I came across an open-source software project, and its license contains verbatim text from the MIT license, although without directly mentioning that it is the MIT license (I know separately that the projects intends to use the MIT license). Are there any consequences to using the text of a license without accompanying it with the name of license or other form of attribution?

This may be a question of plagiarism, or a rather broader copyright question actually.

  • Welcome to Open Source Stack Exchange! This is a great question! :) – Zizouz212 May 17 '16 at 11:49

It depends on the license!

Some licenses' texts specify what can be done with them; e.g. the GPL v3 starts with

Copyright (C) 2007 Free Software Foundation, Inc. http://fsf.org/

Everyone is permitted to copy and distribute verbatim copies of this license document, but changing it is not allowed.

So you're allowed to copy the whole document, which includes its title. And the application instructions of the GPL specify that the license should be named in the files it covers (see Should I include license text in a single file or all source files? for further discussion of this).

The MIT license doesn't carry any such provision. (It does specify that the license must be reproduced in derivative works, as-is, but that's valid once it's been chosen for a work.) In fact "MIT license" is a name given after the fact to licenses used at MIT, which had slight variations themselves. (The version in common use is the Expat license.) The OSI added a title to the license in their page describing it, but that isn't part of the text used even by the original authors of the license...

So while it is nice to name the license used by a project, it isn't always necessary, and you'll find lots of projects which don't name their license (especially when it's a BSD-style license, the Expat license, the zlib license, or the ISC license) — people aren't necessarily all that concerned with cataloguing license usage, just with granting rights.

  • It's worth noting that it greatly helps naming licenses, because it saves everyone from having to read it through if they already know the license off by heart. – Tim Malone May 17 '16 at 19:45
  • @TimMalone indeed, in many cases I would have been quite happy if the license was named (as well as its content reproduced). I have come across some cases where the name given doesn't actually match the license, so if it's really important you still need to read everything... – Stephen Kitt May 17 '16 at 20:48

The name of the license does not matter as long as its text is there (unless the name of the license is part of the license text of course but this is rarely the case).

What matter in attribution is to "attribute" e.g. name the persons or orgs you are attributing this too. For an MIT license this is typically in the form of a copyright notice and the license text.

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