This question probably has a simple answer, but I haven't found it anywhere. I know various Markdown implementations are licensed, but is the Markdown language itself licensed?

The reason I'm asking is to figure out whether the Markdown syntax (`` for code, * * or _ _ for italics, etc.) is itself subject to a license.

2 Answers 2


The syntax of a language is not usually licensed, just the specific implementation of the interpreters and compilers. Programming languages are used to build software like natural languages are used to (let's say) write poems. Specific software implementations could be licensed, like specific poems could be, but the language itself couldn't be.

The particular case of Markdown the language is not licensed. And its reference implementation, Markdown, a Perl script that implements the parser and HTML generator, is licensed with a 3-Clause BSD license.

There was a related question on Software Engineering if you want to read more details: What constitutes a programming language and how does one copyright a programming language?

  • 1
    So you would say that using an existing Markdown compiler would be subject to that compiler's license, whereas writing your own Markdown compiler -- using the same syntax that Markdown uses -- would not, correct?
    – freginold
    Nov 7, 2017 at 19:16
  • 3
    Exactly, I know there could be more complex cases, but for the case of Markdown, you can write your own interpreter/compiler (or whatever tool that process and do something with Markdown files) and give it the license you want Nov 7, 2017 at 19:19
  • 2
    NB: You might want to update your answer as Markdown code does not use a "custom license" but a plain BSD-3-Clause Nov 8, 2017 at 19:42

The Original Specification by John Gruber has a licence statement plus RFC 7764 and RFC 7763 may help to clarify this.

To me it reads very similar to BSD.

  • 2
    The two RFCs are good reads but they don't address license issues regarding the syntax itself.
    – freginold
    Nov 7, 2017 at 19:18
  • This is exactly a BSD-3-Clause actually, with the common injection of the name that shall not be used eg "Markdown" Nov 8, 2017 at 19:44

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