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I've been searching a lot recently about open licenses, because of college work, but now I want to release some personal stuff and I want to know just what can be licensed with a MIT license.

Most licenses are about software, but a website lists the MIT license to release open source hardware, by modifying the "obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software")" part to "obtaining a copy of this hardware, software, and associated documentation files (the "Product")". Does that mean I could release other products under the MIT license by making the appropriate changes, like pictures, music, etc?

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    Would it be fair to summarize your question as "Can hardware designs be released under the MIT license?"? Your question is a bit on the broad side at the moment. – RubberDuck Jun 10 '16 at 17:57
  • Can you go into more detail about the personal stuff (information about yourself, stories written, images taken, artwork created?) and how you are planning on releasing stuff? – Johannes_B Jun 11 '16 at 12:37
  • @RubberDuck No, because it's not only about hardware. I used hardware as an example. – GuiRitter Jun 11 '16 at 23:01
  • Also answering @Johannes_B, personal stuff means anything I created because I wanted to do so. It's supposed to be broad. – GuiRitter Jun 11 '16 at 23:01
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TL;DR - You shouldn't use a software license for non-software, and you shouldn't change an existing license.


I want to know just what can be licensed with a MIT license.

The MIT license is a software license, so in general, that's all it should be used to license. There's no inherent restrictions on your licensing something else with it... but as you've already found, there may be inconsistencies with exactly what parts of your non-software work it covers. These might become a problem in a court of law and could be open to wide interpretations.

Does that mean I could release other products under the MIT license by making the appropriate changes, like pictures, music, etc?

Not really. Because:

  • You can't call it the MIT license if you change it,
  • you might not be able to change it anyway,
  • even if you do, it adds to the license proliferation problem, and
  • your changes might not be legally sound.

Firstly, if you change the license, it's no longer the MIT license. Calling it that would be confusing, because the MIT license is well-known and refers to the specific words of the license that have been written, copyrighted, and legally tested. As well as being confusing, MIT won't take kindly to you using their name in a license they have not written :)

Aside from that, you can possibly change the license although I personally think this might be a legal grey area. Unless stated otherwise, the actual text of the license would automatically be copyrighted to MIT, and unless they've given you permission to change it, you would most likely be breaking their copyright by doing so.

Having said that, it's unlikely that they'll have too much of a concern with this, as long as you use a different name for your license.

There's another problem though: license proliferation.

Basically, by writing your own license, you are burdening people who may choose to use your product because they have to read your license, understand it, consider it, and possibly even get legal advice on it. With a standard license, they would have already done this once to cover them for hundreds of products... so the easiest thing for them to do in this case might just be to skip over your product and use one with a license they know.

Finally, if you're ok with all this, there's another big whammy: how will you know your changes are legally sound? Open source licenses have gone through a long vetting process and have been considered by countless lawyers, software developers, and others with knowledge and interest in the process. By using an open source license, you're benefitting from this combined knowledge pool. Unless you're a lawyer - or have access to one - a license you write yourself is unlikely to be as legally sound as one of these licenses and as such, you could find out later that there are loopholes you, or those who use your product, hadn't considered.

In summary: you shouldn't use a software license for non-software, and you shouldn't change an existing license.

  • Thank you! But this means that this inmojo.com/licenses site is wrong in calling that license the "MIT License"? – GuiRitter Jun 11 '16 at 23:04
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    @GuiRitter Yes. They've modified the text - at the very least they should be calling that a "modified MIT license" – Tim Malone Jun 11 '16 at 23:16
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Yes, but you should leave the license as-is, since it's far more likely that others will be willing to use something under the MIT license - which has been reviewed and re-used by a lot of people - rather than under some one-off custom license that no-one has heard of.

Also, you need to read the license and understand exactly what it means. In particular, will you actually be selling/distributing hardware, i.e. physical computers? Or are you really only distributing software or information that makes up a hardware design?

You may also want to look up the Open Source Hardware Association or related groups, who have already done a lot of work in figuring out how to write sensible licenses for hardware designs.

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    Nice answer! In the case of artistic works, you could add that there are Creative Commons licenses exactly for that purpose :) – Zizouz212 Jun 11 '16 at 19:35

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