to access the license text:

An interactive user interface displays “Appropriate Legal Notices” to the extent that it includes a convenient and prominently visible feature that (1) displays an appropriate copyright notice, and (2) tells the user that there is no warranty for the work (except to the extent that warranties are provided), that licensees may convey the work under this License, and how to view a copy of this License. If the interface presents a list of user commands or options, such as a menu, a prominent item in the list meets this criterion.

For licenses like the MIT, BSD, and Apache 2.0, is there an appropriate method of indicating the license without including or distributing the full license alongside the work?

If so, what would this look like? Would it be similar to the recommendations for the GPL? If not, what would need to happen to allow for a short form of the license?

  • I'm not too sure about the answer to this, but I've seen projects under the GPL that didn't have a copy of the license in a license file. All they had, was a thing in their readme that said this: license = GPL. And that was it. I've always thought it be necessary to include that: it's something so simple, no one has an excuse not to include it. Speaking of that, I think the reason why inclusion of the license is necessary is to prevent negligence and demonstrate due diligence in legal cases: by having the license, the terms and conditions are right there, instead of nested away on some site.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:32
  • 1
    @Zizouz212 The GPL doesn't have a requirement to carry the full license text. If you check out the section titled How to Apply These Terms to your New Programs (unfortunately, no anchors to that section - it's toward the bottom). and read the section I quoted, you can see this. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:37
  • 1
    I was trying to note that. But I've always found that provision to be interesting: it's always striked me that it's a flaw, in case some copyright or licensing disputing featuring the project would arise. I've never found any good reason not to include the license itself, regardless of the fact that people say "oh, you can get it from this website". Including a copy of the license is harmless.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:40
  • @Zizouz212 When distributing a project, yeah, distributing the license is trivial. But when making a single post - a GitHub Gist, a blog post, a Stack Exchange question or answer, etc. - carrying along the full license becomes much more difficult. These licenses do predate these things that I mentioned, so perhaps it wasn't a concern when they were written. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:47

2 Answers 2


You can certainly try. Instead of including the entire license, you could have this:

Copyright (c) 2016 Thomas Owens. All rights reserved.

This work is licensed under the terms of the MIT license.  
For a copy, see <https://opensource.org/licenses/MIT>.

In theory (IANAL), this should stand up in court, since you're still making it pretty obvious how the work is licensed. If someone can't access the license because of an Internet connection issue, there's still a fallback to All Rights Reserved, which isn't pretty but it protects your work.

Bear in mind, however, that future redistributors are still legally obliged to include the full license. It's only you who doesn't have to. And yes, you could add a condition to remove this restriction, but it's a bad idea for the same reasons that crayon licenses are (it's essentially creating a crayon license, actually) - the major one of those being it's not legally vetted.

To be honest, if you're using something like the MIT or BSD licenses, they're not exactly long - I'd just include the whole text in your source file. This strategy is only really worth considering if you've got a long license document like the GPL - but something like that is more often used for longer, more complex works, in which including the file wouldn't be so much of an overhead anyway.

  • 1
    MIT and BSD 3-Clause aren't that long - 9 lines (21 wrapped to 80 character lines) and 8 (24 lines wrapped to 80 character lines). The Apache license is very long. However, it does provide a ~15 line boilerplate, but it also says the full license must be "given" and I'm not sure if the URL in the boilerplate counts as "giving the license" to meet the clause I quoted in the section. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 18:44
  • @ThomasOwens Ah, I was going from memory. Maybe not Apache, then :)
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:52
  • 1
    Where did you find that? I was looking to see if the boilerplate was all I needed and I couldn't find anything. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    @ThomasOwens On your link :) It says "To apply the Apache License to your work, attach the following boilerplate notice, with the fields enclosed by brackets "[]" replaced with your own identifying information."
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 19:55
  • 1
    @ThomasOwens You have given them the ability to get for themselves a copy of the license. The two are so alike as to not matter.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 20:00

The legal niceties aside, the site linked to might disapear, during the (very long!) period copyright coverage in the USA contemplates, the Internet (and URLs and all that paraphernalia) could well become a thing of the dimly remembered, quaint past.

More sinister, Dr. Evil's minions could take over the webpage and replace the licence you link to with one reserving all rights to themselves. You want to be in control over the license which applies (obviously).

Your Answer

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

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